THE BLOG

'Denial' - A Much-Needed Antidote To The Post-Brexit Trumpian World

29/01/2017 21:27 GMT | Updated 29/01/2017 21:27 GMT

Whatever plans you have for tonight, I suggest you cancel them and instead go to see Denial at the cinema. It tells the story of how one of the leading Holocaust-deniers, David Irving, was exposed as deliberately falsifying history.

The film is doubly timely: first, because its release coincides with Holocaust Memorial Day. The lessons of 'Never Again' should be totally obvious by now, yet, as the post-Brexit bigotry against minorities showed, discrimination and prejudice still thrive, even in our own backyard.

Second, because of the new "post-truth era", in which facts are ignored and instead the reality one would prefer to have is substituted without any objective basis.

There have always been those on the extreme right-wing fringes who denied that the Holocaust happened, but the differences with Irving was that he was an established historian, who had a long record of writing about the Second World War.

His views were published widely, claiming that Hitler never planned to kill the Jews, no Jews died in the gas chambers, places such as Auschwitz were not death camps, and that the story of the six million was made up.

This was despite the fact that the Holocaust is one of the best documented genocides in the world - with evidence not just from the victims who survived, not just from local people around at the time, but also from the perpetrators themselves.

Even in high profile trials, mass murderers such as Adolf Eichmann, never denied the facts, just tried to avoid responsibility and that they were "following orders", a minor cog in the killing machine.

Yet Irving still insisted it didn't happen and he became the acceptable face of revisionist history. There was a serious danger that while he may not persuade everyone, he would make Holocaust denial a respectable option.

In a book on the Holocaust, the American Jewish academic, Deborah Lipstadt, mentioned in passing that Irving was a Holocaust denier who falsified history.

It was just one sentence in a very long book, but Irving picked it up and decided to sue Lipstadt, and the film Denial is the account of the courtroom drama of what happened in 2000.

Some people tried to persuade Lipstadt to settle out of court, lest the publicity that Irving received helped promote his views and gained him more supporters. It begs the question: do you oppose obnoxious people best by ignoring them and denying them the "oxygen of publicity"...or is that too docile and it is far better to expose lies lest they take hold?

Lipstadt decided that standing-by was not an option when not only were six million deaths being dismissed, but Irving's assertions were so flimsy. As one expert witness put it: "If David Irving were to say good morning to me, I'd look out of the window to see if the sun was shining or not".

At the end of the case, the judge exonerated Lipstadt from the charge of libel, and declared that: Irving "distorts the evidence", that his arguments were based on the "misrepresentation, misconstruction and omission of the documentary evidence", "that he "perverted" the meaning of documents, and that his conclusions were "wholly untenable".

It was a landmark judgement - objective proof in the British High Court - that Holocaust denial is not a valid opinion, but a falsification of truth.

The problem is that while it is easy to disregard Irving as a buffoon, when Donald Trump can be President of the United States, can make outrageous claims that most others know are untrue, can issue offensive statements about minorities and yet still get a large popular vote, it means we can never relax, whether defending the memory of the Holocaust or standing up for civilised values.

Seeing Denial reminds us of the need to fight falsehood and prejudice whatever guise they take.