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“History on Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving” By Deborah E. Lipstadt (Ecco; 368 pages) For decades, British author David Irving wrote best-sellers about World War II and Nazi Germany in which he whitewashed the horrors of the Holocaust. His work led American professor Deborah Lipstadt to cite Irving as one of the most dangerous “Holocaust deniers” in her 1993 book “Denying the Holocaust. “ The charge rankled Irving, who subsequently sued Lipstadt for libel in the United Kingdom. As a result, Lipstadt found herself in court, even though Irving was the one who made the seemingly indefensible remarks. Her six-year legal battle culminated in a 2000 trial in which British judge Charles Gray ruled that Lipstadt had indeed written the truth about Irving. Lipstadt details her experiences in “History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving,” an account of what it’s like to be an unwilling defendant in the justice system. In order to keep the focus on Irving, Lipstadt’s attorneys decided that she shouldn’t take the witness stand herself. But Lipstadt gets to tell her side in “History on Trial.” The first section of the book is devoted to the research that Lipstadt’s legal team conducted into Irving’s writings. The forensic details will appeal to those who like a good detective story. But once Lipstadt starts to describe the trial, her first-person narrative gets tiresome. Her efforts to create suspense fall flat since the reader knows how the proceedings will turn out. Still, Irving’s provocative testimony is often absurdly entertaining, and a reader can comfortably laugh at his claims because they were regularly rebutted by Lipstadt’s attorneys. Lipstadt, currently a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, writes that though Irving’s work has generally been well regarded, he has always expressed unconventional views about World War II and Nazi Germany. And according to Lipstadt, Irving has attended gatherings of Holocaust-denier groups such as the California-based Institute for Historical Review. Irving first came to Lipstadt’s attention in 1977, when he published Hitler’s War, which claims that the f�hrer didn’t know about the Final Solution. Irving went even further when he reissued the book in 1991; he dismissed descriptions of the Nazi gas chambers as “unsubstantiated.” When Lipstadt published Denying the Holocaust two years later, she attacked Irving for skewing the facts “to preach historically untenable conclusions.” Irving sued Lipstadt for libel, claiming that her accusation was scaring publishers away from his work. In Britain the burden of proof in a libel case rests with the defendant rather than the plaintiff, as in the United States. So instead of Irving having to prove that Lipstadt had lied, she had to prove that she told the truth. The first third of “History on Trial” drags a little as Lipstadt’s solicitors prepare her case, but the story picks up when the trial begins. Though Irving’s loss seems inevitable in retrospect, it didn’t look that way to Lipstadt as she sat mute through the 10-week trial. To a reader, however, Irving looks like an easy target. Not long into the trial, barrister Richard Rampton — who represented Lipstadt in court — focused on a passage in Hitler’s War in which Irving quoted an entry from the diary of SS chief Heinrich Himmler. According to Irving, Himmler wrote in November 1941 that Hitler had ordered that “trainloads” of Berlin Jews should not be deported to the concentration camps. Rampton argued that Irving had mistranslated that sentence, which only referred to a single trainload. While Irving acknowledged the mistake, he maintained that it was an innocent one. Rampton then confronted Irving with a letter the author wrote in 1974 in which he had translated the Himmler passage correctly. According to Rampton, it was just one of 25 instances in which Irving deliberately falsified his sources. Judge Gray ultimately found that Irving had “significantly misrepresented what the evidence, objectively examined,” revealed about the Holocaust. Though Lipstadt was stuck with a $2 million legal bill from her attorneys, she had managed to prove that Irving was a liar. That ultimately mattered more to her — and most likely to one of the spectators at the trial, an old woman with a tattooed number on her arm. Patricia Paine is a copy editor at Corporate Counsel and its affiliated publicationThe American Lawyer.

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