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Denying the Holocaust
on 18 September 2011
This book was the start of a cause celebre because David Irving chose to sue Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher for libel regarding comments made about him in the book. I remain a little surprised at this because in fact, there is not much about David Irving in the book and what Lipstadt wrote about him was already in the public domain.
Through reading about the trial, I discovered that Denying the Holocaust was out of print at the time and had it not been for the Irving's litigation would possibly have remained so.
I had for a long time been aware that some people deny that 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust but until I started reading about the subject, the very existence of concentration camps and the overtly anti-Semitic policies of the Nazi state were sufficient to mark it out for me as a particularly nasty episode in history, with or without the huge death toll. Even if the Holocaust deniers are right about gas chambers (and I have no reason to think they are), the moral opprobrium over the Nazis remains insurmountable.
In Denying the Holocaust, Lipstadt traces the development of denial literature from crude pamphlets to pseudo-scholastic publications that give the impression of having been considered by serious academic historians. In fact, Lipstadt says that the literature is littered with obfuscation, distortion, misquotation and mistranslation designed to cast doubt on what you would read in most history books on this subject.
The provenance of the literature was shown to have emanated from writers who were very much in league with Far right political parties rather than from academics who were pursuing any kind of objective truth about the subject. An assertion that I frequently read is that there is some kind of "official" version of the Holocaust and that it is illegal to depart from it. The book states that this is not the case. Historians report a broadly similar story of the Holocaust, not because they are only allowed to report this version of the facts, but because the overwhelming and converging evidence points to that particular story.
For me, a major issue is that readers do have to place a lot of trust in their historians because they do not have access to documents or the time to check them out themselves. Until the Irving v Lipstadt trial, no-one was aware how much Irving was distorting and manipulating the documentary evidence in order to show Hitler in the most favourable light
The development of the Holocaust Denial industry has seen the creation of the Institute of Historical Review. This organisation has published a number of pamphlets of which the majority relate to the Second World War and aspects of the Holocaust. Any superficial look at its publications, with their scholarly tone and extensive footnotes and references, would lead one to believe that they had been produced by disinterested historians searching for truth. There has also been a push to try to get the Holocaust deniers' views debated in American universities.
Deborah Lipstadt has been consistent in her response to the Institute of Historical Review and the attempts to "debate" the Holocaust in a way to question the basic underlying facts. For Lipstadt, this would only legitimise the notion that there can be any doubt as to these facts. There would be no meeting of minds; one writer has said that such a debate would be like an astrologer debating the stars with an astronomer. Some people have accused her of cowardice for not subjecting herself to cross examination by David Irving the libel trial in 2000. After reading this book, I see that she was only being consistent with the views she had expressed in this book.
Finally, I would say that the issues have moved on. I understand that there is increasing interest in this topic in Arab countries and there has also been an explosion of Holocaust denial sites on the Internet since this book was written.