David Irving v Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt/I
A summary of the main issues
1.1 In this action the Claimant, David Irving, maintains that he has been libelled in a book entitled “Denying the Holocaust – The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory”, which was published by Penguin Books Limited and written by Professor Deborah Lipstadt, who are respectively the First and Second Defendants in the action. (For the sake of brevity I shall refer to them, as in due course I shall refer to the expert witnesses, by their last names).
1.2 The essential issues in the action can be summarised as follows: Irving complains that certain passages in the Defendants’ book accuse him of being a Nazi apologist and an admirer of Hitler, who has resorted to the distortion of facts and to the manipulation of documents in support of his contention that the Holocaust did not take place. He contends that the Defendants’ book is part of a concerted attempt to ruin his reputation as an historian and he seeks damages accordingly. The Defendants, whilst they do not accept the interpretation which Irving places on the passages complained of, assert that it is true that Irving is discredited as an historian by reason of his denial of the Holocaust and by reason of his persistent distortion of the historical record so as to depict Hitler in a favourable light. The Defendants maintain that the claim for damages for libel must in consequence fail.
1.3 Needless to say, the context in which these issues fall to be determined is one which arouses the strongest passions. On that account, it is important that I stress at the outset of this judgment that I do not regard it as being any part of my function as the trial judge to make findings of fact as to what did and what did not occur during the Nazi regime in Germany. It will be necessary for me to rehearse, at some length, certain historical data. The need for this arises because I must evaluate the criticisms of or (as Irving would put it) the attack upon his conduct as an historian in the light of the available historical evidence. But it is not for me to form, still less to express, a judgement about what happened. That is a task for historians. It is important that those reading this judgment should bear well in mind the distinction between my judicial role in resolving the issues arising between these parties and the role of the historian seeking to provide an accurate narrative of past events.
1.4 David Irving, the Claimant, embarked on his career as an author in the early 1960s shortly after he left Imperial College London. He is the author of over 30 books, most of which are concerned with the events of and leading up to the Second World War (some of which were written and published in Germany). Amongst the better known titles are The Destruction of Dresden, Hitler’s War (1977 and 1991 editions), Goebbels – Mastermind of the Third Reich, Goering – a Biography and Nuremberg – The Last Battle.
1.5 As these titles suggest, Irving has specialised in the history of the Third Reich. He describes himself as an expert in the principal Nazi leaders (although in his opening he was at pains to make clear that he does not regard himself as an historian of the Holocaust). Many of his works have been published by houses of the highest standing and have attracted favourable reviews. It is beyond dispute that over the years (Irving is now aged 62), he has devoted an enormous amount of time to researching and chronicling the history of the Third Reich. The books themselves are eloquent testimony to his industry and diligence.
1.6 Apart from his books Irving has written numerous articles and, particularly in recent years, lectured and spoken both in Europe and the Americas and participated in numerous radio and television broadcasts. He emphasises that his reputation as an historian is founded upon his output of books.
1.7 As to his political beliefs, he describes himself as a Conservative with laissez-faire views. He mentions that he has not applauded the uncontrolled tide of Commonwealth immigration.
1.8 The 2nd Defendant, Deborah Lipstadt, lives and works in the United States. She was raised in a traditional Jewish home (her parents having migrated from Germany and Poland). She attended City College of New York and spent a year at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where she took a series of courses on the history of the Holocaust, subsequently staying on for a further year. On her return to the United States she completed an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Jewish Studies.
1.9 Since then Lipstadt has pursued an academic career teaching modern Jewish history with an emphasis on the Holocaust. In 1993 she moved to Emory University, a research institution in Atlanta, Georgia, where she is Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies. She has written two books about the responses to the Holocaust, Beyond Belief: the American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust 1933-1945 and the book which has given rise to the present action, Denying the Holocaust. The latter was published by Penguin Books in an American edition and thereafter in an English paperback edition.
1.10 I should for the sake of completeness add that initially a number of individuals were joined as additional Defendants. The action is not pursued against them.