David Irving’s reputation as an historian was demolished yesterday when his High Court libel case ended with him branded an anti-Semitic, racist Holocaust denier and pro-Nazi polemicist.
“Irving has for his own ideological reasons combatant persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence,” Mr Justice Gray said at the end of the 32-day hearing. “For the same reasons, he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews”. And while the judge said it was not his function to express a view of what happened during the Nazi era, his verdict will set a benchmark for historians of the period and Mr Irving faces a future as an academic pariah.
The crushing defeat has also left Mr Irving facing a £2.5 million legal bill which he claims he cannot pay. Costs have still to be settled at a future hearing, but the judge warned the historian that he would have to pay the “vast bulk” of the expenses incurred by the American academic Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books.
Mr Irving had sued them for libel over claims in her book, Denying the Holocaust: the Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, that he was a “Hitler partisan” who had denied the existence of the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
Before the judgment Mr Irving, who claims to have no significant assets but his spacious flat in Mayfair, told The Times that he expected Penguin Books to make him bankrupt if he lost. Penguin said it would take “active steps” to pursue him for its costs, but sources accepted that the company was unlikely to recoup its outlay. A statement from the publisher said: “What today’s judgment has proved is that we were right to stand by the content of our book and that it was entirely inappropriate of David Irving to seek to suppress the book by way of a libel action.”
The defendants had turned down an offer from Mr Irving to settle out of court for ?500 to be paid to charity. They decided to fight because it would have been “morally repugnant” to concede.
Mr Irving says he has raised a fighting fund of $500,000 ( £317,000) in an Internet appeal, but refuses to say who his backers are.After the verdict yesterday, he was escorted through the rear exit of the High Court by security staff to a waiting taxi, saying only: “The judgment was perverse. I shall be appealing.”
The judge had refused him leave to appeal, but said he was free to apply directly to the Court of Appeal.
Later, at his home, Mr Irving said: “I would describe the judgment in two words — firstly, indescribable, and secondly, perverse.” He refused to talk about the cost of losing the case. “Why is everyone talking about money? I’m not interested in money. It is all about reputation,” he said.
He remained unrepentant about what the judge saw as racist and anti-Semitic views, saying: “I am not at all anti-Semitic. It is not anti-Semitic to be critical of the Jews. But the leaders of the Jewish communities around the world have used the most horrific methods to try and destroy me. Some people are vindictive, but that is not in my nature. I am a Christian through and through.”
Prof. LipstadtA jubilant Professor Lipstadt said she was delighted and felt “exceptionally vindicated”. Later she told a press conference: “One of the most moving moments did not happen in the court proceedings but outside when I was enveloped by [Holocaust] survivors who said thank you.”
Professor Lipstadt had received a call the night before from a man who had been in the Resistance in the Warsaw ghetto. He had spoken indirectly on behalf of all Holocaust survivors to say: “Deborah, you sleep well tonight, because we’re not sleeping.” She added: “I’ve had enough of Irving’s cesspool for the last five years. I would expect no respectable institution or publication to give him a platform. I hope this victory will save other authors from having to face such trials and tribulations.”
The judgment was hailed by Lord Janner of Braunstone, chairman of the Holocaust Education Trust, as an epic victory for truth. “The Irving case shows the crucial importance of educating our young people in the tragedy of the Holocaust especially as a symbol of the dangers of allowing racist dictatorships to rule,” he said.
The Israeli Minister for Israeli Society and World Jewish Communities, Rabbi Michael Melchior, said the judgment delivered the message that Holocaust deniers should be regarded alongside the worst of the Nazis. He called for the ruling to be taught in schools everywhere.
Apr. 12, 2000
Michael Horsnell and Alex O'Connell