Nearly 20 years ago, at a well-known Holocaust conference in London, I told Deborah Lipstadt that I felt she was too harsh in her attack on David Irving in her 1993 book, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory” (“There Are Not Two Sides To Every Issue,” Editor’s column, Sept. 16). As a genocide and Holocaust scholar, I felt she was going to be sued for defamation, not so much that she criticized Irving — many had criticized him in the past as a Holocaust “denier” — but that her words would make it impossible for him to earn a living.
At the time, Irving was considered an iconoclastic historian who had written about Hitler’s generals and other issues of World War II and the Nazis and they were good books — this is before he went off the deep end. They were books that had controversial conclusions but earned him a considerable income.
He argued that it was not Hitler who pushed for the Final Solution to the Jewish problem, but Heinrich Himmler. This is not a radical idea to many scholars. Also, even if Irving wrote such rubbish that Hitler at his core was not an anti-Semite, did not plan the Final Solution or that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz, he still would have been allowed to write such weirdness under the First Amendment’s free speech protection. So, why did this become the “trial of the century?” Because Irving felt his livelihood coming to an end and he was going to fight to salvage his ability to make a living.
And Irving decided, against better judgment, to be his own lawyer. It was a very stupid and fatal decision because he was up against three of the smartest lawyers in England. Their trick was that they were going to prove that the Holocaust was the truth, not that Deborah defamed him. This was a brilliant defense, not putting her or any survivor on the stand, just scholars, and proving beyond a doubt that the Holocaust took place.
That’s exactly what they did and they won handily. In an American court, David Irving would not have gotten to first base. His arguments were so looney, no court would have allowed the trial to take place.
Jack Nusan Porter