The movie “Denial” (released in 2016 and directed by Mike Jackson) is a dramatization of the book by Deborah E. Lipstadt, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,” about the trial in 1996 when the American Jewish Holocaust scholar was sued by David Irving. Both Irving and Lipstadt had written books about WWII, but while Irving was a prominent British Holocausr denier, Lipstadt had written a book entitled “Denying the Holocaust” in 1993 that specifically mentioned Irving. As shown in the movie, Irving deliberately confronted Lipstadt, but she refused to debate him. Subsequently, he brought a case for libel against Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books in England, where the laws are such that the defendant has the obligation to prove that the statements that are supposedly libellous are indeed true.
This is an excellent movie, that has both feeling and intellectual rigor and was voted by BAFTA the best British movie of 2016. The acting by Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall is superb. Two important points are brought out by the movie: 1. David Irving was a self-taught pro-German writer who sought to be recognized as a legitimate historian. He chose to sue Lipstadt because she was a Jewish woman, and therefore supposedly an easy target, and because he wanted to simultaneously portray himself as the victim of libel fighting against the rich Jewish establishment, that he claimed uses the Holocaust for political and financial gain. 2. The British legal defense team chose not to put the Holocaust itself on trial, but rather confront Irving in court with a litany of racist and anti-Semitic remarks and deliberate historical distortions that he was peddling as authentic history. In doing so they put Irving on the defensive and ultimately proved their point by winning the case in court.
One of the themes of the movie is the question of whether or not Holocaust survivors, who experienced and witnessed the crimes of the Holocaust, should be called as witnesses. Although Lipstadt wanted to do this, the defense team ruled it out. They argued that for all their personal experiences, after so many years and with such an emotional trauma, these witnesses could be readily undermined by Irving, who was representing himself. Their approach was rather to put the onus on Irving himself to prove that his specific statements about the Holocaust were correct. As Lipstadt comes to admit, their strategy was correct and it gave Irving little ability to “grandstand” and to drag the whole issue of the Holocaust into dispute.
Do we still question whether or not the earth is flat or round? Do we discuss if WWII actually happened? Do we argue that Elvis is still alive? Those who deny the Holocaust are not merely passive anti-establishment figures, but have an agenda, that is both anti-Semitic and political. They seek to denigrate the Jews and to support far right-wing causes In opposing them this movie documents a highlight in the fight for truth.