PW talked with Deborah Lipstadt by phone while she was in Israel to speak about Jewish education and the danger of fighting "the so-called new anti-Semitism" by teaching the young to see the Holocaust as a motivation for Jewish identity.
PW: Your case received much media coverage, and books have been written about it. Why did you feel a need to write your own book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving?
Deborah E. Lipstadt: First of all, nobody except me has been able to tell the whole story from the inside... the fund-raising effort, the assembling of the legal team, how we built our legal strategy, because we very carefully never talked about that.
But even more importantly, [I wrote it] to give the perspective of what it was like to be the defendant in a case like this: what it was like to go from being a relatively obscure... professor to being on the world stage.
And probably the third reason was that I had these powerful interactions with [Holocaust] survivors and with children of survivors and various people in the course of the trial, and I felt that was a story I also wanted to tell.
PW: What has been the long-term impact of the trial on your life and career?
DEL: On the one hand, I've gone back to being a professor [at Emory University] and to doing what I love most: teaching and writing and doing research. On the other hand, to be honest, on some level, people listen more when I speak out in terms of the new anti-Semitism, as it's called. I'll tell you another place where I've been able to use my voice in a new kind of way. I've worked with a number of people who have been fighting in terms of increased recognition of the Armenian genocide. Whereas people listened before because of my work on Holocaust denial, when I work in [the Armenian] area, I've been able to get more of a hearing, and that's been very gratifying.
PW: I didn't choose this area of study to be called to the bar to defend history, but... even though it took a lot out of me... I feel on some level gratified to have been the one, as Irving said, "pulled out of the line" not, as he meant, to be shot but to defend history.
PW: In the book, you're quite harsh about a New York Times article that appeared before the trial. In general, how did you feel about media coverage of the case?
DEL: I think at first they bent over backward to make sure that Irving got a fair hearing. And it annoyed me, but I understood why they did it. But if you watched the press coverage over the course of time, you saw the shift, from reporters who sat in that courtroom day in, day out, how they began to see the measure of the man in terms of David Irving, that he lied, that he distorted, that he invented, that he misquoted, all the things that the judge said that he did, and that was very gratifying to watch. I'm not one of those who beat up on the media.
PW: I heard at some point that a movie was being made about the case.
DEL:There was supposed to be a movie. It wasn't being done based on the book, because the whole thing was in the works before the book was done. Ridley Scott's production company had hired Ronald Harwood (who did The Pianist for Polanski), and he wrote a screenplay, and HBO was going to put it on. HBO asked Harwood to put in some fictional elements... and Harwood refused to do that. He said... on a case that's about truth, for you to ask me to put in fictional elements just doesn't cut it. So the movie died.