LONDON (Nov. 14)
Holocaust denier David Irving emerges unrepentant in a BBC radio documentary that explores the legal strategy scholar Deborah Lipstadt employed when he sued her for libel last year.
The 45-minute program, broadcast on Nov. 8, contains interviews with all the major players in the landmark trial, which Irving lost.
Lipstadt’s lawyers describe how their case rested on proving that Lipstadt had been correct to label Irving a Holocaust denier in her 1994 book, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.”
They subpoenaed his diaries and appointment books in order to demonstrate that he was an anti-Semite who spoke at neo-Nazi events, and they had an expert witness demolish his books as “falsifications” that “can only really be deliberate.”
“Putting Irving’s books on trial was the strategy,” lawyer Anthony Julius explained.
Irving — who represented himself — tells the BBC that he never grasped that.
He describes the judge, Sir Charles Gray, as too “thick-skulled” to understand his case.
“There were occasions when I could see he was not getting the point I was extracting from the witness,” he told the BBC.
There are times in the program when Irving seems to be out to prove the truth of the judge’s verdict last year, when Gray labeled him a racist anti-Semite who had deliberately distorted history.
“Lipstadt is part of an international conspiracy to silence me,” Irving claimed.
He also said he was “not surprised that the Jews go on about the Holocaust, because it’s the only interesting thing that’s happened to them in 3,000 years.”
Criticizing Gray’s sweeping verdict as “so over the top that it missed its effect,” Irving said, “It’s lucky the twin towers hadn’t been shot down by then, or I would have been blamed for that too.”
Lawyer Richard Rampton, who represented Lipstadt, told JTA that at first he was concerned that the program gives Irving too much air time.
But after talking to people who heard the program, he said Irving said “just enough to bury himself. Each sentence made his hole deeper.”
Julius said there is no danger in letting Irving speak in a forum like the documentary.
“The people who are impressed with Irving will continue to be, and those who are not will not be,” he said.
Irving, on a speaking tour in the United States, was not available for comment.
Rampton said Irving was not harmed by representing himself.
“Getting him a lawyer wouldn’t have made any difference,” he told JTA.
“A good lawyer would have told him he was dead in the water” and advised him to drop the case, Rampton said.
“You can’t win a case if you’re firing blanks. You need ammunition, and he didn’t have any,” he added.
Rampton described the documentary as “illuminating” and praised Lipstadt’s participation in the program.
“I worry when she goes public because she’s so passionate,” he said. “But I thought she was extraordinarily good, intensely moving.”
The American scholar broke down when she told the BBC of meeting a Holocaust survivor who remembered a man from Hamburg nicknamed “Handlebar” Lipstadt because of his mustache.
The survivor, who met Lipstadt during the trial, asked her if she was related to the man he remembered from his childhood.
On the verge of tears, she told the BBC that “Handlebar” was her grandfather, Gustav, whom she never knew.
Lipstadt, who never took the stand herself during the trial, said she had wanted to do so: “I was sorry I couldn’t go into the witness box because I could have bested” Irving.
Rampton said there had been no need for Lipstadt to give evidence.
“The question is whether what she wrote when she wrote it is true or not, and she’s not necessary for that,” he said.
When the verdict came down last year, Irving was ordered to pay Lipstadt’s legal costs, estimated at more than $3 million. He has been denied permission to appeal.