A British defense attorney gave a taste of the drama to come in the libel trial brought by a Holocaust revisionist against a Holocaust scholar when, during his opening statement this week, he addressed the plaintiff.
“To put it bluntly,” Richard Rampton, who is defending Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt against David Irving, told the judge Tuesday, “he is a liar.”
This landmark trial, held in the august setting of London’s Royal Courts of Justice, is expected to last for some three months and is likely to involve the most detailed judicial examination of the Holocaust since the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem almost 40 years ago.
If Irving wins, analysts say, it could give credibility to Holocaust revisionism at a time when those who witnessed the horrors themselves are dying out.
The case centers around claims made against the British historian by Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, in her 1993 book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” published by Penguin Books.
Lipstadt has a daunting task ahead of her. Under British law, the burden of proof is squarely on her and her publisher to show that Irving is indeed a deliberate distorter of events in World War II.
Irving, who is representing himself, suggested in his opening argument that beyond his claims against Lipstadt, there was an international Jewish conspiracy to destroy him.
Irving claims that Lipstadt defamed him by alleging that his writing “applauds the internment of Jews in Nazi concentration camps” and that he is “an Adolf Hitler partisan who wears blinkers and skews documents and misrepresents data in order to reach untenable conclusions.”
In his opening statement, Rampton declared, “Lies may take various forms and may as often consist of suppression or omission as of falsehood and invention, but in the end all forms of lying converge into a single definition: willful, deliberate misstatement of the facts.”
Irving, he contended, had employed “many different means to falsify history – – invention, misquotation, suppression, distortion, manipulation and, not least, mistranslation.”
Moreover, Rampton told the austere and somber courtroom, the lies that Irving had told concern the destruction of the Jews by the Nazis during World War II and Hitler’s role in that catastrophe — “or, as Irving would have it, alleged catastrophe.”
It was, he said, “an area of history which requires any writer or researcher to be particularly careful of the truth.”
Irving, he continued bluntly, is a Holocaust denier: “By this I mean he denies that the Nazis planned and carried out the systematic murder of millions of Jews — in particular, though by no means exclusively, by the use of homicidal gas chambers, and in particular, though by no means exclusively, at Auschwitz.”
As Irving almost visibly seethed, Rampton recalled a speech Irving had given to an audience in Calgary, Alberta, in September 1991, a speech, he said, that “conveys a message about his true views and attitudes.”
“I don’t see any reason to be tasteful about Auschwitz,” Rampton quoted Irving as saying. “It’s baloney. It’s a legend.
“Once we admit the fact that it was a brutal slave labor camp and a large number of people did die, as large numbers of people died elsewhere in the war, why believe the rest of the baloney?
“I say quite tastelessly, in fact, that more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz.”
Wearing a navy-blue pinstriped suit and gray tie, Irving claimed that Lipstadt’s assault on his integrity had caused “very real damage to my professional existence.”
In his long and rambling opening statement, which took up most of the first day’s proceedings, Irving, author of 30 books on World War II, vehemently denied that he was a Holocaust denier or an anti-Semite.
Some of his best friends have been Jewish, he said, as he portrayed himself as the victim of an international Jewish conspiracy that has monitored him in an attempt to strip him of his credibility and reputation and ultimately destroy him.
Lipstadt and Penguin were not alone “in their determination to destroy my career and to vandalize my legitimacy as a historian. They were part of an organized international endeavor at achieving precisely that.
“I have seen the papers. I have copies of the documents. I will show them to this court. I know how they did it and I now know why.”
He alleged that in 1992 he had been expelled from Canada — he has also been banned from Germany, Austria, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa — on the basis of documents “blackening my name” which had been handed to Canadian authorities by “an unofficial body based in London” — a reference to the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
He also attacked the Anti-Defamation League and said he would present a document to the court “which reveals quite unabashedly how they tried to pressure television producers to cancel invitations to me.”
Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, responded to these charges by saying it is not surprising that Irving is relying on conspiracy theories, adding that if “we have publicly called him a bigot, a pseudo-historian, Holocaust denier and anti-Semite, if that has led someone to doubt his credentials or decide one way or another how to deal with him, there’s nothing for me to apologize for.”
Irving said he would be presenting expert evidence from a professor of sociology at a leading American university on “the relationship between the world’s Jewish communities and the rest of us.”
“The Jewish community, their fame and fortunes, play a central role in these proceedings,” he continued.
“I finally realized that I was the target of a hidden international attempt to exclude me, if that could be done, from publishing further works of history.”
He continued: “It appears that these bodies, which are also embedded in our society in Britain and elsewhere, have seen their task, unbidden, as being to spy upon members of our society, maintain dossiers on us all, and to deploy those dossiers when necessary to smite those of us of whom they disapprove.”
These “disturbing and sleazy” dossiers, he said, were explicitly designed “to hold such material on the subjects’ personal lives, criminal records, credit delinquencies, marital difficulties, dietary habits and even sexual proclivities.
“It is not anti-Semitic to reveal this,” he insisted. “The spying and smearing by these bodies goes on against Jew and non-Jew alike.”
“I can think only of the wartime Gestapo and its offshoots in Nazi-occupied Europe as a body engaged in similar practices.”
He was particularly incensed to be branded a Holocaust denier, which, he said, had the effect of creating “a pariah, an outcast from normal society. It is a verbal yellow star.”
Lipstadt, at the epicenter of the storm, sat silent and impassive throughout the proceedings, in a black pants suit, with a vivid orange scarf draped over her shoulders.
As the drama swirled about her, she glanced at her laptop computer on the desk before her or at the judge, directly in front of her. She was surrounded by some 20 members of her defense team, seated in four rows behind her.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.