Deborah Lipstadt

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Deborah Lipstadt
Deborah Lipstadt Remembering the Shoah presentation.jpg
in a presentation on the Shoah for the International Committee of the Red Cross (2015)
BornDeborah Esther Lipstadt
(1947-03-18) March 18, 1947 (age 71)
New York City, US

Deborah Esther Lipstadt (born March 18, 1947) is an American historian, best known as author of the books Denying the Holocaust (1993), History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (2005) and The Eichmann Trial (2011). She is currently the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Georgia, United States.[1]

Lipstadt was a consultant to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In 1994 she was appointed by Bill Clinton to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, serving two terms.[2]

Early life[edit]

Lipstadt was born in New York City, the daughter of Miriam (née Peiman; 1915–2013) and Erwin Lipstadt (1903–1972).[3] Her mother was born in Canada, and her father, a salesman, was born in Germany. Her parents met at their neighborhood synagogue. She has an older sister, Helen, a historian, and a younger brother, Nathaniel, an investor on Wall Street. She studied at the Hebrew Institute of Long Island, and grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens. She studied with Rabbi Emanuel Rackman at Temple Shaarei Tefillah. Lipstadt spent summers at Camp Massad. She spent her junior year of college in Israel during the Six-Day War, where she stayed as an exchange student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She completed her undergraduate work in American History through City College of New York in 1969. She then enrolled at Brandeis University where she completed her Masters and then Ph.D. in Jewish History in 1976. After finishing her college career, she began teaching, first at the University of Washington in Seattle.[4][5]

David Irving libel suit[edit]

On September 5, 1996, Holocaust denier David Irving sued Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books for libel in an English court for characterizing some of his writings and public statements as Holocaust denial in her book Denying the Holocaust.

Lipstadt's legal defence team was led by Anthony Julius of Mishcon de Reya while Penguin's was led by Kevin Bays and Mark Bateman of Davenport Lyons. Both defendants instructed Richard Rampton QC while Penguin also instructed Heather Rogers as junior counsel. The expert witnesses for the defence included Cambridge historian Richard J. Evans, Christopher Browning, Robert Jan van Pelt, and Peter Longerich.

English libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant rather than the plaintiff. Lipstadt and Penguin won the case using the justification defence, namely by demonstrating in court that Lipstadt's accusations against Irving were substantially true and therefore not libelous. The case was argued as a bench trial before Mr Justice Gray, who produced a written judgment 349 pages long detailing Irving's systematic distortion of the historical record of World War II. The Times (April 14, 2000, p. 23) said of Lipstadt's victory, "History has had its day in court and scored a crushing victory".[6]

Free speech[edit]

Despite her acrimonious history with Irving, Lipstadt has stated that she is personally opposed to the 3-year prison sentence Austria imposed on Irving for two speeches he made in 1989, where he claimed there had been no gas chambers at Auschwitz. In Austria, minimizing the atrocities of the Third Reich is a crime punishable with up to 10 years imprisonment. Speaking of Irving, Lipstadt said "I am uncomfortable with imprisoning people for speech. Let him go and let him fade from everyone's radar screens... Generally, I don't think Holocaust denial should be a crime. I am a free speech person, I am against censorship."[7][8]

The Holocaust, denial and abuse[edit]

In February 2007 Lipstadt warned of "soft-core denial" at the Zionist Federation's annual fundraising dinner in London. Referring to groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain, reportedly she stated: "When groups of people refuse to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day unless equal time is given to anti-Muslim prejudice, this is soft-core denial."[9] According to Jonny Paul, "She received huge applause when she asked how former United States President Jimmy Carter could omit the years 1939–1947 from a chronology in his book"; referring to his recently published and controversial book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, she said: "When a former president of the United States writes a book on the Israeli–Palestinian crisis and writes a chronology at the beginning of the book in order to help them understand the emergence of the situation and in that chronology lists nothing of importance between 1939 and 1947, that is soft-core denial."[9]

Along the same lines, Lipstadt has criticized the German philosopher and historian Ernst Nolte for engaging in what she calls "soft-core denial" of the Holocaust, arguing that Nolte practises an even more dangerous form of negationism than the Holocaust-deniers. Speaking of Nolte in a 2003 interview, Lipstadt stated:

Historians such as the German Ernst Nolte are, in some ways, even more dangerous than the deniers. Nolte is an anti-Semite of the first order, who attempts to rehabilitate Hitler by saying that he was no worse than Stalin; but he is careful not to deny the Holocaust. Holocaust-deniers make Nolte's life more comfortable. They have, with their radical argumentation, pulled the center a little more to their side. Consequently, a less radical extremist, such as Nolte, finds himself closer to the middle ground, which makes him more dangerous.[10]

In late 2011, Lipstadt attacked American and Israeli politicians for what she called their invocation of the Holocaust for contemporary political purposes, something she thought mangled history. She rebuked Republican party presidential candidates for speeches that 'pandered' to the Evangelical constituency, as much as it did to the Republican Jewish Coalition. She also judged Howard Gutman's remarks on causal links between Muslim antisemitism and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict as 'stupid.' She decried:

the 'hysteria' and 'neuroses' of many Jews and Israelis who compare the current situation in Europe and in the Middle East to the Holocaust era. 'People go nuts here, they go nuts. There's no nuance, there's no middle ground, it's taking any shade of grey and stomping on it. There are no voices of calm, there are no voices of reason, not in this country, not in Israel.'[11][12]

In the same interview, she argued that, "If anti-Semitism becomes the reason through which your Jewish view of the world is refracted, if it becomes your prism, then it is very unhealthy. Jewish tradition never wanted that."[12] She said "You listen to Newt Gingrich talking about the Palestinians as an 'invented people' – it's out-Aipacking AIPAC, it's out-Israeling Israel".[11] On a visit to London in September 2014, Lipstadt criticized the Israeli government and said that the government had "cheapened" the memory of the Holocaust by using it to justify war.[13] She has also rejected the view that Israeli military actions during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict constituted a genocide on the same level as the Holocaust.[14]

Lipstadt returned to the theme of soft-core Holocaust denial in The Atlantic when responding to the Trump administration's statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, 2017 which was condemned for the absence of a specific mention of Jews, as the principal victims of the Holocaust or of antisemitism itself.[15][16] "The Holocaust was de-Judaized. It is possible that it all began with a mistake. Someone simply did not realize what they were doing. It is also possible that someone did this deliberately".[17]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1997, Lipstadt received the Emory Williams teaching award for excellence in teaching.[18]

Selected works[edit]

  • Lipstadt, Deborah E. (1986). Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933–1945. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-02-919161-0.
  • Lipstadt, Deborah E. (1993). Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. New York: Plume. ISBN 0-452-27274-2.
  • Lipstadt, Deborah E. (2005). History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier. New York: ECCO. ISBN 0-06-059376-8.
  • Lipstadt, Deborah E. (2011). The Eichmann Trial. New York: Nextbook Press/ Schocken. ISBN 0-8052-4260-0.

In popular culture[edit]

Actress Rachel Weisz portrayed Lipstadt in Denial (2016),[19] a film based on her 2005 book History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving, and directed by Mick Jackson.[20][21]


  1. ^ "Deborah E. Lipstadt". Emory University. Archived from the original on 6 September 2015. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  2. ^ "Third Annual Bamberger Memorial Lecture with Deborah E. Lipstadt (November 22,2005)". Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion News & Publications. Archived from the original on September 4, 2006. Retrieved June 14, 2008.
  3. ^ Miriam Lipstadt obituary Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  4. ^ Deborah Lipstadt biography Archived 2010-04-07 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  5. ^ Rahel Musleah (11 August 2006). "Deborah Lipstadt profile". Hadassah Magazine. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.
  6. ^ Holocaust Denial On Trial: Holocaust Denial and the 2000 Libel Trial in the U.K. Archived 2015-08-15 at the Wayback Machine., a project of The Rabbi Donald A. Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University.
  7. ^ Paterson, Tony (November 18, 2005). "Irving held in Austria over Holocaust comments". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  8. ^ O'Neill, Brendan. "Irving? Let the guy go home" Archived 2006-11-06 at the Wayback Machine. BBC News, January 4, 2006
  9. ^ a b Quoted by Jonny Paul, "Holocaust Scholar Warns of New 'soft-core' Denial," Archived 2013-07-06 at The Jerusalem Post (February 6, 2007).
  10. ^ "Denial of the Holocaust and Immoral Equivalence" Archived 2007-08-16 at the Wayback Machine. The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (August 1, 2003).
  11. ^ a b Chemi Shalev, 'Top Holocaust scholar blasts 'Holocaust-abuse' by U.S., Israeli politicians.' Archived 2011-12-21 at the Wayback Machine. at Haaretz, 16 December 2011.
  12. ^ a b Chemi Shalev 'Full Interview with Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt,' Archived 2011-12-17 at the Wayback Machine. at Haaretz, 16 December 2011.
  13. ^ Gulliver, John (11 September 2014). "Israel government has 'cheapened' memory of the Holocaust – Lipstadt speaks out". Camden New Journal. London. Archived from the original on 14 September 2014.
  14. ^ Lipstadt, Deborah (17 September 2014). "To call Gaza a genocide is a distortion of history". Camden New Journal. London. Archived from the original on 14 December 2014.
  15. ^ Marcotte, Amanda (31 January 2017). "Donald Trump's dance with the devil: Did White House mean to wink at Holocaust deniers?". Salon. Archived from the original on 31 January 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
  16. ^ Beaumont, Peter (31 January 2017). "Historian Deborah Lipstadt accuses Trump advisers of 'soft Holocaust denial'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 31 January 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
  17. ^ Lipstadt, Deborah (30 January 2017). "The Trump Administration's Flirtation With Holocaust Denial". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 30 January 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
  18. ^ "Emory Williams Teaching Award". Emory University. Archived from the original on June 4, 2009. Retrieved April 8, 2011.
  19. ^ History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving Archived 2018-04-16 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ "Denial – Full Cast & Crew". Archived from the original on 16 June 2016. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  21. ^ "No Denying Deborah Lipstadt's Voice". Archived from the original on 28 October 2016. Retrieved 27 October 2016.

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