Deborah Lipstadt

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Holocaust Historian Reaches the Red Carpet

Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt finally got to walk the red carpet this year. The painstaking scholarship on Holocaust denial that she’s pursued from her perch at Emory University for decades has garnered headlines in the past. Now, she’s being played by an Academy Award-winning actress (Rachel Weisz) in a feature film and attending premieres in Toronto and L.A. The movie, “Denial,” is a courtroom drama that recounts Lipstadt’s successful defense against British revisionist historian David Irving, who sued her for libel 20 years ago.

Nothing less than the Holocaust was on trial, and the outcome was uncertain, but Lipstadt, 69, is accustomed to taking on difficult and heroic causes. Her groundbreaking work to document and explain Holocaust denial proved to be prescient — and necessary as those tropes have emerged from white nationalists in America and Europe with increasing frequency. Her steadfast writing and lecturing about anti-Semitism, including in columns published in the Forward, have held leaders to account while defending the necessity of free speech and thought.

Weisz told the Forward that she was drawn to playing the scholar because Lipstadt is a complicated, courageous woman. “You know, she’s difficult, she’s tough and she’s charming and she’s passionate and she’s tenacious and she’s funny and she’s bawdy. And brilliant, you know, clearly.”

At the heart of the film, and Lipstadt’s work, is a stubborn respect for facts and context. “In the fight against anti-Semitism, in the fight against Holocaust denial, I hope this film will have an impact,” she told the Forward. “But more, I hope it will remind people that certain things are true. And they’re facts.”

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