She had to prove the Holocaust happened | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

She had to prove the Holocaust happened


ATLANTA – You’ll need your imagination for this one.

At issue is that it’s hard to imagine anyone having to prove in a court of law that the Holocaust happened.

Deborah Lipstadt did it, though, and her story has been made into a film called “Denial,” set to be released in New York on Sept. 30 and nationwide on Oct. 21.

Lipstadt, a professor of modern history and Jewish Holocaust studies at Emory University, was sued by prominent Holocaust denier and British historian David Irving in the 1990s, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The film and her book that it’s based on, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,” recount how Irving sued Lipstadt for libel in England for calling him a “Holocaust denier.”

Deborah Lipstadt

Deborah Lipstadt

Now, Lipstadt is to visit Wisconsin, to talk about the trial, the film and contemporary anti-Semitism. She speaks Tuesday, Sept. 20, 7 p.m. at Cardinal Stritch University, 6801 N. Yates Road in Glendale. Pre-registration is required at The event is sponsored by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center.

“If I lost the case it would be a tremendous victory for Holocaust deniers,” Lipstadt recalled in a phone interview. “That was my concern.”

Because English libel law puts the burden of proof on the defendant, Lipstadt essentially had to prove that the Holocaust happened to win the case. Lipstadt’s legal adversary, Irving, has been called “one of the world’s most effective purveyors of Holocaust denial” by the Anti-Defamation League.

Both the trial and that a piece of her life was made into a movie were surreal for her. “It’s an odd thing to see yourself portrayed by someone on the screen or on the stage,” she said.

Rachel Weisz

Rachel Weisz

She had input into the making of the film and she feels it “does a really good job” of telling her story. The actress who plays Lipstadt, British Jewish actress Rachel Weisz, spent some time with Lipstadt.

“She wanted to know about me. She wanted to know my feeling about certain things,” Lipstadt recalled. “As much information as I could give her she was happy to have. She’s a professional’s professional.”

Weisz appeared in “The Bourne Legacy” in 2012 and in “Oz the Great and Powerful” in 2013.

Lipstadt is currently writing another book. It’s on contemporary anti-Semitism, a topic she’s sure to talk about at Cardinal Stritch University, at least partly because the book has it on her mind.


“Denial” is a film that’s based on a true story.

When asked about the connection some have drawn between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, her response was ambivalent.

“I think there is a serious connection,” she said, but she added a caveat. “Not every criticism is anti-Semitism. Sometimes it is.”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this story.

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How to go

What: Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt to speak

When: Tuesday, Sept. 20, 7 p.m.

Where: Cardinal Stritch University, 6801 N. Yates Road, Glendale

Cost: Free

RSVP: Pre-registration is required to guarantee a seat. Visit or contact Ashleigh Lund at or 414-390-5741.