Irving v Penguin Books Ltd, 1999
David Irving was a revisionist historian and self-professed expert on the Third Reich. Professor Deborah Lipstadt was a Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies. She wrote a book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory”. She argued that the Holocaust deniers represented a clear and present danger and she accused Irving of manipulating historical data and denying the occurrence of the Holocaust.
About Irving, Lipstadt wrote this:
“Irving is one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial. Familiar with historical evidence, he bends it until it conforms with his ideological leanings and political agenda. A man who is convinced that Britain’s great decline was accelerated by its decision to go to war with Germany, he is most facile at taking accurate information and shaping it to confirm his conclusions. A review of his recent book, Churchill’s War, which appeared in New York Review of Books, accurately analysed his practice of applying a double standard of evidence. He demands ‘absolute documentary proof’ when it comes to proving Germans guilty, but he relies on highly circumstantial evidence to condemn the Allies. This is an accurate description not only of Irving’s tactics, but of those of deniers in general.”
In November 1994, Irving attended one of Lipstadt’s lectures in Holocaust denial at DeKalb College in Atlanta. At the end of the lecture, he challenged her to a debate, waving a large amount of money in his hands and announcing that he had $1,000 to give to her or anyone who could find a written order from Hitler for the Holocaust. He then handed out free copies of his Hermann Goring biography to the students.
In 1996, Irving sued Lipstadt and Penguin Books for defamation in the English High Court in London, where defamation laws were far more favourable to a plaintiff than in the USA. It was for the defendant to prove the truth of the allegations, not for Irving to prove that they were false.
The imputations that the defendants had to prove the truth of included these:
- That Irving is an apologist for and partisan of Hitler, who has resorted to the distortion of
evidence; the manipulation and skewing of documents; the misrepresentation of data and the application of double standards to the evidence, in order to serve his own purpose of exonerating Hitler and portraying him as sympathetic towards the Jews;
- That Irving is one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial, who has on numerous occasions denied that the Nazis embarked upon the deliberate planned extermination of Jews and has alleged that it is a Jewish deception that gas chambers were used by the Nazis at Auschwitz as a means of carrying out such extermination;
- That Irving, in denying that the Holocaust happened, has misstated evidence; misquoted sources; falsified statistics; misconstrued information and bent historical evidence so that it conforms to his neo-fascist political agenda and ideological beliefs;
- That Irving has allied himself with representatives of a variety of extremist and anti-semitic groups and individuals and on one occasion agreed to participate in a conference at which representatives of terrorist organisations were due to speak.
Irving represented himself and spent most of the trial focusing on his right to free speech.
The defendants called evidence from five Holocaust historians who examined Irving’s writings, his speeches and the evidence he used to support his statements. They were Professor Richard Evans, historian and professor of modern history at Cambridge University, American Holocaust historian Christopher Browning, German historian Peter Longerich, Dutch architectural expert Robert Jan van Pelt and Political Science professor, Hajo Funke of the Free University of Berlin.
Professor Evans was the lead witness. He and his researchers produced a 740-page report for the case. Together, all of the experts’ reports totalled more than 2,000 pages. Evans’ research found that Irving had misrepresented historical evidence to support his prejudices and had, among other matters, knowingly used forged documents as sources. He stated about Irving:
“Not one of Irving’s books, speeches or articles, not one paragraph, not one sentence in any of them, can be taken on trust as an accurate representation of its historical subject. All of them are completely worthless as history, because Irving cannot be trusted anywhere, in any of them, to give a reliable account of what he is talking or writing about …. If we mean by historian someone who is concerned to discover the truth about the past, and to give as accurate a representation of it as possible, then Irving is not a historian.”
Irving cross-examined witnesses at length, challenged the authenticity of documents put forward against him and stated that he had every right to praise Hitler.
When questioned on the gas chambers at Auschwitz, Irving modified his opinion and conceded that there had been one gas chamber there, but that it was used solely to fumigate clothing. He also tried to argue that his mistakes were innocent.
In closing, Irving claimed to have been a victim of an international, mostly Jewish conspiracy for more than three decades
On 11 April 2000, Justice Gray wrote a 349-page judgment in favour of the defendants. His Honour detailed Irving’s systematic distortion of the historical record of the Holocaust and Hitler’s role in it. He examined all of the expert evidence and concluded that it was true that:
- Irving seriously misrepresented Hitler’s views on the Jewish question;
- Irving deliberately misrepresented Hitler’s views by mistranslating or omitting documents;
- Hitler was aware of the gassing at the Reinhard camps and approved of extermination by other means;
- No fair-minded historian could doubt the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz and their use to exterminate hundreds of thousands of Jews;
- Irving was a Holocaust denier, a racist and an anti-semite;
- Irving associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism
- All of Irving’s errors converged, tending to exonerate Hitler, showing that he had a political agenda which disposed him to manipulate the historical record so that it appeared to confirm to his own political beliefs.
So Irving lost. The bill for legal costs for him: 3 million. Irving appealed the decision, but his application for appeal was denied on 20 July 2001 and he was forced into bankruptcy in 2002. Not a great outcome for a plaintiff…..
Meanwhile, the film industry set about casting for the movie and eventually one was produced in 2016: “Denial”.