No Denying Deborah Lipstadt’s Voice

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Deborah Lipstadt (Courtesy of Emory University)
Deborah Lipstadt (Courtesy of Emory University)

“I stand on my work and reputation and not on the honorifics which are applied to me,” said Deborah Lipstadt, when asked if she should be referred to as “doctor” or “professor” during her interview with the JT.

“Deborah” it is.


Lipstadt is the subject of a provocative and essential new film, released Oct. 21, called “Denial,” which chronicles the nearly decade-long battle the world-renown author and Jewish studies scholar underwent defending herself from claims of libel in the United Kingdom.

Directed by Mick Jackson (“L.A. Story,” “The Bodyguard,” “Temple Grandin”) from a screenplay by David Hare (“The Hours”) based on Lipstadt’s own 2005 memoir “History of Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving,” “Denial” is playing now at the Charles Theater and also stars Timothy Spall, Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson and Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt.

‘Genocide’ is one of the  demarcating factors of the 20th century. It’s pretty clear to me this  is all very  important.

— Deborah Lipstadt

In her 1993 book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” Lipstadt referred acrimoniously to self-proclaimed WWII expert David Irving as “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial,” among other pejoratives that Irving alleged caused irreparable harm to his continued career as writer and speaker.

The contentious British author brought a libel suit against Lipstadt, cannily choosing his home of the United Kingdom to do so, as in that court system, the burden of proof lies on the defendant, a reversal of our own “innocent until proven guilty” legal foundation. Lipstadt was essentially forced to either settle or fight Irving in court to defend what would ultimately be not only her own credibility but, in many ways, that of the Holocaust’s import in the global arena.

“I thought it would be a real amazing opportunity to bring Deborah Lipstadt to our community right around when the movie came out,” said Israeli-born Hana Bor about Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University’s invitation to Lipstadt to come speak at the campus on Thursday, Nov. 3.

The event will be free and open to the public, “an opportunity to come and hear history from a first-person account,” said Bor, who is Towson’s Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone Professor, program director for Leadership in Jewish Education & Communal Service graduate programs and  responsible for the creation of the five-year B.A./M.A. degree program in family science and leadership.

“The history of all of this is happening right now.”

— Hana Bor of the Baltimore Hebrew Institute

“The movie dramatizes the real event, but the history of  all of this is happening right now,” Bor said.

Bor, who teaches courses on diversity and culture, said she believes the inexplicable existence of Holocaust denial is something too many people are unaware of, especially since the Holocaust itself is so rarely taught as part of required curriculum at both universities and high schools across the nation.

“It’s a good opportunity to raise the issue of anti-Semitism and to teach about people who deliberately distort the facts or choose to ignore  certain facts,” Bor said of the upcoming Lipstadt speaking engagement, particularly in reference to the likes of Irving who was indeed found by the court to be a distorter of facts in his works as noted by Lipstadt in her own.

Beyond the existence of Holocaust denial — as more than a mere fringe lunacy but rather a pernicious infiltration of academic and mainstream media circles — Lipstadt told the JT she plans on speaking at Towson about the biographical film, how Holocaust denial is a furtive form of anti-Semitism and frightening implications about why it should be of more concern today.

Lipstadt noted that “it wasn’t supposed to be like this,” in reference to how so much of her life — at least in the public eye — has become about Holocaust denial in general and her recent court case with Irving specifically.

Why focus on the Holocaust at all then?

Rachel Weisz as writer and historian Deborah Lipstadt in "Denial." (Laurie Sparham/Bleecker Street)
Rachel Weisz as writer and historian Deborah Lipstadt in “Denial.” (Laurie Sparham/Bleecker Street)

“I’m not a child of survivors,” she confessed, adding that though she had no immediate family in the Holocaust, she sees herself as a “20th-century historian [who] writes about the Jewish people. You name for me a more critical event for the Jewish people … and for the world. ‘Genocide’ is one of the demarcating factors of the 20th century. It’s pretty clear to me this is all very important.”

Lipstadt ardently suggested that just as slavery is something white people should learn more about, as rape is something men need to learn more about, the Holocaust is something gentiles need to learn more about.

Hence her admiration of the filmmakers of “Denial” for the work they’ve done in bringing her work to a larger mainstream audience and why she feels public lectures such as the one coming to Towson next week is crucial to a better understanding of both history and important issues facing Jews and non-Jews alike.

As a main fulcrum of the film and her true story, Lipstadt refuses to debate anyone about the existence of the Holocaust.

“I wouldn’t expect someone who is an earth scientist to  debate someone who thinks the Earth is flat; I wouldn’t  expect someone who specializes in medicine to debate someone about vaccines causing autism when there’s no science to that; I wouldn’t expect a historian to debate someone who says slavery was only a kind of ‘indentured servitude.’”

If anything, Lipstadt said, the film coming out has made her feel stronger about her intractable position, “especially after seven years were stolen from my life [during the trial].”

“I think debate is important when there’s two sides,” said Jill Max, who has been the  director of the Baltimore  Hebrew Institute for the last five years and worked with Bor to bring Lipstadt to Towson.

“But there are not two sides to the Holocaust,” Max said. “It’s a historical fact, so I agree with Deborah 100 percent. You can’t debate somebody who is clearly there just to deny. To get down in the mud with a person like that … I  understand why she feels that way. It’s counterproductive, because you can’t win a situation like that. What you can do is bring facts to an audience, write books and defend against libel, and all of that has ultimately worked out for her.”

Deborah Lipstadt will be speaking at Towson University on Thursday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. This is a free event. For registration and more information, visit bit.ly/2eIhK07.

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

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