Lipstadt Speaks at University In Response to Holocaust Deniers on Campus
Miryam Z. Wahrman, Ph.D.
"David Irving is one of the world's most dangerous Holocaust deniers, a man who knows historical truth but bends it to fit his preconceived political notion," declared Deborah Lipstadt. "He is a Hitler partisan who will go to any lengths to vindicate and to erase any of the negatives that are associated with the name Adolf Hitler."
Lipstadt spoke at William Paterson University of New Jersey (WPUNJ) to an audience of more than 300 students, faculty and visitors from the community, at an event held in commemoration of Kristallnacht. Her talk, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory", described her experiences in a recent court case in London. The 355 page verdict for the trial vindicated her and her publishers of all charges of libel brought by history revisionist, David Irving.
"Sixty-two years ago, on the night of Nov. 9, 1938, anti-Jewish violence started throughout Germany and Austria," reported Peter Stein. "The Kristallnacht pogrom - called the night of the broken glass - was a night of horror, which showed the world the brutality of the Nazi regime." Stein, who is Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the WPUNJ Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, declared, "As part of tonight's program we remember the victims, including nine members of my own family, who perished in the Holocaust."
Lipstadt was invited to speak at WPUNJ in response to incidents of Holocaust denial on campus. Last spring, The Beacon, William Paterson's campus newspaper, published an advertisement submitted by Bradley Smith, Director of CODOH - the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust.
"The unspoken ethical and intellectual scandal in Holocaust Studies," wrote Smith in that advertisement, "is that key materials used in these programs are soaked through with fraud and falsehood."
Members of the campus community responded strongly, denouncing Smith and the lack of editorial judgement exhibited by the editorial staff. "The lies apparent in this ad have led other university editorial boards to reject their publication... you should have done the same," maintained WPUNJ President, Arnold Speert.
"We all deserve an apology and a promise that nothing of this sort will ever be printed again in The Beacon," wrote student Leanne Zintl.
"The only Holocaust debate that exists does not concern whether it actually occurred, but rather how we can best make sure nothing of its sort is ever repeated," wrote another student, Allen Sadigursky.
Four WPUNJ professors: Carol Gruber, Neil Kressel, Peter Stein and this reporter, pointed out, "It is ironic, to say the least, that The Beacon saw fit to accept and print this ad a scant week after a British court's definitive and scathing rebuttal of Holocaust denial, in its rejection of David Irving's libel suit against historian Deborah Lipstadt."
The editors of The Beacon - apparently annoyed by these challenging responses - decided to use the next issue, the annual parody entitled The Bacon, to lampoon Holocaust studies. The banner on page one of The Bacon read: "Your On-Campus News Source for the Next Holocaust". That issue, which was published on May 1 - coinciding with Yom Hashoah - contained antisemitic stereotypes throughout. One article had "President Spear" (sic) declaring, "The only reason I was upset at The Beacon is because we depend on the Jews for money. We do not want to upset our best donors by making waves with the seriousness of the Hollowcost" (sic). A fake ad invited everyone to a "Giant Jewish Jubilee... to learn why it is important to be Jewish and why Holocaust studies should be a part of YOUR life." Other articles included references to Jewish American Princesses, stereotypes of cheap Jews, and a photo of the Catholic Campus Ministry - misidentified as a new synagogue on campus - and charging $1000 per semester membership fees.
Speert responded in a letter to the campus community, "The Bacon included material that is antithetical to the values that are at the heart of this University. I believe in freedom of the press and freedom of expression... [but] I condemn in the strongest possible terms the use of stereotypes to dehumanize people. From this point on, I will no longer recognize the Beacon as the University's campus newspaper."
Unfortunately, Holocaust denial at WPUNJ did not end there. The Beacon reemerged in September without the imprimatur of the university. And Editor- In - Chief Ryan Caiazzo continued his crusade, writing, "Bradley R. Smith ...was requested to respond to letters that The Beacon received regarding his advertisement last semester. His letter is printed verbatim. Mr. Smith may contribute to The Beacon in the future."
In a rambling letter which ran for two thirds of a page, Smith declared, "The Jewish holocaust story is a vast collection of war stories..." Smith continued, "Who benefits from this immense Holocaust publishing industry?...Is it the folk who invaded and conquered Palestine at the close of WWII, destroyed Palestinian culture, formed a Jewish settler state on Palestinian land..?" Smith also maintained that, "The gassing chambers allegedly used by the Germans to intentionally kill civilians can not be demonstrated to have existed..."
At the November 9 lecture, Lipstadt addressed issues of denial, concentrating on her case against Holocaust denier Irving. She explained that she was forced to fight a legal battle against David Irving; she maintains that she is not a hero. "People ask me, 'why did you do this?' If I hadn't defended myself, he would have won by default," she reported. "And then he could have said to the world that his definition of the Holocaust was a legitimate definition."
"He had been writing books... all related to WWII," recalled Lipstadt. "Even the books that had no connection to the Holocaust had a certain unifying theme...If I could summarize it, it would be: Nazis - not so bad; Allies - a lot worse than you think; Jews - didn't have it as bad as they say, but whatever was done to them they deserved to have done to them."
Lipstadt commented that the title of the NOVA program, "Holocaust on Trial", which aired on PBS and showed a re-enactment of her court case, was a misnomer. She explained that the events of the Holocaust were not on trial. Rather, "we took [Irving's] work and put it on trial," she explained.
"In 1977 he wrote a book called Hitler's War.... He said that Hitler didn't know about the Holocaust...He argued that even Kristallnacht happened against Hitler's will and Hitler tried to stop it," Lipstadt recalled.
Lipstadt and her "dream team of Historians", including Richard Evans, Professor of History at Cambridge University, documented Irving's distortions of history. They began to carefully read his published works and "follow the footnotes" to determine the veracity of his sources. "Every time they followed the footnotes, everything that Irving said collapsed like a house of cards," Lipstadt asserted.
For instance, Irving maintained that "Jews were involved in every aspect of criminal activity." However, one of Irving's sources for crime statistics for World War II turned out to be Interpol, an organization created after World War II. "Not a good place to look for crime statistics of 1933," remarked Lipstadt.
Lipstadt recalled Irving's statement: "In 1933 alone there were 31,000 cases of fraud [in Germany], mainly insurance fraud by Jews."
"We followed the footnotes," she continued. Careful research revealed German government records which showed that in all of Germany, only 174 cases of insurance fraud were committed "by everybody". "He's out-Naziing the Nazis," she concluded.
"We showed the judge over and over again - every one of his mistakes." Lipstadt declared.
Lipstadt explained her general philosophy on how to handle deniers. "I don't believe in laws against Holocaust denial," asserted Lipstadt. "First of all, they'd be unconstitutional in this country, and secondly they turn Holocaust deniers into martyrs; and they become the victims, and they can claim that people are trying to silence them."
Lipstadt explained that "freedom of the press" does not mean that a newspaper must publish everything submitted. Lipstadt cited the First Amendment, "'Congress shall make no limits on freedom of speech.'" Lipstadt emphasized, "The government can't tell you what to publish and not publish." However, it is perfectly acceptable for a newspaper to use editorial discretion regarding what material to accept or reject. She explained that newspapers do this all the time when they decide which letters to publish, which stories to follow up on, and even where to place stories. Which story appears on page one, for instance, is an editorial decision.
Lipstadt told the audience that in order to fight against Holocaust deniers it is important to "learn, study and know the facts."
Lipstadt further advised, "Do not tolerate little remarks of racism and antisemitism...Be willing to take people on..." And, she continued, we must also remember to "look inside ourselves for that lingering intolerance."
The program was sponsored by the WPUNJ Student Government Association, Political Science, Sociology and History Clubs, Office of the President, Office of the Provost, Center for Continuing Education and Distance Learning; State of NJ Commission on Holocaust Education; and the NJ Region of the Anti-Defamation League.
Extensive documentation from the Lipstadt trial can be viewed at www.holocaustdenialontrial.org.
© 2000 Miryam Z. Wahrman