Today a new film opens in the cinemas. It has a one-word title, a simple title: Denial. The denial it refers to is the denial of the Holocaust on this Holocaust Memorial Day. The movie tells a true story of a landmark legal case which established that David Irving who spent his life challenging survivors' accounts of the gas chambers was not as he said a historian, but was in fact a falsifier of history, motivated by anti-Semitism.
At a time when phrases like alternative facts and fake news are being bandied around, it shows how difficult establishing the truth can be. Sanchia Berg now reports.
Excerpt of Denial with Timothy Spall as David Irving:
My lord, if we were to seek a title for this libel action, I would venture to suggest pictures of an execution: my execution.
Timothy Spall as David Irving in the new film Denial. It tells the story of his libel trial seventeen years ago when he brought a case against the historian, Professor Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books, publishers of Denying the Holocaust.
[Timothy Spall's voice as David Irving continues:]
The word denier is particularly evil. For the chosen victim, it is like being called a wife-beater or a paedophile ...
David Irving casts doubt on the scale of the Holocaust and what happened at Auschwitz. To win the case, Professor Lipstadt and her team had to prove he deliberately falsified history - something particularly resonant now. John Wilkinson plays the lead barrister in the case, Richard Rampton QC:
Mr Irving calls himself a historian. The truth is however that he is not a historian at all. He is a falsifier of history. To put it bluntly, he is a liar.
David Irving claimed he was a sceptical historian; he was simply looking for the evidence. He questioned the gas chambers at Auschwitz, for instance, because there were no holes in the ruined roof.
[Timothy Spall's voice as David Irving:]
My lord, there are no holes in that roof. There never were any holes. Therefore they cannot have poured cyanide capsules through that roof.
That was challenged by experts for the defence. Lawyers and historians scoured David Irving's diaries, his writings, his speeches to demonstrate his racist views and to show they had influenced his interpretation of events. The trial took ten weeks. In the pause waiting for the verdict, I met David Irving in his Mayfair flat. He was still confident.
If I carry the day on Auschwitz and I said this to the judge "If I am right on Crematorium No 2 on Auschwitz and as far as I am concerned I am right on my position on the Holocaust: that it has been grossly inflated and there has been a hell of a lot lying by the eye-witnesses, and I don't have to prove I am right on the other counts as well."
David Irving had never been to Auschwitz while I had spent three years in Poland as Warsaw Correspondent.
Sanchia Berg interviewing David Irving:
I have been to Auschwitz myself many times.
What did they show you when you went to Auschwitz?
They showed me what they show everybody.
Did they show you the gas chamber?
You know the Germans blew them up as they left.
Somebody blew them up. I don't think it was necessarily the Germans. It was either the Russians or the Germans. We don't know which. This is the kind of extraordinary grey area which has not been properly researched.
Sanchia Berg [triumphantly]:
That was not the judge's view. His verdict was damning. He said David Irving had for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence. David Irving's reputation, already on the wane, was destroyed, but on the internet, Holocaust Denial lives on, unchecked, along with many other dubious claims.
People are very good at making noises that make things seem like they are irrefutable but how can one call out that fact when it is being shaped in another way. It is not something you can just call immediately. You have to be an expert.
That's what happens in the film, doesn't it? Because you need a tremendous amount of work and researchers going through all these pages of his diaries. You might think it was all pretty straightforward to say "You're just wrong", but it isn't.
No, no, it is difficult. It's very difficult to get to the truth and ironically, in the Information Age, which we would have thought meant channels to the truth is in fact obfuscating the truth.
Timothy Spall there talking about Denial. One of the other stars is the real life QC - the man who did expose David Irving as a liar - Richard Rampton QC who joins us on the line. Good morning to you, Mr Rampton. Why did it matter then to give so much of your life? Why does it matter now to establish one man's books didn't tell the truth about the Holocaust?
It was about three years, I suppose. Because I was asked to do it and people at the Bar do. You don't have a choice. You stand in a cab rank, someone hails you, you have to let them in. That's what happened to me. It turned out to have been the most fascinating case. In one sense I didn't know anything about the history of it. I do now.
Do you think it was a good use of your three years? If so, why?
Yes, I do. Because - I think, I still think, perhaps I'm a bit old fashioned - that truth matters. I think truth matters particularly when it concerns an event of such horrendous quality. It was the worst, probably the worst massacre, if you'd like to call it that, in the world's history - considering the scale of it and the fact that it was done deliberately during wartime.
People may think you could have lined up a series of survivors - people who saw the gas chambers, but the point of the very way you ran that trial - the point of the film indeed - is that that wouldn't do. You had to do something else, did you not, in order to win this case?
Richard Rampton [waffling nonsensically]:
Yes, we had to uproot the source of the poison. Putting deniers in the witness box would have gone some way. [sic] There some of the evidence of the existence of the Holocaust at Auschwitz in particular but by no means the whole of it. [sic] What we had to do was prove that one of the leading Holocaust Deniers. [sic]
Holocaust denial is not only a falsification of history, it is an expression of anti-Semitism.
If we can uproot, as I say, the source of the poison then perhaps the house would fall down.
Do you worry that you couldn't in a sense repeat this now whereas it was possible in a court about a single book to prove it was true or not, the internet has no certification of truth - anything goes, people can say what they like?
I quite agree with you. I think it is horrifying in one sense. I think the answer is probably education. I have three children and seven grandchildren and not a single one of them has any single bother distinguishing between what I might call post truth or relative truth or mad opinion from what I call real truth. They, unlike me, spend a lot of time on social media and so on and they are all familiar with Twitter and Instagram, Facebook and all that and they have no problem about distinguishing between matters from what is froth and poison and that kind of thing, but it does matter if it gets hold of people then people can start doing nasty things and then it is dangerous.
[Do you suspect, dear reader, that Richard Rampton's children and grandchildren are not quite as clever and wise as he makes them out to be and that Nick Robinson gave him a very easy ride with his bluff nonsense and never challenged him sufficiently or at all in this interview? Isn't it also very annoying the way Richard Rampton runs his sentences together so it is hard to interrupt him when he comes out with his rubbish? He was shown in the film as doing nothing more than being very rude about David Irving in court. The tactic of not calling Deborah Lipstadt or any Holocaust survivor to avoid them being cross-examined by David Irving was Antony Julius's idea, according to the film, not that old windbag's. They must have known how disastrous it would have been if David Irving had had a chance to expose her for the philosophically inconsistent position she held. On the one hand, she assumed that anyone who doubted the Holocaust must be an anti-Semite and to be libelled without the law's punishment, and on the other hand she did not want Holocaust Denial to be a crime. On the one hand, she believed in free speech, but on the other hand, she believes that there is only one view one is legally allowed to hold on the Holocaust without losing one's right to be defamed at will by the likes of her and suffering serious financial and reputational damage as a result of being libelled.]
What Jesus said about Jews in his sermon on the MountWill Jews be accusing @realDonaldTrump of Holocaust Denial now? I really wouldn't push my luck if I were them. https://t.co/DQi5QTUFoX— Claire Khaw (@ntfem) January 30, 2017
John 8:44 "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it."