Dering v Uris

Last updated

Dering v Uris and Others was a 1964 English libel suit brought by Polish-born Wladislaw Dering against the American writer Leon Uris. It was described at the time as the first war crimes trial held in Britain.

Contents

Dering alleged that Uris had libelled him in a footnote in his novel Exodus , which described his participation in medical experiments in Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust. The case was tried in the High Court of Justice before Justice Lawton and a jury between April and May 1964. On 6 May, the jury returned a verdict for Dering, but awarded him contemptuous damages of one halfpenny, the smallest coin in the currency. As a result, Dering became liable for the defendants' legal costs.

The trial attracted wide media coverage. In particular, The Times provided extensive coverage of the case, printing large portions of the testimony presented in court. The novel QB VII and its 1974 miniseries adaptation are loosely based on this case. [1]

Background

Wladislaw Alexander Dering was a Polish doctor who was imprisoned at Auschwitz during the Second World War for resistance activities. After the war, he reached Britain, but was detained by the British government as an alleged war criminal, while the Polish government sought his extradition. In 1948, he was released, the Home Secretary having decided that there was insufficient evidence to support a prima facie case against him. [2] Dering thereupon joined the Colonial Medical Service, running a hospital in Hargeisa, British Somaliland. For his services, he was appointed an OBE in 1960. The same year, he returned to England and established a medical practice in North London.

After his return, his family drew his attention to a passage in the novel Exodus by American author Leon Uris. The passage, on page 155, read:

Here in Block X Dr. Wirths used women as guinea pigs and Dr. Schumann sterilized by castration and X-ray and Clauberg removed ovaries and Dr. Dehring performed 17,000 'experiments' in surgery without anaesthetics.

Dering issued writs for libel against Uris, his British publishers William Kimber & Co Ltd, and the printers. The printers settled the case before the trial for £500 and an apology. Uris and William Kimber admitted the words at issue were defamatory against Dering, but pleaded that the words were true in substance and in fact, save for some particularized exceptions.

The trial

The trial opened in the High Court of Justice in London on 13 April 1964 before Justice Lawton and a jury. Colin Duncan QC (with Brian Neill) appeared for Dering, while Lord Gardiner (with David Hirst and Louis Blom-Cooper) represented the defendants.

In court, Dering denied having carried out experimental operations. He claimed he removed prisoners' sexual organs because Schumann had asked Dering to assist him by removing the organs. He did not feel he could refuse, because he thought it was better for him to perform the operations than if they were performed by an untrained person. Furthermore, he claimed the organs he removed were already damaged, and that he removed them for the benefit of the prisoners' health. He also claimed he feared for his life if he did not comply with Schumann's request. Finally, he denied having operation without anaesthetics, and claimed that of the 17,000 operations he performed at Auschwitz, only about 130 were not ordinary proper operations.

The defence admitted that the figure of 17,000 'experiments' was inflated, and that some anesthetics was administered. However, they disputed Dering's claim that his life would have been in danger if he had not carried out the operations. They also disputed Dering's claim that the anesthesia was effective. The defense presented a number of witnesses who had been operated upon by Dering, as well as prisoners-doctors who had worked with Dering. The doctors testified that they had refused the Nazi doctors' requests to assist them in their experiments, and had not been punished as a consequence.

One of the trial's most dramatic moments occurred during the testimony of Adélaïde Hautval, an imprisoned French psychiatrist who worked in the camp's hospital. She testified that she refused to assist the Nazi doctors in the experiments:

Gardiner: As a result were you shot?

Hautval: No

Gardiner: Were you punished in any way?

Hautval: No.

She then testified that she told Dr Wirths that performing the operations was against her conception of medicine.

Hautval: He asked me, "Cannot you see that these people are different from you?" and I answered him that there were several people different from me, beginning from him.

Gardiner: I shall not ask you again whether you were shot. Did Dr Wirths say anything further?

Hautval: He never said anything.

The jury awarded Dering a halfpenny in damages, the smallest coin of the realm. Since publisher and author had paid a marginally larger token sum of £2 into court, Dering was liable for all the legal costs amounting to £25,000 from that point, due to court rules. [3] Dering died, however, leaving Kimber saddled with the heavy legal costs.

At a news conference held at the Howard Hotel by Uris and publisher Kimber, Uris is reported to have made a comment that future editions of Exodus would omit Dering's name. [4] Uris and the publishers, William Kimber and Company, admitted that a paragraph in the book, referring to Auschwitz medical experiments, was defamatory to Dering, but they also contended that it was true in substance, subject to certain qualifications. [5]

The trial received extensive coverage. Breaking with tradition whereby it only reported judgments, The Times Law Report sent two reporters to report on the trial. The Times' reports were later published in book form (Auschwitz in England, 1965). It was said that the newspaper's circulation rose for the first time since the end of the Second World War as a result of its coverage.

Uris had copied his data from Underground: The Story of a People by Joseph Tenenbaum when he referred to doctors working in Auschwitz. [6]

Related Research Articles

Josef Mengele Nazi SS doctor who experimented on prisoners at Auschwitz

Josef Mengele, also known as the Angel of Death was a German Schutzstaffel (SS) officer and physician during World War II. He is mainly remembered for his actions at the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he performed deadly experiments on prisoners, and was a member of the team of doctors who selected victims to be killed in the gas chambers and was one of the doctors who administered the gas. With Red Army troops sweeping through Poland, Mengele was transferred 280 kilometres (170 mi) from Auschwitz to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp on 17 January 1945, just 10 days before the arrival of the Soviet forces at Auschwitz.

<i>QB VII</i>

QB VII by Leon Uris is a dramatic courtroom novel published in 1970. The four-part novel highlights the events leading to a libel trial in the United Kingdom. The novel was Uris's second consecutive #1 New York Times Best Seller and third overall. The novel is loosely based on a court case for defamation that arose from Uris's earlier best-selling novel Exodus.

Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974), was a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court establishing the standard of First Amendment protection against defamation claims brought by private individuals. The Court held that, so long as they do not impose liability without fault, states are free to establish their own standards of liability for defamatory statements made about private individuals. However, the Court also ruled that if the state standard is lower than actual malice, the standard applying to public figures, then only actual damages may be awarded.

Carl Clauberg

Carl Clauberg was a German gynecologist who conducted medical experiments on human subjects at Auschwitz concentration camp. He worked with Horst Schumann in X-ray sterilization experiments at Auschwitz concentration camp.

Georg Konrad Morgen

Georg Konrad Morgen was an SS judge and lawyer who investigated crimes committed in Nazi concentration camps. He rose to the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer (major). After the war, Morgen served as witness at several anti-Nazi trials and continued his legal career in Frankfurt.

Sir David Cozens-Hardy Hirst was an English barrister and judge who served as a Lord Justice of Appeal from 1992 to 1999. The Times described him as "one of the leading advocates of his generation".

Eduard Wirths

Eduard Wirths was the Chief SS doctor (SS-Standortarzt) at the Auschwitz concentration camp from September 1942 to January 1945. Thus, Wirths had formal responsibility for everything undertaken by the nearly 20 SS doctors who worked in the medical sections of Auschwitz between 1942–1945.

Horst Schumann

Horst Schumann was an SS-Sturmbannführer (major) and medical doctor who conducted sterilization and castration experiments at Auschwitz and was particularly interested in the mass sterilization of Jews by means of X-rays.

Hans Münch German physician

Hans Wilhelm Münch was a German Nazi Party member who worked as an SS doctor during World War II at the Auschwitz concentration camp from 1943 to 1945 in German occupied Poland.

Block 10

Block 10 was a cellblock at the Auschwitz concentration camp where men and women were used as experimental subjects for German doctors. The experiments in Block 10 ranged from testing bodily reactions to relatively benign substances and sterilization.

Nazi human experimentation was a series of medical experiments on large numbers of prisoners, including children, by Nazi Germany in its concentration camps in the early to mid 1940s, during World War II and the Holocaust. Chief target populations included Romani, Sinti, ethnic Poles, Soviet POWs, disabled Germans, and Jews from across Europe.

<i>Irving v Penguin Books Ltd</i>

David Irving v Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt is a case in English law against American historian Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books, filed in the High Court of Justice by the British author David Irving in 1996, asserting that Lipstadt had libelled him in her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust. The court ruled that Irving's claim of libel relating to Holocaust denial was not valid under English defamation law because Lipstadt's claim that he had deliberately distorted evidence had been shown to be substantially true. English libel law puts the burden of proof on the defence, meaning that it was up to Lipstadt and her publisher to prove that her claims of Irving's deliberate misrepresentation of evidence to conform to his ideological viewpoints were substantially true.

Bruno Nikolaus Maria Weber was a German physician, bacteriologist and Hauptsturmführer (1944), at Auschwitz, in the branch of the Hygiene Institute of the Waffen SS. He was chief of the Hygienic Institute. He organized experiments involving the interaction of different human blood types in unwilling prisoner-patients. He also conducted experiments using barbiturates and morphine derivatives for mind-control purposes. He was made Obersturmführer der reserve on the 20th of April, 1943, SS-Sanitatsamt, and given the SS number 420759.

Michael Bernard Rubinstein was a solicitor who specialised in representing authors and publisher. He acted for Penguin Books in the obscenity trial in 1960, R v Penguin Books Ltd., following publication of an uncensored edition of D.H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Sir Frederick Horace Lawton was a British barrister and judge who served as Lord Justice of appeal from 1972 to 1986.

<i>QB VII</i> (miniseries)

QB VII is an American television miniseries produced by Screen Gems; it was also the final program from Columbia Pictures's television division to be made under the Screen Gems banner. It began airing on ABC on April 29, 1974. Adapted to the screen by Edward Anhalt from the 1970 novel QB VII by Leon Uris, it was produced by Douglas S. Cramer and directed by Tom Gries. The original music was written by Jerry Goldsmith and the cinematography by Paul Beeson and Robert L. Morrison.

<i>Denial</i> (2016 film)

Denial is a 2016 biographical film directed by Mick Jackson and written by David Hare, based on Deborah Lipstadt's 2005 book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier. It dramatises the Irving v Penguin Books Ltd case, in which Lipstadt, a Holocaust scholar, was sued by Holocaust denier David Irving for libel. It stars Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius and Alex Jennings.

Broome v Cassell & Co Ltd was an English libel case in 1970 which raised important legal issues concerning exemplary damages and the role of precedents in English law. It is also known for the involvement of the controversial writer David Irving.

Adélaïde Haas Hautval was a French physician and psychiatrist who was imprisoned in Auschwitz concentration camp, where she provided medical care for Jewish prisoners and refused to cooperate with Nazi medical experimentation. She was named Righteous Among the Nations in 1965.

References

  1. John Sutherland, Bestsellers: Popular Fiction of the 1970s (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1981)
  2. "DR. WLADISLAW DERING HC Deb 23 September 1948 vol 456 cc1070-3". Hansard. 23 September 1948. Retrieved 2013-11-12.
  3. "A H'penny & the Truth Dr.Dering's Trial in London by Jack Winocour In Points of Compass Encounter, August 1964, pp. 71-88". Sunday Times. 13 September 2008. Retrieved 2013-11-12.
  4. "A H'penny & the Truth Dr.Dering's Trial in London by Jack Winocour In Points of Compass Encounter, August 1964, pp. 71-88". Sunday Times. 13 September 2008. Retrieved 2013-11-12.
  5. "London Court Told Poles Saved Some Auschwitz Inmates from Death". Sunday Times. April 15, 1964. Retrieved 2013-11-12.
  6. "A H'penny & the Truth Dr.Dering's Trial in London by Jack Winocour In Points of Compass Encounter, August 1964, pp. 71-88". Sunday Times. 13 September 2008. Retrieved 2013-11-12.