I saw the trailer for Mike Jackson’s excellent film Denial as a preview before a YouTube video. I remember thinking immediately that I had to see it. As a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I wanted to know the (true) story of historian Debra Lipstadt, and how the facts of the Holocaust could possibly be debated in a courtroom setting. I am glad to say that Jackson’s film does a fine job of conveying the story, ably covering the nuanced difficulties of arguing a case like the one Lipstadt was involved in. Rachel Weisz also gives an excellent performance as Lipstadt.

In 1996, British historian David Irving sued Lipstadt and her publisher for defamation. He claimed that Lipstadt, in her book Denying the Holocaust, wrongly accused him of Holocaust denial. She fought the case in Britain and eventually won, with the presiding judge declaring her innocent of defamation, as Irving intentionally distorted the facts of the Holocaust to mislead others (basically, he lied).

Jackson’s film is ultimately a courtroom drama, not a Holocaust film, that nonetheless tries to convey the emotional weight of the trial, not just as felt by Lipstadt, but also by her legal team and Holocaust survivors following the trial. The film shows how the legal team made certain strategic decisions to win the case, even if those decisions – such as not allowing survivors or Lipstadt to testify – were perceived as objectionable by many.

Denial serves as a great testament to Lipstadt and her legal team, but it also serves as a potent reminder of the failures of humanity. The Holocaust showcased some of the worst aspects of humanity – indeed, perhaps the worst – but as is all too clear, these aspects did not cease to exist after the end of the war. As the world enters a era in which facts appear more and more negotiable, Denial reminds us that fighting for the truth is often difficult, but necessary.

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