Historian who questioned whether Nazis killed 6m Jews sues US academic for claiming he is a 'Hitler partisan' guilty of twisting facts
The most emotive libel trial to be heard in Britain is due to start next week in what is billed as the most far-reaching court case about the Holocaust since the execution of Adolf Eichmann.
The British historian, David Irving, who has been widely vilified for questioning whether 6m Jews were killed by the Nazis - and who believes that Hitler knew nothing of the Final Solution until late in the war - is suing an American academic for claiming that he is a "Hitler partisan" who twists history to cast the German dictator in a better light.
Deborah Lipstadt, professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory university in Atlanta, Georgia, accused Mr Irving of being one of the most prominent and dangerous "Holocaust deniers" in the world in her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault On Truth and Memory, published by Penguin four years ago.
Both sides have amassed considerable fighting funds. The trial in court 37 of the high court in London starting on Tuesday will raise questions about the limits of free speech when dealing with views which are likely to incite hatred.
Holocaust denial is a crime in several European countries, including Germany and France, and the government is still considering proposals to introduce similar laws in Britain. The trial will open as Downing Street announces the first national Holocaust memorial day.
Mr Irving claims Professor Lipstadt defamed him by alleging his writing "applauds the internment of Jews in Nazi concentration camps" and that he was "an Adolf Hitler partisan who wears blinkers and skews documents and misrepresents data in order to reach historically untenable conclusions, specifically those that exonerate Hitler".
Mr Irving alleges she also tarnished his reputation by linking him with the Iranian-backed Hamas and Hizbollah terrorists, the anti-Semitic black American Nation Of Islam and the Russian neo-Nazi group Pamyat, which he believes leaves him open to assassination.
He claims that "as a reputable historian with some ground-breaking work behind me I should be enabled to use an element of scepticism in my work without being accused of being a Holocaust denier".
Penguin and Prof Lipstadt deny libel and have assembled some of the world's leading authorities on the Holocaust and the second world war to bolster their case. The defence is being led by Richard Rampton QC, and Anthony Julius, the solicitor who handled Princess Diana's divorce and the author of a book about the poet TS Eliot's anti-Semitism.
Irving, the author of more than 20 controversial books, including Hitler's War and a biography of Goebbels, has gathered a formidable team but has been forced to subpoena two key witnesses, the military expert and journalist Sir John Keegan and DC Watt of the London School of Economics, who would not give evidence voluntarily.
Mr Irving, who his representing himself in court, told the Guardian he does not want "to fight the second world war all over again" but claims Jewish and leftwing organisations - which he terms the "traditional enemies of truth" on his website - "seem intent on leading a global onslaught against me."
"They say I am the most dangerous man on earth. I must admit I am very intimidated by the amount of money they have spent, and the number of people they have sent to Germany to scour for facts."
Mr Irving was banned from Germany after claiming the gas chambers at Auschwitz were built by the Polish communists, and has also been refused entry to Canada, Italy, Austria and Australia.
He said the case would boil down to two crucial issues.
Neither Anthony Julius nor Penguin would comment publicly on the case but a leading Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer, of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, said the trial was a wonderful chance to nail the myth once and for all that the Holocaust did not happen.
He admitted, however, that Mr Irving was a "dangerous" adversary.
But Efraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem, said the British libel courts were not the best place to determine the truth about anything.
Mr Irving, who frequently claims his finances are "on a knife edge", said he was only able to pursue a notoriously expensive libel action because of the "4,000 supporters across the world who have contributed to the cause. Help comes - three dollars here, five dollars or 10 dollars there - but I have got to be careful [about saying who they are] because of poor Neil Hamilton.
"Not that I will lose, but after the shock people got they are having second thoughts about supporting me."
He claims he would have settled for £500 donated to a charity for limbless girls in memory of his daughter who died in September.
His opponents claim he is being bankrolled by rightwing extremists, mainly from America. Mr Irving denied that he had been funded by members of the Ku Klux Klan, although he did have their details on his database. "They are clearly marked, warning KKK," he said.
He claims he has been forced to hand over his private papers and diaries by the defence. "My diaries amount to 25m words as well as my telephone logs.
"This will all backfire on them... the only thing they have on me is a song I hummed to my one-year-old daughter, a little Hilaire Belloc type ditty." Belloc, an English interwar poet, was an infamous anti-Semite.
The non-jury case will be heard before Mr Justice Charles Gray, a distinguished former libel barrister, and is expected to last at least three months. Mr Irving is also suing the historian Gita Sereny over a review in the Observer of his book about Joseph Goebbels, which claimed he rather than Hitler was the brains behind the Holocaust.
The son of a naval commander from Essex who served in both world wars, David Irving, 62, is best known for Hitler's War, his bestselling account of the second world war from the Fuhrer's perspective. It presents Hitler as a balanced leader who knew nothing of the Final Solution till it was too late.
After dropping out of university - he got 11 A-levels - and spending a year as a steelworker in the Ruhr while learning German, Irving made his name with a book about the allied bombing of Dresden and biographies of Rommel and Rudolf Hess.
He quickly gained a reputation as an awesome researcher, unearthing elderly Nazis from Alpine villages and isolated Argentinian ranches, but soon ran into trouble after disputing whether there were gas chambers at Auschwitz.
His credibility was called further into question when his biography of Goebbels claimed it was he rather than Hitler who orchestrated the persecution and extermination of the Jews. [Note de l'AAARGH: nous invitons nos lecteurs à lire la brève de La Terre retrouvée, 15 décembre 1960, qui affirme que la décision fut prise par Eichmann. Cette brève, anonyme, impute cette déclaration à Kubovy, directeur de Yad Vashem.]
Irving's partner, Bente, has been openly critical of his views, and his twin brother, a civil servant, has changed his name to avoid comparisons with him.
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ARTICLE 19 <Tout individu a droit à la liberté d'opinion et d'expression, ce qui implique le droit de ne pas être inquiété pour ses opinions et celui de chercher, de recevoir et de répandre, sans considération de frontière, les informations et les idées par quelque moyen d'expression que ce soit>
Déclaration internationale des droits de l'homme, adoptée par l'Assemblée générale de l'ONU à Paris, le 10 décembre 1948.