Emory scholar’s battle with Holocaust denier on big screen with ‘Denial’

A new movie, “Denial,” which opens Friday in Atlanta is based on the true story of Deborah Lipstadt, a prominent scholar and writer, and Emory University professor who was sued for libel in Britain in 1996 by Holocaust denier David Irving for calling him a liar.

Lipstadt had called Irving a liar and said he distorted evidence in her 1993 book, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.” In a brief passage, she described Irving, a prolific, self-taught World War II historian, as “one of the most dangerous spokesmen in the service of Holocaust denial.” Lipstadt based her conclusion, in part, on Irving’s writings that Hitler did not plan The Final Solution and that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz.


The movie, starring Rachel Weisz, opens Friday at Tara Theatre in Atlanta. With superb acting and great attention to detail (all of the trial testimony in the movie comes from court transcripts), “Denial” is a fascinating historical drama.

After Lipstadt’s book was published in England, Lipstadt was shocked to find out that Irving was suing her for libel. She was further distressed to learn that in reverse of what happens in American courts, British law placed the burden on Lipstadt to prove she was right to call Irving a liar rather than requiring Irving to prove she had defamed him.

Lipstadt felt she had no choice but to fight back.

“You can’t fight every battle, but if you have to fight some,” she said in a recent interview.

Lipstadt found herself in the position of not only defending herself, but establishing beyond a doubt that the Holocaust

took place.

Bert Roughton, senior managing editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was based in London for the newspaper as a correspodent in 2000, and covered the trial. In a recent column, he wrote about meeting up with Lipstadt at an elegant London hotel that had become her home during the weeks of the trial.

On that bright April morning in 2000, she glowed in the way people do when they find themselves on the world stage in a warm and favorable light. During her three months in the spotlight, the professor from Emory University had emerged as a champion for truth and justice in the eyes of Americans and Europeans who followed the trial.

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About the mass exterminations at Auschwitz, Irving once said,“It’s baloney, it’s legend…I say quite tastelessly, in fact, that more women died in the back seat of Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz.”

To prove Irving was a fraud, Lipstadt’s legal team summoned a team of historians who presented reams of Nazi records, photographs and other documents – some of which hadn’t been public before – to prove that he Holocaust consumed between 5 million and 6 million innocent lives.

On Wednesday, Lipstadt, wearing a turquoise scarf and still sporting short red hair as depicted in the movie, said in an interview, “This movie is about the fight for truth, but if it has a takeaway, I would say it is there are not two sides to every issue. Certain things are facts not to be debated. Slavery happened. The earth is round. The ice caps are melting. Elvis is not alive.”

She said she hopes the movie also demonstrates the difference between facts, opinions and lies.

“If you take a lie and say it very strongly and say lots of us believe the earth is flat. Doesn’t make it true. It’s still a lie.”

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