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Behind the lies of Holocaust denial

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    I come to you today to speak of liars,
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    lawsuits
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    and laughter.
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    The first time I heard
    about Holocaust denial,
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    I laughed.
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    Holocaust denial?
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    The Holocaust which has
    the dubious distinction
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    of being the best-documented
    genocide in the world?
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    Who could believe it didn't happen?
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    Think about it.
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    For deniers to be right,
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    who would have to be wrong?
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    Well, first of all, the victims --
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    the survivors who have told us
    their harrowing stories.
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    Who else would have to be wrong?
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    The bystanders.
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    The people who lived in the myriads
    of towns and villages and cities
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    on the Eastern front,
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    who watched their neighbors
    be rounded up --
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    men, women, children, young, old --
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    and be marched
    to the outskirts of the town
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    to be shot and left dead in ditches.
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    Or the Poles,
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    who lived in towns and villages
    around the death camps,
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    who watched day after day
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    as the trains went in filled with people
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    and came out empty.
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    But above all, who would have to be wrong?
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    The perpetrators.
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    The people who say, "We did it.
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    I did it."
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    Now, maybe they add a caveat.
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    They say, "I didn't have a choice;
    I was forced to do it."
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    But nonetheless, they say, "I did it."
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    Think about it.
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    In not one war crimes trial
    since the end of World War II
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    has a perpetrator of any nationality
    ever said, "It didn't happen."
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    Again, they may have said, "I was forced,"
    but never that it didn't happen.
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    Having thought that through,
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    I decided denial was not
    going to be on my agenda;
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    I had bigger things to worry about,
    to write about, to research,
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    and I moved on.
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    Fast-forward a little over a decade,
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    and two senior scholars --
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    two of the most prominent historians
    of the Holocaust --
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    approached me and said,
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    "Deborah, let's have coffee.
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    We have a research idea
    that we think is perfect for you."
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    Intrigued and flattered
    that they came to me with an idea
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    and thought me worthy of it,
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    I asked, "What is it?"
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    And they said, "Holocaust denial."
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    And for the second time, I laughed.
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    Holocaust denial?
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    The Flat Earth folks?
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    The Elvis-is-alive people?
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    I should study them?
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    And these two guys said,
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    "Yeah, we're intrigued.
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    What are they about?
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    What's their objective?
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    How do they manage to get people
    to believe what they say?"
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    So thinking, if they thought
    it was worthwhile,
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    I would take a momentary diversion --
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    maybe a year, maybe two,
    three, maybe even four --
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    in academic terms, that's momentary.
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    (Laughter)
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    We work very slowly.
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    (Laughter)
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    And I would look at them.
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    So I did.
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    I did my research, and I came up
    with a number of things,
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    two of which I'd like to share
    with you today.
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    One:
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    deniers are wolves in sheep's clothing.
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    They are the same: Nazis, neo-Nazis --
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    you can decide whether you want
    to put a "neo" there or not.
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    But when I looked at them,
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    I didn't see any SS-like uniforms,
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    swastika-like symbols on the wall,
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    Sieg Heil salutes --
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    none of that.
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    What I found instead
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    were people parading
    as respectable academics.
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    What did they have?
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    They had an institute.
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    An "Institute for Historical Review."
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    They had a journal -- a slick journal --
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    a "Journal of Historical Review."
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    One filled with papers --
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    footnote-laden papers.
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    And they had a new name.
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    Not neo-Nazis,
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    not anti-Semites --
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    revisionists.
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    They said, "We are revisionists.
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    We are out to do one thing:
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    to revise mistakes in history."
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    But all you had to do was go
    one inch below the surface,
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    and what did you find there?
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    The same adulation of Hitler,
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    praise of the Third Reich,
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    anti-Semitism, racism, prejudice.
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    This is what intrigued me.
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    It was anti-Semitism, racism, prejudice,
    parading as rational discourse.
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    The other thing I found --
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    many of us have been taught to think
    there are facts and there are opinions --
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    after studying deniers,
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    I think differently.
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    There are facts,
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    there are opinions,
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    and there are lies.
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    And what deniers want to do
    is take their lies,
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    dress them up as opinions --
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    maybe edgy opinions,
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    maybe sort of out-of-the-box opinions --
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    but then if they're opinions,
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    they should be part of the conversation.
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    And then they encroach on the facts.
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    I published my work --
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    the book was published,
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    "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing
    Assault on Truth and Memory,"
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    it came out in many different countries,
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    including here in Penguin UK,
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    and I was done with those folks
    and ready to move on.
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    Then came the letter from Penguin UK.
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    And for the third time, I laughed ...
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    mistakenly.
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    I opened the letter,
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    and it informed me that David Irving
    was bringing a libel suit against me
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    in the United Kingdom
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    for calling him a Holocaust denier.
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    David Irving suing me?
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    Who was David Irving?
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    David Irving was a writer
    of historical works,
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    most of them about World War II,
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    and virtually all of those works
    took the position
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    that the Nazis were really not so bad,
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    and the Allies were really not so good.
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    And the Jews, whatever happened to them,
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    they sort of deserved it.
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    He knew the documents,
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    he knew the facts,
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    but he somehow twisted them
    to get this opinion.
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    He hadn't always been a Holocaust denier,
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    but in the late '80s,
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    he embraced it with great vigor.
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    The reason I laughed also
    was this was a man
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    who not only was a Holocaust denier,
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    but seemed quite proud of it.
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    Here was a man -- and I quote --
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    who said, "I'm going to sink
    the battleship Auschwitz."
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    Here was a man
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    who pointed to the number tattooed
    on a survivor's arm and said,
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    "How much money have you made
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    from having that number
    tattooed on your arm?"
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    Here was a man who said,
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    "More people died in Senator Kennedy's car
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    at Chappaquiddick
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    than died in gas chambers at Auschwitz."
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    That's an American reference,
    but you can look it up.
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    This was not a man who seemed
    at all ashamed or reticent
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    about being a Holocaust denier.
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    Now, lots of my academic
    colleagues counseled me --
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    "Eh, Deborah, just ignore it."
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    When I explained you can't just
    ignore a libel suit,
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    they said, "Who's going to
    believe him anyway?"
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    But here was the problem:
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    British law put the onus,
    put the burden of proof on me
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    to prove the truth of what I said,
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    in contrast to as it would have
    been in the United States
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    and in many other countries:
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    on him to prove the falsehood.
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    What did that mean?
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    That meant if I didn't fight,
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    he would win by default.
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    And if he won by default,
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    he could then legitimately say,
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    "My David Irving version of the Holocaust
    is a legitimate version.
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    Deborah Lipstadt was found
    to have libeled me
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    when she called me a Holocaust denier.
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    Ipso facto, I, David Irving,
    am not a Holocaust denier."
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    And what is that version?
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    There was no plan to murder the Jews,
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    there were no gas chambers,
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    there were no mass shootings,
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    Hitler had nothing to do
    with any suffering that went on,
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    and the Jews have made this all up
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    to get money from Germany
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    and to get a state,
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    and they've done it with the aid
    and abettance of the Allies --
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    they've planted the documents
    and planted the evidence.
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    I couldn't let that stand
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    and ever face a survivor
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    or a child of survivors.
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    I couldn't let that stand
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    and consider myself
    a responsible historian.
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    So we fought.
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    And for those of you
    who haven't seen "Denial,"
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    spoiler alert:
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    we won.
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    (Laughter)
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    (Applause)
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    The judge found David Irving
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    to be a liar,
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    a racist,
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    an anti-Semite.
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    His view of history was tendentious,
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    he lied, he distorted --
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    and most importantly,
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    he did it deliberately.
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    We showed a pattern,
    in over 25 different major instances.
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    Not small things -- many of us
    in this audience write books,
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    are writing books;
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    we always make mistakes, that's why
    we're glad to have second editions:
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    correct the mistakes.
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    (Laughter)
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    But these always moved
    in the same direction:
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    blame the Jews,
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    exonerate the Nazis.
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    But how did we win?
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    What we did is follow his footnotes
    back to his sources.
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    And what did we find?
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    Not in most cases,
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    and not in the preponderance of cases,
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    but in every single instance where
    he made some reference to the Holocaust,
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    that his supposed evidence was distorted,
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    half-truth,
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    date-changed,
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    sequence-changed,
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    someone put at a meeting who wasn't there.
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    In other words,
    he didn't have the evidence.
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    His evidence didn't prove it.
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    We didn't prove what happened.
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    We proved that what he said happened --
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    and by extension, all deniers,
    because he either quotes them
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    or they get their arguments from him --
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    is not true.
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    What they claim --
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    they don't have the evidence to prove it.
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    So why is my story
    more than just the story
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    of a quirky, long,
    six-year, difficult lawsuit,
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    an American professor
    being dragged into a courtroom
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    by a man that the court
    declared in its judgment
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    was a neo-Nazi polemicist?
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    What message does it have?
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    I think in the context
    of the question of truth,
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    it has a very significant message.
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    Because today,
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    as we well know,
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    truth and facts are under assault.
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    Social media, for all
    the gifts it has given us,
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    has also allowed the difference
    between facts -- established facts --
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    and lies
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    to be flattened.
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    Third of all:
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    extremism.
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    You may not see Ku Klux Klan robes,
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    you may not see burning crosses,
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    you may not even hear outright
    white supremacist language.
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    It may go by names: "alt-right,"
    "National Front" -- pick your names.
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    But underneath, it's that same extremism
    that I found in Holocaust denial
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    parading as rational discourse.
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    We live in an age
    where truth is on the defensive.
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    I'm reminded of a New Yorker cartoon.
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    A quiz show recently appeared
    in "The New Yorker"
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    where the host of the quiz show
    is saying to one of the contestants,
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    "Yes, ma'am, you had the right answer.
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    But your opponent yelled
    more loudly than you did,
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    so he gets the point."
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    What can we do?
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    First of all,
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    we cannot be beguiled
    by rational appearances.
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    We've got to look underneath,
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    and we will find there the extremism.
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    Second of all,
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    we must understand
    that truth is not relative.
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    Number three,
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    we must go on the offensive,
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    not the defensive.
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    When someone makes an outrageous claim,
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    even though they may hold
    one of the highest offices in the land,
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    if not the world --
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    we must say to them,
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    "Where's the proof?
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    Where's the evidence?"
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    We must hold their feet to the fire.
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    We must not treat it as if their lies
    are the same as the facts.
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    And as I said earlier,
    truth is not relative.
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    Many of us have grown up
    in the world of the academy
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    and enlightened liberal thought,
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    where we're taught
    everything is open to debate.
  • 14:03 - 14:05
    But that's not the case.
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    There are certain things that are true.
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    There are indisputable facts --
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    objective truths.
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    Galileo taught it to us centuries ago.
  • 14:19 - 14:24
    Even after being forced
    to recant by the Vatican
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    that the Earth moved around the Sun,
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    he came out,
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    and what is he reported to have said?
  • 14:30 - 14:34
    "And yet, it still moves."
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    The Earth is not flat.
  • 14:38 - 14:40
    The climate is changing.
  • 14:41 - 14:44
    Elvis is not alive.
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    (Laughter)
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    (Applause)
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    And most importantly,
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    truth and fact are under assault.
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    The job ahead of us,
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    the task ahead of us,
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    the challenge ahead of us
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    is great.
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    The time to fight is short.
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    We must act now.
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    Later will be too late.
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    Thank you very much.
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    (Applause)
Title:
Behind the lies of Holocaust denial
Speaker:
Deborah Lipstadt
Description:

"There are facts, there are opinions, and there are lies," says historian Deborah Lipstadt, telling the remarkable story of her research into Holocaust deniers -- and their deliberate distortion of history. Lipstadt encourages us all to go on the offensive against those who assault the truth and facts. "Truth is not relative," she says.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
15:30

English subtitles

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