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Lipstadt examines Holocaust denial

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, March 26, 2009

New forms of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism present an increasing challenge, Emory University Professor Deborah Lipstadt said in a lecture at Notre Dame Wednesday night.

Lipstadt, who delivered the 2009 Provost Distinguished Women’s Lecture, is a Holocaust scholar and the author of several books about the Holocaust. She is known for discrediting Holocaust denier David Irving in court when he sued for libel in 1996.

Lipstadt spoke about that trial in relation to the larger battle against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

There are two types of Holocaust denial, Lipstadt said. The first, which she called “hardcore denial,” denies the very existence of the Holocaust. She defined David Irving as a “hardcore” denier.

The other form of Holocaust denial, or “softcore” denial, is more difficult to fight against, Lipstadt said. Examples of this type of denier include people who refuse to hear more information about the Holocaust and seek to cancel Holocaust remembrance days, she said.

“You see [softcore denial] accepted by many people who you would think would reject this kind of view, this kind of attitude,” she said. “You begin to see this trend, and it’s a very disturbing trend.”

It is difficult to decide whether to debate Holocaust deniers because doing so gives credence to their arguments, Lipstadt said.

“I, as a principle, do not believe in debating Holocaust deniers because it is like trying to nail a glob of jelly to the wall,” she said. “You cannot debate liars.”

During the libel trial, it was important to defeat Irving’s arguments, Lipstadt said. Researchers helped her find historical documents to disprove his statements in court.

“How do you fight these people without building them up in importance?” she asked. “The one way I know how to fight is to show the facts.”

Lipstadt related Holocaust denial views to new forms of Anti-Semitism, which has increased in recent years. It is most prevalent in Europe, and is more worrisome than it was in the past, she said.

“It is less directed at individual Jews,” Lipstadt said. “It is more directed at Jews as a group. And sometimes it can be lethal.”

Anti-Semitism is equally as difficult to respond to as Holocaust denial, Lipstadt said.

“When you come to respond to these prejudices you’re already in a difficult position,” she said. “You’re immediately crediting an irrational sentiment. You’re trying to respond to it rationally. You’re never going to win.”

Lipstadt said that anti-Semitism is like all other kinds of prejudice.

“It’s the same thing as fighting racism, sexism, whatever you might be fighting,” she said.

It is a nearly impossible task to convince Holocaust deniers of the truth, Lipstadt said. Instead, she said she dedicates her time to spreading facts because she hopes to prevent the expansion of prejudice.