WHEN Holocaust denier David Irving sued US academic Dr Deborah Lipstadt for libel in the UK in 1996, he wasn’t expecting a legal battle, let alone a ruling that would delegitimise Holocaust denial arguments.
Lipstadt spoke to dozens of legal practitioners about the case on Tuesday at an event held by the NSW Society of Jewish Jurists and Lawyers, and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.
Irving sued Lipstadt for libel over her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust.
“I devoted no more than 300 words to David Irving,” Lipstadt said. “I called him a Holocaust denier and someone who knows the truth but bends it for his own preconceived political purposes.
“I had no idea it might provoke a legal battle.
“I was not saying anything that … had not already been said about Irving and what I was saying was probably milder.”
Reflecting on the case itself, Lipstadt said, “Our strategy was simply the truth. Proving the Holocaust [happened] wasn’t our legal strategy.”
Lipstadt’s team “followed Irving’s footnotes” to find the original data he used to support his claims.
“In every single case … you find a distortion, an omission, something that is not true,” Lipstadt said.
“We stripped [Irving] of any legitimacy … by showing he was consistently lying.”
Lipstadt’s team did not call survivors to testify, as they didn’t want to grant Irving the opportunity to humiliate them.
“We didn’t want to suggest we felt we had to prove the Holocaust happened [with witnesses],” Lipstadt said.
“We wanted to say, ‘The Holocaust happened; we are here to focus on if Deborah Lipstadt libelled David Irving when she called him a Holocaust denier … who was consciously falsifying history’.”
Lipstadt said the “unexpected, unequivocal” ruling handed down by the judge had wide-reaching and long-term implications, making “hard-core … Holocaust denial less acceptable”.
“Irving was the source of many Holocaust [denial] arguments … [and] had a reputation as a historian who took controversial positions but had interesting things to say,” Lipstadt said.
Deborah Lipstadt in Sydney. Photo: Henry Benjamin.