Denial: Holocaust History on Trial, by Deborah E. Lipstadt

Eight stars

Seeking something a little controversial thought-provoking, I turned to Deborah Lipstadt’s book, which depicts the trial she faced for libel against prolific UK author, David Irving. While this may seem a tad mind-numbing, the topic of discussion—Holocaust denials—turns the piece on its head and pulls the reader into the mix. Lipstadt sets the scene for the reader by explaining how things got to this point. In the mid-90s, she penned a book about the Holocaust, in which many of David Irving’s sentiments about the fallacy of the Nazi action came to light. Irving, a well-known writer in some circles—loosely called a ‘historian’ by others—appeared to take offence to this and sued Lipstadt for libel in the British courts, the country from which he hails. Unlike the American courts, British justice requires the accused to prove the libellous comments, putting Lipstadt on the hot seat. As she works with her legal team and Penguin Publishing, Lipstadt is unsure how anything can really come from his trial, which is sure to be a farce and end before things get too heated. Little does she know, but Irving is ready to clash and prepares his own prosecutorial attack to ensure he wins. As the trial opens, the reader is able to see many of the sentiments that Irving made in his books and speeches denying the Holocaust, including the attempts to deny that the atrocities ever took place. Lipstadt depicts the slow and sometimes painful progress of the trial, in which Irving tries not only to defend his views, but turn witness testimony around, while seeking to sever inferences that history and proof has shown. What might have been summarily dismissed turns into a massive trial in which Holocaust denial becomes the central theme. While her legal team refuses to let Lipstadt testify, her words in this book that summarise events are more explosive than anything I might have seen sitting in the gallery. Equally deplorable and captivating, Lipstadt shows how far some people will go while using freedom of speech to ignore what has been thoroughly documented over the past seventy years. Highly recommended to those who can stomach the vast amount of information and spin taken by a ‘historian’ of some ill-repute.

It was a good friend of mine who recommended this book a while back. While I immediately downloaded it, I was not sure I wanted to tackle the subject too quickly, as anything Nazi related must be consumed in the right mindset. I am now kicking myself for having waited so long and can only hope that I do justice in promoting this book to others. Lipstadt appears to argue effectively throughout, using the trial as her narrative, rather than rehashing much of what she wrote in her original tome. She adds flavour to the piece by exploring the sentiments and off-hand comments made by the likes of Irving, without allowing herself to get too tied up in knots. While David Irving is surely not the only person to write about the fallacy of the Nazi atrocities, Lipstadt’s focus on him is understandable in his piece. She is quick to point out expression and speech freedoms that all are due, though there is surely a limit, be it defined in a court of law, legislature, or even common sense. What might have been thought to be a show trial—much like those the Nazis surely used on their concentration camp prisoners—turned into something very disturbing for all involved. With thorough chapters that convey the central tenets of the trial, as well as the opinions of both sides, the tome takes on a life of its own and forces the reader to weigh the evidence. It is only when the reader reaches the end of the piece that they can get the full impact being expressed within this book. I might need to read Lipstadt’s offending book to better understand the context of this trial, but will wait, as I am sickened by some of what was revealed within this narrative.

Kudos, Madam Lipstadt, for a compelling book that pulls no punches. In an era when #fakenews seems to be the knee-jerk reaction to that we do not like, this book resonates deeply and presents that ignorance was not borne out of the 2016 US presidential election alone.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: