Deborah Esther Lipstadt was born on March 18th, 1947 as the daughter of an immigrant Jewish family. Her mother was Canadian, while her father had already emigrated to the United States in the 1920s. She grew up in New York with two siblings and visited the Hebrew Institute of Long Island, a modern Jewish orthodox school. At the end of the 1960s she went to Israel and studied literature and history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She completed her studies at the City College in New York in 1969 and afterwards she enrolled at the Brandeis University in Massachusetts, where she gained her doctorate in 1976 with her paper “The Zionist Career of Louis Lipsky 1900 – 1921”. She also lectured history and religion at the university in Washington. Until 1985, she was lecturing at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), before then going on to take over as head of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. At the end of the 1980s, she received a research grant from the Vidal Sassoon International Center for Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for the study of the history of Holocaust denial. She also lectured at the Occidental College in Los Angeles. In 1993, Lipstadt was appointed an associate professor at Emory University in Atlanta. Her book “Denying the Holocaust” was published in the same year, an academic analysis of the lies and half-truths disseminated by Holocaust deniers. She was appointed a Professor at Emory and named Dorot Professor for Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies and Director of the Institute for Jewish Studies, which she established herself. She served in that position from 1998 up until 2008. During this time, she also assumed responsibility for the Emory based HDOT website [www.hdot.org »], which archived the legal material from the trial David Irving v. Penguin Books, UK and Deborah Lipstadt. HDOT also gathered material on Holocaust denial and provided material for rebutting the major claims made by deniers. After recently being technologically revamped, it is now in the process of being translated into Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, French and other languages. In 2006, she was voted into the American Academy of Jewish Research. In the same year, she received a guest professorship at the Gregorian Pontifical University of Rome. This was followed by further guest professorships at renowned universities both within and outside the Unites States. Lipstadt still lectures at the Emory University in Atlanta.
In her function as a historian, Lipstadt has been appointed to various advisory boards and committees. From 1996 to 1999, she was member of the United States Department Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad and was part of an advisory group on religious matters serving the then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. President Clinton appointed her to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Council. There she was also a member of the Executive Committee, as well as heading up the museum’s Educational and Academic Committee. In 2005, at the request of then President George W. Bush, she was part of the delegation that was invited to the White House to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp in Auschwitz. On the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial in 2011, she gave a speech at the State Department. In 2011, she was appointed by President Obama to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where she headed the Committee for Monitoring Antisemitism and State Sponsored Holocaust Denial.
She is probably best known for having prevailed in a lawsuit brought against her by prominent Holocaust denier, David Irving. As a result of her mention of Irving’s denial activities in her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, she and her publisher were sued for libel and defamation by Irving in 1996. According to the requirements of British law, the burden of proof rested on Lipstadt. The spectacular ten-week trial, which was subject to a great deal of attention, exposed Holocaust denial for the construct of lies that it is. Following a legal trial that took many years, in the year 2000, the London-based court dismissed Irving’s case and decided in favour of Lipstadt and her publisher. The judge found Irving to be an “apologist for and partisan of Hitler, who has resorted to the distortion of evidence; the manipulation and skewing of documents; the misrepresentation of data and the application of double standards to the evidence, in order to serve his own purpose of exonerating Hitler and portraying him as sympathetic towards the Jews.” He declared him to be “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial” who “allied himself with representatives of a variety of extremist and antisemitic groups” and “is discredited as an historian.” (*) An appeal against the judgement was dismissed in 2001 and again in 2002. Lipstadt declined to pursue Irving for her legal costs, despite the fact that she was permitted to do so by British law. Her legal travails, notwithstanding, Lipstadt, does not support laws against Holocaust denial because of her conviction that any contesting of the crime should only occur through examining the historical truth and not by limiting freedom of speech. She is also loath to give politicians control over discussions of historical events. She made this point in remarks at a debate at the Oxford Union (January 2016).
The case of Irving versus Penguin UK and Deborah Lipstadt resulted in the 2016 British-American film production “Denial” starring Rachel Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt and Timothy Spall in the role of David Irving, with the film being directed by Mick Jackson. The film was also released in German cinemas in April 2017.
(*) Mr. Justice Gray, “Trial Judgement,” David Irving v. Penguin Books UK and Deborah Lipstadt, part 2.15, www.hdot.org » and Lord Justice Pill, “Appeal: Conclusion on Meaning,” David Irving v. Penguin Book UK and Deborah Lipstadt, www.hdot.org/apjudge/ »
Deborah Lipstadt makes regular appearances in the American media. She is a frequent guest on various television formats, writes for the Washington Post and New York times, among other publications, and is active on Facebook. This involves Lipstadt analysing the conflation of facts, opinions and lies in order to make antisemitic, racist, sexist and right-wing populist attitudes and strategies transparent. Beyond this, she also comments on the global political situation, as well as current US domestic and foreign policy. In doing so she refers to the increasing “softcore” denial – the trivialisation of the extermination – even when it comes to high levels of government, she warns about the underlying subtle tactics and mechanisms. This could be seen, for example, in the fact that the extermination of the Jews was not mentioned in the White House statement released on Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27th, 2017. She wrote this in the Atlantic Magazine. Her TED talk on the strategies of Holocaust deniers and their contemporary relationship to “fake news” has garnered close to 1.1 million views.
Lipstadt has already received numerous awards for her work. In 2018, she received the Annetje Fels-Kupferschmidt award and delivered the Nooit Meer Auschwitz' Lezing (Never Again Auschwitz Lecture). In 2009, she was awarded the Judith B. and Burton P. Resnick Fellowship for the Study of Antisemitism at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In 2005, she received the National Jewish Book Award for her book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier” and was one of the finalists for the Koret International Jewish Book Award. She has also received several awards for her lecturing work. Lipstadt has been awarded honorary doctorates by the Ohio Wesleyan University, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the Yeshiva University, University of Haifa, the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Hebrew Union College.
The Zionist Career of Louis Lipsky. 1900-1921, New York, 1982 (Dissertation text 1976)
Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust 1933-1945, Free Press /MacMillan, New York, 1986
Denying the Holocaust, The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, Free Press/Macmillan, New York, 1993
History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, New York, 2005
The Eichmann Trial, Schocken/Nextbook Series, New York, 2011
Holocaust: An American Understanding, Rutgers University Press, 2015
Antisemitism: Here and Now (to be published by Random House in 2018)
Published in German
Deborah E. Lipstadt: Betrifft: Leugnen des Holocaust, Rio Verlag, Zürich, 1994
Deborah E. Lipstadt: Leugnen des Holocaust: Rechtsextremismus mit Methode, Rowohlt, Reinbek/Hamburg 1996
Relating to the court case
Richard J. Evans: Der Geschichtsfälscher, Holocaust und historische Wahrheit im David-Irving-Prozess, Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt/Main; New York, 2001.
Richard J. Evans: Telling lies about Hitler, the Holocaust, history and the David Irving trial, Verso, New York, London, 2002
Peter Longerich: Auschwitz-Leugnen. Das Verfahren gegen Lipstadt vor dem Londoner High Court. In: Klaus-Dietmar Henke (Hg): Auschwitz. Sechs Essays zu Geschehen und Vergegenwärtigung. Hannah-Arendt-Institut für Totalitarismusforschung an der TU Dresden, Berichte und Studien 32, Dresden 2001
Robert van den Pelt: The case for Auschwitz, evidence from the Irving trial, University Press, Bloomington, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2002
Don D. Guttenplan: Der Holocaust-Prozess, die Hintergründe der „Auschwitz-Lüge“. Translated from English by Thomas Bertram, Goldmann, Munich, 2001
Eva Menasse: Der Holocaust vor Gericht, der Prozess um David Irving, Siedler, Berlin, 2000