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A blow to Holocaust deniers


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 17, 2000

LONDON -- These died in the camps: 500,000 Gypsies; 500,000 gays and lesbians,; 500,000 disabled people; 1-million Russians; 2-million Christians; 6-million Jews.

The genocide practiced by the Nazis in the name of racial, cultural and ideological purity was so vast, so vicious, so calculated that it can be difficult to comprehend. How could human beings do these things to other human beings? But the horror does not alter the facts: The Nazis set out to exterminate the Jews and other "degenerate races." And yet there are those who still deny the Holocaust, ignoring or disbelieving the eyewitness testimony of those who managed to survive being packed onto the death trains like cattle on their way to the abattoir, or who suffered the electrodes and needles of fascist doctors in the labs at Buchenwald, or who recall the smell of hydrogen cyanide seeping from the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Chief among the Holocaust deniers is the British historian David Irving. He claims that "only a few hundred thousand" died at Auschwitz and that they weren't executed but "overworked." He claims that "Jewish apologists" grossly exaggerate the number of those killed in concentration camps and that the bombing of Dresden was just as bad as what happened at Dachau. He addresses neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, deploring race-mixing and exhorting Jews to "ask themselves why most people have hated them for 3,000 years."

Irving has a right to express his abhorrent views and distorted research in speech, in his books and on his Web site. Yet when Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish Studies at Emory University, exercised her right to express the opinion that Irving's work is anti-Semitic and racist, he sued her and the publishers of her book, Denying the Holocaust, for libel.

The trial went on for 32 days in London's High Court, with Irving acting as his own lawyer, attempting to show that he was not a racist or a distorter of the historical record or a Nazi sympathizer but a misunderstood scholar whose career had been ruined by (of course) an international Jewish conspiracy.

In handing down a straight-talking verdict against Irving, British Judge Charles Gray has delivered a devastating blow to the whole enterprise of Holocaust denial. He excoriated Irving's racist "political agenda," unequivocally stating that Irving misrepresents the historical record and "displays a distinctly pro-Nazi and anti-Jewish bias."

If the judge -- and the rest of the civilized world -- hadn't believed Irving was a neo-Nazi and a hateful fantasist before, they surely do now. Irving strutted around the courtroom making bizarre claims ranging from Hitler's ignorance of the Holocaust to an assertion that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz. At one point, he evidently forgot where he was, calling Justice Gray "Mein Fuhrer."

The significance of this ruling is immense. Free speech has been upheld, but the special pleading by Holocaust deniers that they are constantly silenced by a sinister Establishment will no longer be taken seriously. This trial gave Irving a big platform; he exhibited his evidence and aired his ideas -- and he lost. Denial of the Holocaust as an almost respectable-sounding branch of "revisionist history" has been exposed for the racist propaganda it is.

Of course, Irving and his fellow deniers will not lack for aid and comfort. Irving is already a star of the neo-Nazi movement, especially in the United States. Much of the money for Irving's legal bills comes from supporters in the Christian Identity movement, the National Alliance and other Hitlerphiles. Indeed, Irving finds the American side of the Atlantic more congenial: In September he'll appear at a "real history" conference in Cincinnati -- mostly to raise money for his cause.

Irving can come to America and say what he likes. That's what freedom of speech is all about. He is a salutary reminder that not all neo-Nazis have limited vocabularies, swastika tattoos and flick knives. Some are highly articulate, with sound academic credentials and sober ties. Nonetheless, he is still a liar, a dangerous liar, and a walking insult to the millions who must never be forgotten.

Diane Roberts is a Times editorial writer.

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