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Cheat sheet:

Deborah E. Lipstadt

Study up on famed historian Deborah E. Lipstadt ahead of her much anticipated appearance at ANTIDOTE. 

Susie Anderson
Sydney Opera House

Deborah E. Lipstadt is a professor of modern Jewish history at Emory University. She’s an iconic historian whose writing about the Holocaust was made famous during the late 1990s with a defamation suit filed against her in the United Kingdom by the Holocaust denier David Irving.

Here’s what you need to know about D.E.L. ahead of her appearance at ANTIDOTE 2019.

She’s not the child of Holocaust survivors

Her mother was born in Canada, her father in Germany, and they met at Synagogue in New York City. Growing up as a modern Orthodox Jew in a family that relished learning, she earned a bachelor’s degree in 20th Century Political History, going on to earn her Masters and PhD in modern Jewish History from Brandeis University. She spent two years studying in Israel at the Hebrew University, and was living there during the Six-Day War. These formative experiences solidified the focus of her academic career.

“When I first heard about Holocaust deniers, I laughed”

Deborah became aware of deniers in the 1980s. When she was approached by Israeli professors Yehuda Bauer and Yisrael Gutman in 1987 to research Holocaust denial, she laughed.

Among the arguments that these revisionists were making was that “if there were Jews that were somehow persecuted, they deserved it for other reasons.” In her view, these self-described historians were presenting an Antisemitic, pro-Nazi view of twentieth century history.

While she was convinced these people were just “fringe extremists”, these people who seemed like a bad joke were to become a defining moment of her life.

An assault on truth and memory

The result of her research was a book called Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, where Deborah presented the first full length study on those who attempt to deny the Holocaust.

One of these deniers, a UK-based historical writer David Irving, had been called out many times before by historians. In his books, most with a focus on World War Two, he argued among other things that Hitler did not have a plan to annihilate Jews; if there were casualties in camps they were due to typhus or other diseases, and that the death tolls were exaggerated.

These claims had already put his reputation on shaky ground, yet he saw Deborah’s book as an opportunity to prove himself as a proper historian.

Irving vs Penguin Books Ltd

David Irving sued Deborah for libel in 1996. Due to defamation and libel laws in the UK, “burden of proof is on you to prove the truth of what you wrote, unlike in the United States where if David Irving had sued [there], he would have had to prove the falsehood.”

The case was drawn out over six years culminating in a highly publicised trial in 2000. The legal team Deborah used included Anthony Julius, the same barrister Princess Diana used in her divorce trial.

Her memoir about the experience of appearing in court with a denier was dramatized in the 2016 film Denial.

Denial Official Trailer #1

Press play to watch video

Facts, opinions and lies

Deborah is now a Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and since winning the case against Irving, has continued to write, lecture and comment on Antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

There are facts, there are opinions and there are lies. What deniers want to do is take their lies, dress them up as edgy opinions, but if they’re opinions they can be part of the conversation, and then they encroach on the facts.”

Her words are particularly resonant in a media landscape that attempts to blur the lines between real and fake news.

Antisemitism today

A key focus of her work is the resurgence of discrimination in state leaders across the globe. While she acknowledges that the prejudice is not new, the situation is new, and heads of state--particularly in countries like Hungary, Poland, France and of course America are proliferating cultures that allow Antisemitism to flourish.

Her latest book – and what she’ll be talking about at ANTIDOTE – is called Antisemitism: Here and Now which looks at these situations across the globe through a series of letters written to a fictional Jewish student and a non-Jewish academic colleague.

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