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Gail Asper, Deborah Lipstadt, Catherine Chatterley
Credit: Joan Ste-Marie

2013 Shindleman Lecture
Credit: David Square

Paul Leinburd, Sandy Shindleman, Celia Gorlick
Credit: David Square

Arnold and Myra Frieman, Evita and Lyle Smordin, Nora Kaufmann, and Marcia Cosman
Credit: David Square


By Simone Cohen Scott, April 30, 2013

[Editor's note: To watch Professor Lipstadt’s Lecture visit the website of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism. To see photos of the reception and lecture click here.]


Many people think that the Holocaust receives too much focus these days. To the suggestion that we just ‘move on’, renowned historian and Holocaust scholar counters with a question: “Could we ask African Americans to forget about slavery? Tell them it’s been long enough now, so get over it?”


Nevertheless, Professor Lipstadt carefully cautioned her large audience that Jewish identity must not come from remembering the Holocaust, but from Jewish culture itself, its history, its tradition, and its spiritual longevity.


Brought to Winnipeg by the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA) for their Second Annual Shindleman Family Lecture at the Fort Garry Hotel, Professor Lipstadt spoke on ‘Holocaust Denial in the 21st Century.


The course of Lipstadt's own life changed when David Irving brought an unsuccessful libel case against her challenging her for naming him as prominent among deniers of the Holocaust. He did so in Britain where libel laws put the burden of proof on her as the defendent. The result of the case was that thousands of pages of irrefutable evidence proving the Holocaust exist were produced and later published in several scholarly works. If Professor Lipstadt had not taken up his challenge, ignoring well-meaning advice, Irving would have won by default. If halfway through the court proceedings she had ‘settled’, as friends urged, she says she "would not have been able to look survivors in the eye.” 


Due to Lipstadt's courage, and her perseverance through an ordeal lasting six years, the world has gained a body of documentation second to none. A group of prominent historians were witnesses called in her defense and they refuted the falsified claims of Irving. As Lipstadt explained, the papers of the Eichmann Trial in 1961 were released by the State of Israel for use in this trial. Every single detail Irving claimed he could prove was examined. Following Irving’s own reference citations, the defense proved every single one false. The Holocaust is the most thoroughly researched and documented genocide in the world.


Dealing with Irving, she said, “they followed his trail of ‘chutzpah’. Every footnote he said would prove him right, "proved him wrong.”


When it was suggested to Professor Lipstadt she write a book about Holocaust Denial, she laughed. She thought it was a ‘flat earth’ topic that would never fill a book, and set out to write an article or two. Her resulting book triggered this battle, without which Deborah Lipstadt would not have the platform she now has. It propelled her from a life as an academician and scholar in the field of modern Jewish history, to the recognized authority she is today on the subject of Holocaust Denial, and gave her a powerful basis from which to bring world attention to Antisemitism, the most sustained hatred in history. 


Professor Lipstadt believes Antisemitism is at the root of Holocaust denial and that “like pregnancy,” as she said, “one can’t be just a little bit antisemitic.”


In the lecture, Lipstadt explained that there were two types of denial: hard core and soft core. “Hard core denial is not an immediate danger,” she said, “because it is not sufficiently grounded." However, due to the Internet it poses a future danger.


Soft denial,” she went on “is covert. It is more oblique, makes false comparisons and dissembles by innuendo. Inappropriate use of the words ‘Nazi’ and ‘Holocaust’ gradually obscures their meaning.” Deniers make glib remarks like: "It’s hard to believe . . . casting doubt on facts."


“Never debate a denier,” Lipstadt said. “The things they say are absurd, and are best refuted by documentation.” Among their lies they will say: the Holocaust was deserved; the allies were to blame; tattoos were put on by Jews themselves to get reparation money; gas chambers are impossible; and that it was just bullets (as on the Eastern front).


When Professor Lipstadt visits high school classes she explores with students the impossibility of perpetrating a hoax of the Holocaust of this scale, which would involve coordinating testimonies of survivors, witnesses, bystanders, villages and surrounding areas so that they interact flawlessly with each other. This exercise illustrates the sheer absurdity of the lies of Holocaust Denial. 


As Lipstadt pointed out: “No perpetrator has ever denied the Holocaust. Not one German. They said they just followed orders or didn’t know what was going on, but they always acknowledged it happened. Present day Germany would also have to be wrong.


“What would be the benefit of pretending there was a Holocaust?” she asked the audience. Many would say that it gave the Jews a state. “But that isn’t true,” Professor Lipstadt noted. “Jews were on the verge of getting the state long before the Holocaust and even in 1937, the British Peel Commission recommended a homeland for the Jews come into existence"-it recommended partition of the land of Palestine that was then under the Brtish mandate. There were enough people in Israel, and much of European Jewry would have settled there.


"Jews deserved a country,” Lipstadt said, “and didn’t need the Holocaust to get one.”


In response to questions from the floor, Professor Lipstadt mentioned she is presently writing a book about the history of the word ‘Holocaust’.  Its meaning today is not what it meant in the early 20th century.  For this reason, many educators are training themselves to use the word ‘Shoah.’ The word comes from the Pentateuch, the original Greek translation of the Five Books of Moses. It means ‘Holy Fire’, or ‘consuming fire’ and refers to one of the Temple sacrifices, which was to be burned up in its entirety, with nothing remaining. 


In reply to another question about comparing genocides, Lipstadt said: “The Holocaust had many unprecedented elements. Suffering families are not helped by knowing that there were other, larger, crueler, tragedies.”


It was notable that throughout her talk, Professor Lipstadt used the term ‘Germans’ not ‘Nazis.’ One questioner drew attention to this. “Nazism was a German phenomenon,” she explained. “Nazism was a particular form of totalitarianism that developed in Germany, and was led and supported by Germans.”


Except in Germany, Austria, and Poland, where it is necessary, Professor Lipstadt believes that laws against deniers turn them into victims. Incitement to violence should be a crime, yes, but hate talk – no. “Not only would general ‘free speech’ be compromised, but it would turn it underground,” Lipstadt said.  Better to be out where we can see it. Then what is the antidote to this two-pronged poison?  “Put out the facts.  Show the absurdity.  As the Rabbis tell us, it’s not whether we finish the work; it’s that we do whatever we can.” 





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