LONDON — For much of the past five years, Deborah Lipstadt, an American Holocaust scholar, and David Irving, a British Holocaust denier, have been locked in a grotesque legal embrace.
That close encounter finally ended in the British High Court Tuesday, when Justice Charles Gray ruled that Lipstadt was right when she labeled Irving a Holocaust denier.
Reaction to the verdict was swift and positive. "There no doubt were heartfelt sighs of deep relief in the offices of Jewish organizations worldwide," Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, wrote in a column for the Jerusalem Post.
After the judgment, Lipstadt, who is a professor at Emory Univeristy in Atlanta, said she was filled with intense joy and deep gratitude.
"I see this not only as a personal victory but also as a victory for all those who speak out against hate and prejudice," she said.
"But the nightmare is not over," she warned. "There is no end to the battle against racism, anti-Semitism and fascism."
Sure enough, shortly after the verdict was announced, the Tehran Times praised Irving, calling the Holocaust "one of the biggest frauds of the outgoing century" and accusing "Zionists" of making it up "to blackmail the West."
And a day after losing the suit, Irving used his Web siteto accuse rich Jews, including the Bronfman family, of bankrolling Lipstadt's defense.
A spokesman for Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, told Reuters he hoped his family had indeed contributed, saying, "I can't think of a more worthy defense fund."
Omer Bartov, a history professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said the verdict was significant because Irving has been seen by some as a serious historian with a treasure trove of documents on Hitler and other Nazis.
Bartov said it was important to expose people like Irving, "who has been published by respectable publishers and been cited by scholars like me. But in recent years, he'd become more extreme, and associated himself with neo-Nazi circles."
Michael Berenbaum, professor of Holocaust studies at Clark University in Massachusetts, also said it is important for the court to help set professional standards for historians.
"Instead of going down into the gutter with Irving, we elevated the question into what is the obligation of a historian to interpret evidence and translate material. And Irving was found wanting," said Berenbaum, a former director of research at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
"In a way, Holocaust denial has been defeated over and over and over again," he said, citing museums and movies and the public apologies of governments.
"What can you say about these guys who say the Holocaust never happened? They're a fringe movement of charlatans."
In a scathing 334-page judgment, Gray ruled that Lipstadt had proved the central charges she had leveled against Irving in her 1994 book, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory."
In the libel trial, Irving accused Lipstadt and her publisher of ruining his career by labeling him a Holocaust denier. The judge also exonerated her publisher, Penguin Books.
The judge did not mince words when he labeled Irving a "pro-Nazi polemicist" and found that he:
*Deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence to suit his own ideological agenda.
*Unjustifiably portrayed Hitler in a favorable light, particularly in his attitude toward, and treatment of, Jews.
*Associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.
*Is an anti-Semite, a racist and a Holocaust denier.
Referring to Irving's political activities, the judge said, "The content of his speeches and interviews often display a distinctly pro-Nazi and anti-Jewish bias."
Gray found that "for the most part, the falsification of the historical record was deliberate."
Irving presented events in a manner consistent with his own ideological beliefs, the judge said, and "makes surprising and often unfounded assertions about the Nazi regime which tend to exonerate the Nazis for the appalling atrocities they inflicted on the Jews."
The judge ruled that Lipstadt had failed to prove some of her claims about Irving, including that he has a self-portrait of Hitler above his desk.
But he added that the unproved charges would not have "any material effect on Irving's reputation."
Irving, who lives in a $1.5 million apartment in London's tony Mayfair district, now faces a bill for legal costs estimated to be $5 million. He claims no other assets besides his apartment and might have to file for bankruptcy.
Pelted with eggs as he entered the court building Tuesday, Irving said after the verdict that he would not be silenced.
"I will still continue to write what I find to be true history. I can't be intimidated," Irving told Sky television.
Lipstadt said she regrets that Holocaust survivors attending the 32-day trial were forced to endure Irving's taunts.
Jewish groups from all political and religious viewpoints universally praised the ruling.
"Irving tried to manipulate the British legal system in order to put the victims murdered in the gas chambers on trial," the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement. "Instead, the net result is that he will be relegated to the garbage heap of history's haters."
Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, cheered the ruling but expressed dismay that the trial ever took place.
"It is unfortunate that David Irving was able even to bring such frivolous charges into a courtroom," he said. "At least the trial provided an opportunity to reveal once again the reality of the Holocaust and the dangers of those who seek to deny it or trivialize it."
Said Sara Bloomfield, director of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, "The facts of the Holocaust are the facts. We didn't need a trial to prove that the Holocaust happened."
She bemoaned the fact that Lipstadt "had to take months out of her life and her scholarly work" to deal with Irving's lawsuit.
Bartov admitted that he hadn't closely followed the trial.
"Personally, I'm rather ambivalent about the whole public debate about Holocaust denial," he said. "It's a rather marginal phenomenon, and most of the people who use this rhetoric are marginal people.
"Arguments that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz are for cranks," he said, adding that trials such as this one place "cranks in the center of a public debate rather than where they belong, which is at the margins."
Still, the debate will likely continue, Zuroff asserted in his column.
"The bad news is that the verdict will not finally put an end to Holocaust denial.
"The Holocaust deniers, after all, have been consistently manipulating the various historical facts and ignoring others for decades, and no antidote prepared by anybody has yet been found to stop this phenomenon."