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Holocaust denial: Irving v Penguin Books and Lipstadt

Holocaust denial: Irving v Penguin Books and Lipstadt
David Irving read a book by Deborah Lipstadt on Holocaust deniers and didn’t like what he read. In the book prof. Lipstadt described him as a Holocaust denier and he considered that the implication of that description was that he wasn’t a serious historian. He was right to draw that inference. He had a practice of threatening to sue or suing publishers, newspapers, authors when they said uncomplimentary things about him and he had been pretty successful in getting apologies, damages and withdrawals of those remarks. So he thought that he could continue that practice and sue Deborah Lipstadt.
He had the, as he saw it, additional advantage of litigating in the UK against an American academic and wrote to her and to her publishers Penguin and demanded that the book that she had written be withdrawn and that damages and legal fees should be paid. When he did that I was contacted by prof. Lipstadt and I was asked if I would represent her which took me no time at all to agree to. We then prepared the case across two or three years. It came to trial and after a two three-month trial we won.
Our defense was that he was indeed a Holocaust denier; that he was indeed not a serious historian; and that he therefore was not entitled to damages; and the court, the judge agreed with us. In order to prepare for the case, we retained a number of historians, experts in different aspects of Holocaust, on German history, and on historiographical principles - what it means to be a proper historian; what rules of historical writing should be followed and so on. The lead historian was Prof. Richard Evans who was, when we retained him, a professor at London University. He then went to Cambridge.
He was important to us because he was a historian of Germany but he’d also written extensively on so to speak the professional obligations of being a historian. So he had that double value for us. He set to work with two researchers, reading through representative volumes of Irving’s work and produced a very long report, which exposed Irving’s dishonest practices. It’s very difficult to assess the impact of the trial on Holocaust denial as a phenomenon, partly because I simply don’t know what was in the mind of Holocaust deniers, and partly because of the peculiar resistance to truth of Holocaust denial as a discourse.
My instinct is that Holocaust denial was a dwindling phenomenon within the broader spectrum of antisemitic practices and the trial accelerated the decline of Holocaust denial, the utility of Holocaust denial as a weapon so to speak in antisemitism’s arsenal and the reason for that is that the illegitimate use of the Holocaust against Jews - for example, comparing Israelis to Nazis, Zionists to Nazis - was of course predicated on the fact that the Holocaust happened rather than on any denial of the Holocaust. So we might say that antisemitism demanded at this particular historical conjuncture not a denial of the Holocaust but an illegitimate appropriation of it, to be exploited against the interests of Jews.

Prof. Anthony Julius

As we heard, a major blow to the activities of Holocaust deniers came following the David Irving trial of 1996. Let’s hear more about this case and its outcomes by Prof. Anthony Julius, a leading British lawyer and scholar of antisemitism, who represented Prof. Deborah Lipstadt in the trial.

How do you think Holocaust denial and distortion should be confronted?


  • Evans, Richard J., Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial (New York: Basic Books, 2001).

  • Julius, Anthony, Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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