ATLANTA -- The holocaust is a tragic part of history.
But a famous British historian wrote extensively that it never happened – and he sued an Emory professor who wrote he was a holocaust denier.
The story of that trial is now a major motion picture opening Friday in Atlanta.
It’s "Denial", starring Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz, recounting a historic trial 16 years ago in London that put Emory History Professor Deborah Lipstadt up against British historian David Irving who denied the holocaust ever happened.
“There are certain battles you cannot turn away from,” Lipstadt said.
And for Professor Lipstadt, this was the battle.
Irving sued Lipstadt based on a 1993 book she wrote, “Denying the Holocaust” in which she named him as a holocaust denier.
Irving even showed up at an Atlanta lecture to challenge her.
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“There was a man who had been quoted saying things like I am going to sink the Battleship Auschwitz; more women died on the backseat of Senator Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than did at Auschwitz," she said. "There was no Holocaust. There were no gas chambers. How can he claim not to be a denier."
Irving chose England to bring the lawsuit because unlike the United States, British Law puts the burden of proof is on the person being sued to prove the case.
“I had to prove what I said was true." Lipstadt said. "I am the innocent party in the United States - there is a presumption of innocence - but not in the UK.”
But as the actual trail began, Lipstadt was in for a shock.
As famed actor Tom Wilkinson, playing her defense attorney in Denial said: “This case is happening to you but it is not about you.”
She was ordered not to testify.
“It was like all the lights went out in the room," she said. "I have friends and colleagues who say the biggest miracle of this whole story is that I kept my mouth shut for all these months and years. I teach; I write; I lecture and my voice is one of my most important tools and to have silenced it is very hard - very challenging.”
But Lipstadt said she understood that it was truth that was on trial, not personality and she was ordered along with holocaust survivors to just sit it out.
In the end, the judge issued a 333 page decision.
Lipstadt won that decision and it made worldwide headlines. Irving appealed but lost.
“One of the takeaways is there are not two sides to every story," Lipstadt said. "That certain things happened - you can talk about why they happen, how they might have been changed; how we might have stopped them; but not two sides to every story and the holocaust did happen. The need to stand up for truth."
"Just because you read it on the Internet and just because you feel it passionately does not make it true.” she added.
Professor Deborah Lipstadt proved just that.
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