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Battling for truth

Denial is the story of a libel trial held at London’s Royal Courts of Justice in the year 2000.

Rod Badams

Figure Image
Tom Wilkinson (L) and Rachel Weisz (R)| photo: Bleecker Street

: Mick Jackson
Participant Media, BBC Films
Runtime 110 mins

One historian, David Irving, sued another, Deborah Lipstadt, and the latter’s publisher, Penguin Books Ltd, for defamation. In her the Holocaust: The Growing book, Denying Assault on Truth and Memory, Lipstadt had alleged that Irving was ‘one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial. Familiar with historical evidence, he bends it until it conforms with his ideological leanings and political agenda’.

The defendants won, the judge finding that Irving had ‘for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence’.

Importance of historical truth

Although the Holocaust is the film’s background, it is incidental. The theme is the importance of historical truth, and the determination to establish it. Rachel Weisz (Lipstadt) asserts in the film: ‘Slavery happened; the Black Death happened; Elvis is not alive.’ Facts must not be put at risk.

After watching Denial, someone may ask: What about freedom of expression? Can traditional understandings of historical events not be challenged?

Biblical freedom of expression

Yes, of course, but with honesty and integrity, which Irving lacked. In the Bible, freedom of expression is shown as fundamental to God’s plan for gospel proclamation and how the human race should co-exist. It is regulated by accountability, rather than by restriction or prescription (Matthew 12.36-37).

Unlike the legislation in 14 European countries (not Britain), which outlaws Holocaust denial, Britain’s libel laws represent retrospective accountability and are thus compatible with this principle. Professor Lipstadt does not like anti-denial legislation. After Irving’s imprisonment in Austria in 2006 for Holocaust denial, she said: ‘I don’t believe in winning battles via censorship… the way of fighting Holocaust deniers is with history and with truth.’ She is right.

There are no battles like battles for truth. Watch this film with that in mind.