Helga's Diary is an important book because it protects the truth of our human
past, and truth has often been in danger. "In war, truth is the first casualty." Any great conflict brings us to the same confrontation with distortion, lies, and historical reconstruction.
In 2000, a libel trial took place in Great Britain. David Irving, a prolific British writer on history, sued Dr. Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University for defaming his reputation. Dr. Lipstadt had identified Irving in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, as a 'dangerous spokesperson' for Holocaust denial. If the trial had taken place in the United States, Irving would have needed to prove the falsity of Lipstadt's charge; in Britain, however, Lipstadt had to prove the truthfulness of her claim. In other words, she would have to prove that the Holocaust actually happened. In History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving, Deborah Lipstadt shows the importance of good scholarship to protect the past from future distortions as those involved in events begin to die away. She says, "As academicians, we must use our scholarship to support historical truth. It is our responsibility."
In the end, Justice Charles Gray found for the defendants, Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books. In his 300+ page judgment, he concluded,
Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist, and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism. ... Therefore the defense of justification succeeds.... It follows that there must be judgment for the Defendants.
This was a victory for truth, but the struggle for the truth in the face of denial has been a reality on many fronts throughout history from the Herodotus' justifications of Greek atrocities to the Turkish official denial of the Armenian genocide of 1915 to the American government's denial of torturing civilian detainees in the Middle East.
According to Sigmund Freud, repression, a fundamental function of the ego, keeps balance in the individual by tamping down guilty or inappropriate urges, memories and wishes to the level of the unconscious, where they still affect behavior without the awareness of the individual. Even cultures can repress memories of events for which they would feel guilt or shame if brought into the light.
Germany began coming to terms with the Holocaust only recently when the generations that were victimized by or promoted the Third Reich began dying off. Germans have realized that only by facing their own shadow history will they be able to create an authentic future. Films like Der Untergang (Downfall) have had the effect of helping to heal the present by facing the past.
We Americans still have many events putrefying in our past, which poison our national psyche and keep us from creating a truly healthy future. We have not honestly faced or come to terms with the following, among others:
While each of us is responsible for our individual lives, we are also part of ever expanding larger communities that act as extensions of our own selves. Healthy individuals require a healthy community, whether that be a neighborhood, a nation, or a world. We have a responsibility to each of these, for they will be our children's future.
Hungarian Jewish women, children and elderly just before entering the gas chambers in Auschwitz.
Armenian children being taunted by a Turkish official, 1915.
US soldiers search for NLF.
This article was originally published in May 2013, and has been updated for the
February 2014 paperback release.
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