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Jewish World Review April 17, 2000/ 12 Nissan, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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The slippery slope of anti-Semitism -- NOW IT'S OFFICIAL. Auschwitz was not built by the Poles as a "tourist attraction'' after World War II, after all. Jews were gassed there, and Hitler knew about the Final Solution before 1943.

The grisly history of the Holocaust is familiar to most of us, but not to everybody. David Irving, the British "historian,'' argues that the Holocaust is overrated as tragedy and he embellishes it with perversity, such as the notion that Auschwitz was a sort of Disney World of death for ghoulish tourists. He thought enough of his crackpot ideas to defend them in court. A judge found them indefensible.

The judge found that Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish history at Emory University in Atlanta, had not libeled him when she called him a Holocaust denier. The judge went even further: Mr. Irving, he said, was an anti-Semite and racist who deliberately misrepresented and misinterpreted the historical record.

Mr. Irving sued Miss Lipstadt and her British publisher, Penguin UK. He sued in England where libel is much easier to prove than in the United States, where a plaintiff must not only prove falsity, but malicious intent.

Miss Lipstadt accused him of willfully exploiting his academic expertise by bending and twisting historical evidence to conform to his neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic sympathies.

Mr. Irving argued that branding him a "holocaust denier'' is the equivalent of calling him a "wife-beater'' or a "pedophile'' and that he was merely redefining the record. The accusation, he argued, ruined his scholarly reputation, causing publishers to reject his manuscripts. His books once produced an income of nearly $100,000 a year.

Both author and publisher decided to stand and fight in a costly and brain-draining trial rather than making the suit go away by apologizing and donating $400 to David Irving's favorite charity.

"Normally I don't debate with these (Holocaust deniers) on principle because I don't think they should be treated as `the other side,' '' she told the London Telegraph. "But if I had not fought, he would have won by default and people would have thought his version of the Holocaust to be a legitimate definition.''

That's true. We still have eyewitnesses and Holocaust survivors to testify to the hideous truth of the extermination camps, and how much easier to distort the record after the actual participants are gone.

Polls show that 38 percent of high school students and 28 percent of American adults can't identify the Holocaust. Librarians often place books by Holocaust deniers next to authentic histories. In Pittsburgh a high school class president, supported by his father, accused a history teacher of being one-sided when she didn't include David Irving's Holocaust revisionism in her history seminar. A Polish professor of history at the state-run University of Opole taught that death camps were built only to kill lice on prisoners. (He was fired.)

Mr. Irving claims to have raised a half-million dollars in contributions as small as $2 and as large as $80,000. He'll need all that and considerably more now that he is required to pay the legal fees for the defense, estimated to be about $3 million.

Mr. Irving was once respected for his military scholarship, for digging out raw archival material for original interpretations about the Third Reich. But skepticism long ago sank to taunt and insult. He describes "The Diary of Anne Frank'' as a romantic novel; he asks an Auschwitz survivor how much money she makes from displaying her tattoo; he calls Jewish witnesses of the Holocaust "liars.'' His Internet site asks for help in compiling a list of "obviously absurd eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust,'' noting that the contributor who offers the best example will be awarded "the prestigious Elie Wiesel Prize.''

He was kicked out of Germany, where denying the Holocaust is a crime and free speech is not quite understood. He has been barred from Canada and Australia, too. His bigotry contaminates everything he touches, even a nursery verse he composed for his daughter Jessica, which the defense lawyers found in his diary:

"I am a Baby Aryan
Not Jewish or sectarian
I have no plans to marry
An ape or Rastafarian.''

When a reporter asked him if he regretted writing the poem, he replied that he regretted only using the word "Rastafarian.'' He wished that he had written "vegetarian.''


04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate