Emory Report

April 17, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 29

Court finds Lipstadt innocent in libel suit

By Michael Terrazas

Chalk one up for the good guys. Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies, was acquitted April 11 in British High Court of libel charges stemming from her 1994 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.

Lipstadt's accuser, writer David Irving, sued on the basis that the Emory professor and publisher Penguin Books inaccurately portrayed him as a Holocaust denier. In London court last week, Irving sat quietly and listened while Judge Charles Gray called him "an active Holocaust denier...anti-Semitic and racist."

"The picture of Irving which emerges from the evidence of his extracurricular activities revealed him to be a right-wing, pro-Nazi polemicist," Gray said. "It appears to me incontrovertible that Irving qualifies as a Holocaust denier. Not only has he denied the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz and asserted that no Jew was gassed there, he has done so on frequent occasions and sometimes in the most offensive terms."

Lipstadt, who never testified in the trial, said the case dealt a blow to Irving's reputation as a historian. "We exposed him for what he is: a liar and a falsifier of history," she said. "I think a lot of people who thought he was a serious historian have started to think twice."

Reaction on campus and in Atlanta was swift and exuberant. "Emory celebrates Deborah Lipstadt's victory in this case as a victory for free inquiry," President Bill Chace said in a hastily arranged press conference April 11. "I was not surprised because I knew the evidence mounted on her behalf would be sufficient to withstand this attack." That afternoon's Atlanta Journal ran a banner headline across the top of its front page, and members of Atlanta's Jewish community expressed their enthusiasm through the media.

Chace said he was informed of the decision at 7:15 a.m. that morning, when a student e-mailed him news of the verdict, and added that the case is especially important for students to remember. "The world was watching this trial," he said, calling it the most important case related to the Holocaust since Adolf Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem in the early 1960s.

Ironically, Eichmann himself played a role in Lipstadt's defense, since Israel went to the unprecedented length of releasing the former Nazi's World War II diaries to bolster her case. Copies of those diaries, Lipstadt said at a campus reception in her honor in March, will be sent to Emory and available for study.

Irving chose England as the site for his case because under British libel law the burden of proof falls on the defendant. Another irony is that the verdict may make legal action more difficult for Holocaust deniers in the future, since precedent now has been set establishing the veracity of historical events they seek to refute.

"You cannot evade the facts," Chace said. "It takes a great deal of perversity to deny what the historical ledger, what scholar after scholar, museum after museum has shown."

The trial judge seemed to agree. "The charges which I have found substantially true include the charges that Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence," Gray said. Though he did not rule on who would have to pay court costs for the three-month-long trial, Gray indicated Irving would be largely responsible for the bill, which reports say may exceed $3 million.

Irving called the verdict "perverse," but reports differed on whether he would appeal.

Chace said Lipstadt would return to her Emory teaching duties for fall semester.

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