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Battle for history

Movie depicts professor's trial against Holocaust denier

Kheyal Roy-Meighoo

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THE TRIAL

A courtroom hangs in suspense. The defendant awaits the verdict, knowing it will command the past. As the judge makes his decision, a feeling of relief spreads over the defendant. She has won and her victory does nothing less than decide the fate of history.

Deborah Lipstadt, Jewish studies professor at Emory University, leads the movement against Holocaust denial.

According to Lipstadt, a Holocaust denier refuses to acknowledge that the Holocaust ever occurred and claim that Hitler did not order the genocide of the Jewish people. Deniers also skew facts and evidence in order to support their claim. Lipstadt explained that deniers try to make “jews look guilty,” as if victims of the Holocaust are fabricating events that took place during World War II.

Lipstadt named British historian David Irving as a Holocaust denier in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.

Irving did not take this accusation lightly. On Sept. 5, 1996, he sued Lipstadt for libel, or written insult. Lipstadt flew to England not only to defend herself and her book, but to end Holocaust denial.

Before the trial, Lipstadt refused to debate Irving. She said debating over whether or not the Holocaust happened was like “debating with a doctor whether germs exist.” Nevertheless, Lipstadt faced Irving to discredit Holocaust denial.

“What we had to do in the courtroom was prove he was a liar,” Lipstadt said.

Lipstadt’s lawyers did not want the Holocaust itself to be put on trial. If the defense had put the Holocaust on trial and lost, Holocaust denial would be legal. It was crucial that the lawyers dispel Holocaust denial, rather than provide incentives for it to grow.

“I felt I was representing the people who had died, who were murdered…and those who survived and had no means of fighting deniers,” Lipstadt said.

The film poster advertises “Denial’s” release on Sept. 30, 2016.

During the trial, Lipstadt faced tough decisions. Lipstadt recalls that about 20 holocaust survivors approached her during the trial, urging her to use them as witnesses to prove the Holocaust actually happened. Despite Lipstadt’s desire to share their stories, her defense never called for the testimony of a survivor.  This was because, according to Lipstadt, Irving would “humiliate survivors.”

“At first I felt badly,” Lipstadt said, “[but] not using testimonies was the right thing to do.”

Lipstadt and her lawyers decided to use irrefutable facts rather than emotion.

“You have to show the facts, and sometimes passion gets in the way of facts,” Lipstadt said.

There were several times when Irving was in the lead. For example, he declared that the holes on the roof of a gas chamber used by the Nazis were simply drawn in each photograph submitted as evidence. His slogan, “No holes, no Holocaust!” became the trademark of the trial.

Lipstadt’s team’s strategies paid off. Justice Charles Gray delivered the verdict on April 11, 2000, and Lipstadt won.

According to the The Guardian, the judge ruled Irving was “an active Holocaust denier; that he was anti-Semitic and racist and that he associated with right-wing extremists who promote Neo-Nazism.”

“Not only did we win, but we devastated the man,” Lipstadt said.

Irving applied for the verdict to be reviewed in 2001, but was denied. In 2002, Irving declared bankruptcy.

Lipstadt continues to advocate against Holocaust denial.

TO THE SILVER SCREEN

Deborah Lipstadt with her film counterpart, Rachel Weisz. “[Lipstadt]’s a wonderful character,” Weisz said. “I found her very outspoken and strong-willed and direct, as well as a lot of fun to spend time with.”

After the trial, Lipstadt’s journey from lawsuit to victory hit the big screen. Released in Sept. 2016, the movie Denial depicts Lipstadt’s historic trial.

The movie begins with a glimpse into Lipstadt’s Emory classroom. Before the trial, Lipstadt taught Holocaust history using memoirs and films. At the conclusion of Denial, Lipstadt stands in her classroom, knowing that facts triumphed over fiction.

Lipstadt urges high school students to watch the movie and believes when it comes to history, there are “certain things you can’t turn away from.”

To Lipstadt, it is important for students to assert themselves. Lipstadt knows it can be hard to speak up, but she encourages students to take a stand.

When Irving sued Lipstadt, she was discouraged from going to court.

“I was told by some academics that I was wasting my time,” Lipstadt said, “but if I hadn’t fought, then I would have surely lost.”

Throughout her life, Lipstadt fought against history falsifiers and encourages others to do the same.

“You have to be willing to take on the liars,” Lipstadt said.

“It would have become illegal to call the world’s leading Holocaust denier what he is….[Denial teaches that] there are not two sides to every issue,” Lipstadt said. “My students often believe everybody has a right to their opinion, but facts are facts.”

According to Denial director Mick Jackson, “we live in an age of unreason and lies, an age of violent outrages and all kinds of assaults on the truth.”

Jackson agreed to direct the film because he believes in seeking out the truth. For Jackson, Denial exposes the impact of lies that circulate.

“When this script came my way, I thought, ‘I have to [direct] that,’” Jackson said.

Lipstadt shares a similar view. In her opinion, Denial needed to be produced to expose the lies that can be used to rewrite historical facts.

DENIAL INCITES STUDENT ACTION

After coming out of the theater, sophomore Ruby Loggins had mixed emotions.

“I was [angry] that someone had to argue that [the Holocaust] happened. I was [proud] because liars don’t win,” Loggins said.

As a Jewish student, Holocaust denial infuriates Loggins. Loggins admires Lipstadt’s ability to fight Irving.

“She’s one of those people you root for,” Loggins said. “She’s fighting for good.”

Loggins experienced the bullying Lipstadt fights against.

“When I was in grade school, I was bullied for being Jewish,” Loggins said. “I told the teacher and talked to the kid right away … if I had seen that happen to someone else I would have been less sure of what to do.”  

After watching the film, Loggins says that she admires Lipstadt’s “strong conviction” and her “ability to speak out for an entire group of people.”

“I know a lot of people, including myself, who in that situation would have found it very difficult to do the same thing,” Loggins said.

For Loggins, Lipstadt’s commitment to justice has made her proud that “even though people will try to belittle and deny the Holocaust they won’t succeed.”

“[Denial] inspired me to stand up for what is right,” she said. “Whatever that may be.”

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About the Writer
Kheyal Roy-Meighoo, DEC Producer
Kheyal Roy-Meighoo (Class of 2019) is a dedicated journalist who will stop at nothing to get to the truth.  She spends her time learning, making music, crafting, drawing, advocating for equality, Model UN-ing, helping the environment, and investigating!  Beware of this 5’2 ½” menace!
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