History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier

History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier

by Deborah E. Lipstadt


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In her acclaimed 1993 book Denying the Holocaust, Deborah Lipstadt called putative WWII historian David Irving "one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial." A prolific author of books on Nazi Germany who has claimed that more people died in Ted Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, Irving responded by filing a libel lawsuit in the United Kingdom — where the burden of proof lies on the defendant, not on the plaintiff. At stake were not only the reputations of two historians but the record of history itself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060593773
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/04/2006
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 241,966
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Deborah E. Lipstadt is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies and director of the Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University. She is the author of Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.

Read an Excerpt

History on Trial
My Day in Court with a Holocaust DenierChapter OneA Personal and Scholarly Odyssey

"No, I am not a child of Holocaust survivors."

Ever since I began teaching about the Holocaust I have been asked about my background. Some questioners seemed surprised by my response. Why else would I be interested in the topic? Others, however, felt that my personal distance from the event allowed a more scholarly perspective.

My father left Germany before the Third Reich and my mother was born in Canada. Growing up on Manhattan's Upper West Side, I had known many "refugees." No one called them survivors. Some had emigrated in the 1930s, leaving behind a comfortable middle-class existence. Others came after the war. My father helped many of them when they arrived in New York. He attempted to bring his five sisters to the United States but could not do so. They survived in other countries and came to New York in the postwar period. As a young child, I remember sensing that these Central European Jewish homes, with their heavy, dark furniture and steaming cups of tea accompanied by delicate homemade strudel and other distinctly European pastries, were different from those of my American schoolmates.

My parents' Modern Orthodox home was shaped by a dedication to Jewish tradition together with an appreciation for the surrounding secular society. One was as likely to find on our living room table a book on Jewish lore as a book on Rembrandt. My brother, sister, and I all attended Jewish schools. When I was in first grade, my parents decided to move from Manhattan to the suburbs. They chose Far Rockaway, a beachside community in Queens, becausethey admired the local rabbi, Emanuel Rackman, and decided that this was the man they wanted as a spiritual leader and a role model for their children. A graduate of Columbia Law School, he combined knowledge of Judaism with the contemporary world. His well-crafted muscular sermons, delivered without notes, covered a wide range of topics — everything from the weekly Torah portion to Arnold Toynbee. Shortly after the fall of Stalin, during a period of Khrushchev-style perestroika, he traveled with a group of American rabbis to the Soviet Union. On the Shabbat of his return my father suggested that I stay in the synagogue during the sermon — a time that we children generally ran all over the expansive lawn in front of the building. "It will be memorable," he assured me. Though I was not quite sure what "memorable" meant, I knew the trip had been something important. I did not grasp all that Rabbi Rackman said, but I understood that he had made contact with a group of Jews who were not free to live as we did, and he said that we could not forget them.

A believer in intra- and interreligious dialogue, long before it was in vogue, Rackman reached out to people both within the Jewish community and outside of it. Right-wing religious Jews attacked him for his attempts to demonstrate how one could — and should — draw upon the best in both traditional Judaism and the secular world. I remember how my father would seethe at these attacks and stress how important it was for Rabbi Rackman's ideas not to be silenced. Long before I knew precisely what a role model was, I knew that I wanted to be like him.

Though synagogue attendance and observance of Jewish rituals set the rhythm of our home, we were very much part of the broader world. In addition to ensuring that my siblings and I received an intensive Jewish education, my parents exposed us to theater, museums, art, and politics. Even after we had moved to the suburbs my mother would often take us into Manhattan on Sundays to see exhibits, attend the special youth symphonies at New York's Ninety-second Street YMHA, watch parades, climb the rocks in Central Park, and even tour visiting aircraft carriers. My parents encouraged a degree of independence in us. When I was twelve and wanted to go into the city to see a movie at Radio City Music Hall or visit a museum, they encouraged it. The problem was finding a classmate whose parents did not think it a totally reckless excursion. I usually managed to find an intrepid soul. I soon learned to navigate my way through the city.

By middle school I had gained a reputation, particularly with my teachers at the Jewish day school I attended, as a feisty and combative student. When teachers did something that I did not consider fair, I would challenge them — often not very diplomatically. Invariably, my mother would appear in the principal's office to defend my actions and plead my case. I had the impression that, although she did not appreciate these school visits, she admired my gumption. I knew that I had been named Deborah because she loved the biblical character. When I was still quite young she had described how Deborah led her people in battle and dispensed justice. I liked the notion that I was named after such a person. When my mother admonished me for getting in trouble, I told her I was just emulating Deborah.

My mother was a free spirit. It was not unusual for her to announce: "There's a wonderful Van Gogh exhibit at the Guggenheim. Ditch school. Let's go." And I did. Despite — or possibly because — neither my father nor mother had been able to attend college, they became intense autodidacts, continually attending classes and lectures. I remember spirited discussions around our Shabbat table about Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, J. D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey, Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus, civil rights, the 1968 New York City teachers' strike, and the war in Vietnam, which we uniformly opposed. My mother and I marched in Harlem in solidarity with the Birmingham-Salem civil rights protestors ...

History on Trial
My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier
. Copyright (c) by Deborah Lipstadt . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Note to the Readerxv
Prologue: The Letterxvii
The Prelude
1A Personal and Scholarly Odyssey3
2The Defense Strategy27
3Auschwitz: A Forensic Tour51
4Our Objective Changes67
The Trial
5"All Rise!"77
6Irving in the Box: Not a Denier but a Victim87
7The Chain of Documents99
8The Holocaust: Random Killings or Systematic Genocide?109
9Queues and Gas Chamber Controversies127
10An American Professor151
11Exonerating Hitler, Excoriating the Allies161
12Fighting Words173
13Revolting Calculations185
14Lying about Hitler199
15The Diary of Anne Frank: A Novel?211
16Our German Contingent223
17Cavorting with Thugs or Guilt by Association?233
18One-Person Gas Chambers and White People's Polkas243
19The Final Scene255
The Aftermath
20Judgment Day: Phone Chains, Psalms, and Sleepless Survivors267
21Enormous Thanks285
22The "Jester's Costume"291

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Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

“A well-paced, expertly detailed and fascinating account of the trial process.”

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History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
IanFryer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Deborah Lipstadt's account of the trial forced upon her when sued for libel by David Irving is absolutely gripping. Several important points about the trial are made crystal clear, even to a general reader like myself with no historiacal training:1. The importance of the trial's outcome: Irving was trying to bully critics of his work into silence. Despite what his supporters allege, it was he, not Professor Lipstradt, who was trying to stifle free expression.2. David Irving is a charlatan, with no business calling himself a historian. His book, as it is explained in great detail, are riddled with deliberate factual errors designed to put Hitler in a good light and pretend the holocaust never happened. An interesting outcome of the defence team's research is proof that Irving's anti-semitism came long before his historical writings.3. Holocaust denial has no basis in historical fact, and is, in reality, just another form of anti-semitism.Lipstadt come across very well in the book, and is unfailingly polite and respectful to other academics, though the subsequent actions of two very eminent military historians in defending Irving after the trial verdict were disgraceful.I can assure one of this book's other Librarything reviewers that this average reader fully grasped the significance of the judges decision. Irving may continue to lecture, but the only people taking him seriously are his fellow neo nazis.
MSWallack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fabulous book on multiple levels. Prof. Lipstadt gives insight into herself (as a modern, American Jewish woman), into the differences between the British and American legal systems, and, most importantly, into the twisted 'history' and leaps of logic that form the basis for those at the forefront of the Holocaust denial movement. The book is an emotional rollercoaster (as, I'm sure, the trial it recounts must have been for Prof. Lipstadt). For those with some knowledge of the Holocaust, reading as the arguments put forth by a denier are demolished is highly satisfying. I can only hope that those who question whether the Holocaust happened will take the time to read this important book.
Genghis_Sean More than 1 year ago
Exceptionally well written account of a fascinating trial. Lipstadt's book on Holocaust deniers devoted around 100 words to David Irving, labeling him as the most dangerous of the deniers because his WW2 books were taken seriously despite the fact that he routinely falsified history. He sued her in British court where the burden of proof is on the defendent. She would have to prove the truth of her words rather than Irving being forced to prove she lied. Her only other option was to admit she lied and settle. Many urged her to do just that, claiming that even if she won, she would be granting him the publicity he so desperately wanted. Written from Lipstadt's perspective, it reveals a tremendous battle for incredible stakes as she stands up to a man who is uninterested in discovering the truth, but in falsifying history in order to prove the Holocaust never happened, thus furthering his anti-Semitic and White supremacist agenda.