My Confrontation with Deborah Lipstadt
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On Friday morning, November 11, 1994, my friend Martin O'Toole and I drove to DeKalb College auditorium [Decatur, Georgia], where Deborah Lipstadt [author of Denying the Holocaust] was due to speak. We were among the first to arrive, and as I struggled to carry in two large boxes of the paperback version of my 1989 book, Göring, we bumped into Lipstadt herself. She was speaking with the meeting organizers, and did not recognize me. I tucked myself away in one of the auditorium's exit corridors, then slipped into the room after she began speaking to the crowd of approximately 150 students. O'Toole already had set up his video camera on a tripod inconspicuously to one side of the auditorium.
Totally unaware that I was there, Lipstadt made several ugly references to me as somebody, "not really a historian," who had published several books but had earned no respect from other historians. In fact I was "not a respectable historian" at all. Earlier she had referred to [Journal editor] Mark Weber in the same terms, of [Liberty Lobby's] Willis Carto, and – pandering to the sizable black section of the audience – of David Duke and his "white sheet and cone-head."
She talked of the eyewitnesses to the HolocaustTM at length though not in detail, and of the mounds of documents that exist to disprove the revisionists (a word she does not use; she calls revisionists "Holocaust deniers," and said she is proud to have coined the term). In particular she said that among the documents that refute the "deniers" is a "blueprint of a gas chamber complete with the openings through which the SS tipped the pellets of cyanide."
I estimate 75 percent of Lipstadt's speech was empty vaporings on the level of, "Those guys are denying the Holocaust. I won't debate them. I refuse to. Would you debate somebody who said the Earth was flat? Would you debate somebody who said sexual abuse of children was good? There is no debate." She returned to the child abuse theme at least five times in her meandering talk, prompting me to consider asking her whether by her obsession with child abuse she was trying, unconsciously, to tell us something about her own childhood.
Question time came. The first came from Georgia attorney Sam Dickson who, without any prearrangement whatsoever between the two of us, asked Ms. Lipstadt to explain why she is so disrespectful of me, given that I have such a distinguished record of literary accomplishments? She avoided giving a direct answer, suspecting that Dickson was a hostile. In fact, as soon as she deduced that he was not there to flatter her she snapped at him, "Get to a question or sit down."
I then politely put up my hand. Invited to speak, I boomed in my very British, very loud voice: "Professor Lipstadt, I am right in believing you are not a historian – you are a professor of religion?" She answered that she was a professor of religion but also of something in history. I then waded in with verbal fists flying: "I am the David Irving to whom you have made such disparaging reference in your speech. Given that I have 30 years' experience in the archives, that I have published some 30 books in the leading publishing houses of the world, includingViking Press, William Morrow, E. P. Dutton, and Avon in this country, what gives you the right to go around the world, including Australia and New Zealand (which visits she had mentioned proudly in her speech) blackening my name as though my opinions are of no consequence?" She became enraged and shouted at me to sit down or ask a question.
Still booming I continued: "You have just told an outright lie to these students. You are trying to dupe gullible students into believing that there are mounds of documents proving the Holocaust. You referred specifically to one, a 'blueprint of a gas chamber,' complete with 'the holes through which pellets were inserted.' I have here," holding up a handful of $20 bills, "a thousand dollars I will give you if you can produce to this audience, now or at any time in the future, this document about which you have just lied to them. One thousand dollars!"
What started as a pleasing "silent gasp" when I began my question and the students realized who I was, became an uproar. I then challenged her on those world tours: "Why don't you tell the audience who hired you to go around Australia and New Zealand! Who paid your fees?" She spluttered that she hadn't received any fee. I pressed on remorselessly: "Why don't you tell the students who paid your air fares to Australia and all around that continent, and who paid all your expenses. Because if you won't tell them, I will." I did not, however. By this time I could see adult staff running this way and that, obviously setting things in motion. Time to keep powder dry.
A black man sitting next to O'Toole, ten rows ahead of me and to the right, with his video camera running, chuckled, "Man, this is turning into fun." I called out, "I have here two boxes of my books (holding a copy of Göring aloft), which I am happy to give free to students, so they can see just who I am, and which of us is lying."
One or two students were hostile, but at least most of them were alert and awake. As Lipstadt began screaming into the microphone, I unrolled the 1944 aerial photograph of Auschwitz, and tried to show that the picture revealed no trace of the "two thousand tons of coke" that the alleged cremations (those to which Rudolf Höss "confessed") would have needed every day. I am not sure that students got this point in the mounting turmoil, however.
An armed security man had arrived, brought in by the organizers, and told me that if I would not agree to be silent, I would have to leave. I stood up and said loudly, "So! Professor Lipstadt not only refuses to debate with us, she has Security called to prevent any discussion." Dickson motioned to me to sit down. (He afterwards said I would probably have been arrested and held, so his counsel was welcome.). There were no serious questions after that. Several times I wagged the bundle of $20 bills aloft, as she was speaking, and hissed: "One thousand dollars...!" When it was over, Lipstadt was livid about the outcome; the students dazed.
Then came the test: Would any of the students take the bait, and accept a free book? If the first student refused to touch it, they all would. But one man who had earlier gotten a copy of the book from me returned – even as Lipstadt was speaking – to ask for an autograph. I signed his book, and gave him four more to hand out. That "seeded" the audience nicely. After Lipstadt finished speaking, I was mobbed by students asking for a copy. Victory! "I've only got seventy," I said loudly, "so there are not enough for everybody." Beneath Lipstadt's anguished gaze the students then formed another line to get their copies of the book autographed. Some students had me autograph copies of the printed invitation. As I did so, I noticed that each of them was blank, which meant that either they had not asked Lipstadt for her autograph, or she would have to sign after me.
O'Toole had been able to videotape the entire 90 minutes, getting Lipstadt on long focus and capturing my interventions, as well. Outside, I sat on a ledge, signing books, and lecturing the students on the Holocaust. One, looking like a junky, was hostile but even so I treated him with courtesy and patience. Another was Mia Daniels, a journalist for the DeKalb Collegian. I could see she was not writing down the favorable points I made. They learn young. The head of the German department asked for a book, but I was empty-handed by then. Shortly, one of the organizers bustled over to ask who had videotaped the event, and did we have a "release" signed by Lipstadt permitting this? O'Toole handed her his card and intimated that the video was needed as evidence in case Lipstadt libeled me or in case I was falsely accused of libeling her. The card read, "Martin O'Toole, Attorney at Law." On seeing this, the organizer blanched and withdrew.
But victory had not come cheap, what with air fares, car rental, and nearly a thousand dollars' worth of books donated to the audience. Still, not since April 1983 and the Hitler Diaries fiasco – not indeed since June 1977 and David Frost's failed television attempt to demolish Hitler's War – has success smelled as sweet, and been (in my view) so richly deserved.
Additional information about this document
|Title:||My Confrontation with Deborah Lipstadt, From Irving's Diary|
|Sources:||The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 15, no. 1 (January/February 1995), pp. 28-30|
|First posted on CODOH:||Dec. 14, 2012, 6 p.m.|