Renowned Historian Deborah Lipstadt Notes Release of Hollywood Movie About Her Legal Battle Against Holocaust Denial Comes at Fragile Moment for Jews (INTERVIEW)
Preeminent American historian Dr. Deborah Lipstadt — whose historic legal battle against Holocaust denial is depicted in an upcoming Hollywood movie — told The Algemeiner on Thursday that she “never dreamed” the film would be released during such a fragile moment for Jews.
“This movie has been in the works for a relatively long time,” she said, “My book was optioned about eight years ago, so I’m as surprised by the timing as anyone else, which speaks to the fact that we are all surprised by the tide of virulent antisemitism today.”
Lipstadt — author of Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory — made headlines in the 1990s, when she and her publisher were sued for libel in the UK by British Holocaust denier David Irving, whom she named in the book. Since the burden of proof in English courts rests on the defendant in such cases, Lipstadt and her legal team needed to prove that the Holocaust did, in fact, take place.
At the conclusion of the three-month-long trial — from January 11-April 11, 2000 — the judge ruled in favor of Lipstadt, and found that Irving, “for his own ideological reasons, persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence” to portray Hitler “in an unwarrantedly favorable light.” The judge said of Irving that he is an “active Holocaust denier; that he is antisemitic and racist, and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.”
Lipstadt’s ordeal is portrayed in the film “Denial” — based on her book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier. Her role will be played by Academy Award-winner Rachel Weisz.
“While the movie can only accomplish so much, it will educate and show the world the absolute ludicrous, delusional and absurd quality of Holocaust denial,” Lipstadt told The Algemeiner. “You can have a lot of opinions on the Holocaust. You have people arguing the main motivation was antisemitism, that Hitler was the linchpin, that it was the people around him or both, or that the Holocaust was the result of something uniquely German. You can have a lot of opinions, but in the end, you cannot have your own facts. Historians of the Holocaust are especially careful about getting their facts right, and no one can say it is all a lie or there is no evidence.”
“Denying the Holocaust is not a form of cognitive dissonance. The Holocaust has the dubious distinction of being the best-documented genocide in the world. It’s not that deniers are missing a certain piece of evidence or information; they don’t want to make the Holocaust true, because it paints the Nazis in a bad light and creates sympathy for the Jews, whom they want to depict as nefarious people,” she said. “This is ironic, because on the one hand, they say the Holocaust never happened, yet on the other, they say that the Jews were so awful and such enemies of the Third Reich that they deserved to be killed.”
Currently, she said, deniers are by and large racist white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
The “hardcore Holocaust denial” Lipstadt said she faced during her trial differs from what she referred to as “today’s softcore Holocaust denial.” The latter, she said, is characterized not necessarily by a distortion of the facts, but by “a rewriting of the history and the drawing of false comparisons.”
“For example, a person can disagree with Israel’s policies and leadership. But for people to say that the Israeli army is engaging in genocidal actions as bad as Hitler? That’s incomparable. In England, you have Ken Livingstone, who is not denying the Holocaust, but is rewriting history by attempting to link Zionism with Nazism. Again, no comparison.”
Watching her real-life battle come to the big screen through Weisz’s portrayal left Lipstadt with “the utmost respect” for the veteran actress.
“I think she’s a professional’s professional,” she told The Algemeiner. “I watched her work and saw how she did her research, querying me on certain things. She really wanted to get this right.”
Lipstadt also recounted “one of the most powerful moments” off-screen:
“We were at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp [in Poland], and Rachel had just finished filming a scene. She asked me to walk her through the camp. It was pretty overwhelming. Both of her parents had fled the Nazis; their lives were disrupted because of the Holocaust. What I saw in her made me feel that this movie was not merely a professional assignment for her; it had a lot of personal meaning, too. At one point, after she filmed a certain scene, she turned to me and said, ‘That wasn’t acting.’”
“Denial” opens in limited release on September 30.
Watch the first trailer below.