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Reviewed by:
  • History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving
  • Saul Lerner
History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving, by Deborah Lipstadt. New York: Ecco, 2005). 368 pp. $25.95.

In her book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving, Deborah Lipstadt has written an extremely interesting, passionate, and deeply disturbing description of her legal encounter in the English Courts with David Irving. Extremely interesting because it walks the reader, step by step, through the [End Page 174] events leading to the court case, the selection of Lipstadt's legal staff and their approaches, the details of the presentation of the respective sides in the case, the judge's role, the outcome of the trial, the appeals, and the final outcome of the appeal process; passionate because the book conveys the emotional intensity of the courtroom drama and the feelings of Lipstadt and her legal and professional support team; and deeply disturbing because the book clearly describes David's Irving's courtroom behavior, arguments, and writings which, from Lipstadt's perspective and that of her support team, demonstrated and documented the proposition "that Irving had lied about the Holocaust and had done so out of antisemitic motives" (p. 33).

The efforts of Lipstadt and her supporters to document prevarication and antisemitism were made more difficult because of the very limited criticism that Irving had previously received for the publication of his books. In his introduction to the book, Anthony Lewis said of the reception of Irving's works and his regard as a scholar:

What was striking was that the author of this outrageous nonsense was treated respectfully. British editors continued to publish his articles. His books were reviewed by serious historians, with praise for his diligent research and with occasional reservations about some of his conclusions.

(p. xi)

This was a problem with which Lipstadt had to contend in her evaluation of David Irving. The trial arose out of the publication of Lipstadt's important book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (1986), in which she described the activities of numerous Holocaust deniers, among whom she listed David Irving. In Denying the Holocaust, Lipstadt identified David Irving as a "Hitler Partisan wearing blinkers" who, according to Lipstadt, "was a denier, Hitler partisan, and right-wing ideologue" and who sought to argue against the historical reality of the Holocaust by means of distortions of evidence, manipulations of documents, and misrepresentation of data (pp. 32, xviii). David Irving sued in the English court system, alleging that through her description of and arguments against him, Lipstadt had engaged in "a sustained malicious, vigorous, well-funded, and reckless world-wide campaign of personal defamation," and that this constituted libel (pp. xix, 32). Suing in the English court system meant that the burden of proof lay with Lipstadt and not Irving, as would have been the case in a libel suit in the court system of the United States. Lipstadt and her defense team spent four years preparing for the ten-month trial that took place in the winter of 2000.

While Irving represented himself in the initial trial, Lipstadt and her legal team decided that, although she would attend the trial every day, she would not speak or provide testimony at any time. This decision often proved very painful to Lipstadt as she sat mute, listening to the arguments of Irving. The [End Page 175] book is a detailed and accurate recounting of the day-to-day and week-to-week details of the trial, including Irving's arguments, allegations, and comments, the arguments of the defense, the testimony of witnesses, the comments and questions of Judge Charles Gray, and Lipstadt's personal comments and observations regarding the spectacle of the trial. In attempting to support Lipstadt, her defense team presented an enormous quantity of documentation, information, and testimony from historians and scholars of world-wide reputation and prestige in the field of Holocaust studies. Irving's role was frequently that of denying the validity of documentation, information, and testimony. His efforts, therefore, were often a public attempt to undermine and sometimes ridicule the validity of evidence and testimony on the...


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