Lying about Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial - Richard Evans Deborah Lipstadt wrote a book in 1993 entitled Denying the Holocaust The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. It was an examination of the roots and affiliations of those "scholars" who claimed that the deaths of the Jews in Germany were merely byproducts of a long war and not the deliberate genocide of a people. Her book indicated that many of the deniers were anti-semitic in nature and their work not of a high standard. Many of them attacked her and David Irving, a rather notorious Hitler and Germany scholar, sued her for libel in England, where the libel laws are much more favorable to the plaintiff rather than the defendant. There was no question that Irving was a German expert even though many of his books had been quite controversial in some of their allegations. Lipstadt had never been in the German archives, nor did she claim to be a German history expert. In her book, she had cited numerous secondary sources, and the thrust of her book was an examination of American historians and attitudes. What got things going was Irving's allegation that Hitler had not known of the genocide in the camps. He even offered a financial reward for anyone who could prove him wrong.

Irving was somewhat sensitive to charges that he was not a historian because he had no degree in history, nor any academic affiliation, so when Lipstadt cited him as "discredited" in her book, he was not amused. She had accused him of bending the evidence to suit his personal biases and worse of falsifying data. Irving sued for defamation of character. Irving had been going after several other historians who had also questioned his accuracy and biases. Soon the media had framed the legal contest as one of freedom of speech: Irving's!, even though it was Irving who was trying to prevent Lipstadt and others from saying what they wanted. The media even confused sides on occasion, referring to Irving as the defendant, an egregious error.

A major charge leveled against Irving, and detailed in chapter 2, was that Irving was too sympathetic to Hitler, that he tried to make him seem more human and less of a monster. I have mixed feelings about this, especially after reading Hannah Arendt, for I suspect the enormity of Hitler and his actions rests precisely in his "normalness," something we are loath to admit. It's much easier, I think, to discard him as an aberration if we consider him a monster and an anomaly. That would be a great mistake.

Evans was hired to be an expert witness. Evans was familiar with German documentary evidence and had written In Defense of History], an examination of what constitutes truth and fiction in the writing of history especially as it pertains to "interpretation.".

Irving decided to represent himself, whether because he didn't have the funds, or because he thought he would be more intimately acquainted with the material. All Irving had to show was that the defendant, Lipstadt, had published statements that where damaging to the reputation of the plaintiff. The defense's tactic was first to show that Irving had specific biases and that he misinterpreted the data and then to hire historians (of which Evans was one) to see whether Lipstadt's charge that Irving had falsified the record was indeed true. This was no easy task for how did one prove that the historical record had been deliberately falsified or was merely a matter of interpretation? "Caricatures have bedeviled the writing of modern history..." Irving portrayed himself as the man who had demolished the caricatures of Hitler and Naziism by digging into the primary sources.

While many thought a trial was hardly the place to examine the historicity of an author and his work, Evans argues that it was the perfect place because unlike newspapers, journals and talk shows, there was virtually unlimited time to present as thorough a case as they might have wished. There was no limit on those submitting reports and Evans' was over seven hundred pages long.

The expectations were high on both sides: Irving's supporters hoped he would drive a nail into the liberal establishment's coffin and Jewish camp survivors hoped Irving would be put in his place and seen as a faker. For the lawyers it was an intricate and enjoyable game, a test of their skill, the fun they were having perhaps a macabre juxtaposition with the horrors of the holocaust detailed in the courtroom.

I hate to say this, but I felt a little sorry for Irving. Regardless of his ultimate motives, he was clearly over-matched and didn't have anywhere near the resources of the defense nor the legal expertise to operate succesfully in a courtroom. That Irving was hoist by his own petard is not in doubt.

corrections 12/3/09