Based on the True Story

An Emory scholar's triumph over a Holocaust denier is now a major motion picture

Double 'Trouble': Deborah Lipstadt was closely involved in the making of Denial, serving as a frequent consultant both on set and off. As Lipstadt's character, Rachel Weisz (left) wore the professor's trademark scarves.
Liam Daniel, Bleecker Street

It’s always fun to wonder: If your life were made into a movie, what star would play you?

Most of us will probably never know, but for Deborah Lipstadt, Emory’s Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, that question is answered. Academy Award–winning actor Rachel Weisz fully and brilliantly embraces Lipstadt’s character in the film Denial, which opened in Atlanta in October with a special premiere screening hosted by Emory College. 

The film is based on Lipstadt’s acclaimed 2005 book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, chronicling her experience as the defendant in a British libel suit brought against her by David Irving, whom she had identified as a Holocaust denier in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. It also stars two-time Academy Award–nominee Tom Wilkinson as her British barrister and Timothy Spall as Irving.

“It’s a very rare treat when a film captures the work of a scholar as scholar, as this one does,” said Michael Elliott, interim dean of Emory College. “The importance of that cannot be overestimated.”Written by David Hare, the script draws heavily on the transcripts of the London trial, during which the burden was on Lipstadt’s legal team to prove that she was correct in her assertion that Irving is a Holocaust denier.

The story’s central themes include the value of facts and evidence in the pursuit of truth, the power in the Jewish tradition of care and respect for the dead, and the unexpected impact of remaining silent—even when it is difficult—to allow other voices and truths to emerge. Neither Lipstadt nor survivors of the Holocaust were called on to speak during the trial, which Lipstadt acknowledges was challenging, but she came to see the wisdom of the legal team’s strategy.

At the premiere screening, Lipstadt recalled her first phone conversation with Weisz, which lasted forty-five minutes.

“At the end of that, Rachel said, ‘I don’t think this has happened by chance. Justice demands troublemakers, and it has found one in you.’ ”

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