Victims of genocide find a voice

Whittier Daily News (California)
March 14, 2013 Thursday

Victims of genocide find a voice

By Peter Fullam, Staff Writer twitter.com/peterfullam

WHITTIER — One of the stalwarts in the fight to tell the truth about
history, Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt, offered a few simple words
to live by, for everybody, but especially to the students, who have
more years ahead of them, she noted, at her talk Wednesday night at
Whittier College.

“When you see evil, say ‘no,'” she said.

Lipstadt is perhaps best known for winning her libel trial in London
in 2000 against David Irving who sued her for calling him a Holocaust
denier and right-wing extremist in her 1993 book, “Denying the
Holocaust.” The judge found Irving to be a Holocaust denier, a
falsifier of history, a racist and an anti-Semite, according to Emory
University, Atlanta, where Lipstadt is a professor of modern Jewish
history and Holocaust studies.

She gave the 2013 Feinberg Lecture, this year titled, “Genocide and
Justice – A Retrospective Look at the Trial of Adolph Eichmann,
Jerusalem 1961.” Lipstadt’s book, “The Eichmann Trial,” marked the
50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial.

It was the first time in 2000 years that Jews were allowed to sit in
judgment of non-Jews, she said.

But the most important legacy of the Eichmann trial, she said, was
that it gave a voice to the survivor.

“It had a forensic impact, a legal impact in terms of war criminal
trails, but I think it also more importantly it gave a new stature to
the voice of the survivor. That the world listened,” she said in an
interview before her lecture.

“It isn’t that survivors of the Holocaust hadn’t spoken about what
happened to them before that. They had. But the world listened to them
in a way it hadn’t listened to them in a way it hadn’t before. ”

During her lecture, Lipstadt told the story of one German soldier who
helped the Jews escape the Nazi “final solution.” If more of humanity
acted in similar ways, the world would not have Holocausts, Rwandas,
and Armenian genocides.

Lipstadt said she took an unlikely route to opposing Holocaust
deniers. It began at the suggestion of two renowned Jewish historians.
Given their stature, she agreed, thinking it would be a one or two
year job.

“They said to me, ‘Deborah, you really should work on this topic.’ And
I said to them, … ‘What are you, nuts?’ I didn’t say it that way
because they were such distinguished men, but basically that was my
reaction. This is like flat earth theory. Who takes them seriously?
But they said to me, ‘We think its a real problem.’ ”

She came to the conclusion that they were correct.

The world is now reaching that stage now, she said, as Holocaust
survivors die off and there will no longer be witnesses to the
genocide who can tell the story.

The Eichmann trial fits the pattern, because like virtually every
other Nazi war criminal who was tried for his crimes, Eichmann did not
deny that the Holocaust happened.

“Eichmann was an unrepentant anti-Semite,” said Lipstadt. “Even 11
years after the Holocaust, 1956, in Argentina, he talks about how
happy he was to have participated in the murder of the Jews.

“David Irving never hurt, as far as I know, never hurt a person. But
he’s motivated by that same kind of anti-Semitism. Motivated by that
same kind of hatred. ”

The Holocaust was the most well-documented genocide in history. And
many other genocides likewise are well-documented and have many
witnesses.

“The thing to understand about deniers is that it’s not like they
didn’t get the memo that it happened. They didn’t see the documents.
They skipped the book that would have convinced them. If only they had
read one more book, seen one more document. It’s not that at all. It’s
that these are people who are motivated by an anti-Semitism. These are
people who are motivated by racial prejudice. These are haters. ”

Lipstadt said that while Hitler tried to destroy a people, the
Holocaust deniers are bent on trying to destroy the history of what
happened. And once you start destroying history, while it may not lead
to another genocide, it’s a very dangerous thing, she said.

The Feinberg Lecture Series is made possible through an endowment by
the late Sheldon Feinberg, a former trustee of Whittier College, and
his wife, Betty, to invite scholars to the college to discuss
historic, religious and political issues encompassed by Judaism and
its role in a changing world.

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