Monday, December 7, 1998

On Albert Paraz's Preface to "Le Mensonge d'Ulysse" by Paul Rassinier (1950)

Nearly half a century on, a rereading of the preface which Albert Paraz wrote in 1950 for Paul Rassinier's Le Mensonge d'Ulysse ("The Lie of Ulysses") strikes us by the daring of the author's reasoning and the freedom of his tone.

In today's France there is no longer any place for either of those qualities. The Pleven Act of 1972 restricts our freedom of tone when speaking of certain persons, and the 1990 Fabius-Gayssot Act forbids us to be so daring as to think for ourselves about certain points of Second World War history.

It can thus be seen that the intolerable intolerance reigning in this country at the time of the Liberation and the Bloody Purge (1) of the "collaborators" nonetheless allowed a certain daring and freedom which, in 1998, are not tolerated in the least.

In France in 1950 people were still being killed by firing squad for crimes of conscience. Roger Garaudy's Communist Party dominated the Parisian intellectual world. Communists and Résistants paraded about, demanding still more blood. Abject figures of the political and press spheres, from both right and left, had set up shop as censors and prosecutors. Yet one could still get away with a few sensible observations, even sarcastic remarks, concerning the version of the history of the war that the victors were at the time trying to impose. Today the victors have achieved their aim. In regard to one of its most suspect parts, that dealing with "crimes against Humanity" (read: crimes against Jews), the Nuremberg Tribunal's judgement can today no longer be challenged. There, the gag is in place, well in place. On the subject of the lot of Europe's Jews during the war and on the problem of the Nazi gas chambers, our judges have become intractable. Words like those used by Paraz in writing about the matter would nowadays earn him fines, imprisonment, and a plethora of other tribulations.

Today, Paraz would probably have the right to repeat his considerations on Sartre, on the Resistance and Résistantialisme, on underground leader Jean Moulin's arrest at Caluire (near Lyon) soon after his secret meeting there in June 1943, even on the concentration camp Kapos. But on the gas chambers, niet: the ukase of 13 July 1990 is there; the leagues of virtue keep a watchful eye on revisionists: they intervene with bombs, vitriol, arson attacks, or... with this sordid law that they have got passed.

With a flair somewhat like Céline's, Paraz had, as early as 1950, detected in Jean-Paul Sartre the kind of counterfeit which, as with Gide and Malraux, was being foisted on young readers of the time as literature. Fake résistant, real September slaughterer (2), "the Tapeworm" or "the wriggler in the jar" (3) – others, in 1980, were to call him more plainly "the King of the Idiots" – would remain to the end of his life a calamitous, philosophy-besotted professor; naïve, informing on those who displeased him, toadying to the high and mighty of the day to a point which the latter actually found embarrassing (e.g. the reception given to his Réflexions sur la question juive), ever careful to see how the land lay and to run only those risks which could have no real consequences on his life, personal freedom, or wallet, Sartre has since become unreadable, except perhaps for a novel and a few short stories in which I, for my part, will grant him some consistency.

As concerns the Resistance or Résistantialism, in these times where old résistants, male and female, constantly tour the schools of the land spouting tales of their exploits to a captive young audience, I would heartily recommend that some "choice pieces of Albert Paraz" dealing with the period in question be submitted to the same quarry, particularly these two short extracts which, as the reader will see, illustrate one and the same idea:

To stab a sentry and have hostages get shot for it, that, for me, beats all (p. 37),

Killing from behind, thus causing hostages to be shot: you don't need to be a genius to have children see […] that that's bad (p. 39).

As for the Kapos of the Häftlingsführung, that is, the body of overseers recruited from amongst the internees (often Communists or Jews), Paraz and Rassinier saw so clearly, and time has, on this point of history, done its job so well that their comments would probably not seem questionable today, even to a judge (e.g. the Laurent Wetzel-Marcel Paul case).

But let us return to the thorniest question: that of the execution gas chambers in certain German concentration camps, for it is indeed the central point of both the book and its preface.

As Céline (another member of the "myth-rockers' band") put it, let us approach the subject "with infinite kid gloves".

And, to begin, let us allow our préfacier another word:

After the dungeons, Torquemada, the Jesuits and the Freemasons, the iron mask, there is another story which must absolutely not be touched on: that of the gas chambers. The crust of the Earth will stay sore from this for centuries. I just missed getting murdered three times, yesterday, simply for showing Rassinier's text to some neighbours, all within about a hundred yards' walk from my house.

On 16 September 1989, "within about a hundred yards' walk from my house", I myself "just missed getting murdered" by three Jewish thugs; the police report, for its part, made mention of "young Jewish activists from Paris". Like a Palestinian, I underwent that day a treatment which aims to dispatch the victim by means of kicks to the head. A young man appeared on the scene, putting the assailants to flight, and the next day, upon learning my name, confessed to the police that he regretted having saved my life.

I relate this anecdote only because it resembles closely enough that told by Paraz. I could just as well bring up the nine other assaults which I had to suffer from 1978 to 1993, and several dozen attacks carried out against other revisionists who have, on occasion, been left maimed or have lost their lives as a result. As Serge or Beate Klarsfeld would put it, all that is only "natural" or "normal", since one should always take care not to make certain people angry, shouldn't one?

Out of caution, I shall avoid commenting on other passages of the preface which deal with the subject and, leaving all of that to one side, refer the reader to the 3 December 1998 issue of Le Monde. One Gérard Wacjman, "writer and psychoanalyst", had an article on page 15 in which the expression "gas chambers" appeared no less than nine times. Here we are indeed far from the style of Paraz, his alacrity and natural freshness, his home-grown finesse; with this Wacjman, the reasoning is somewhat obscure and the style convoluted, but one can tell what he is getting at easily enough.

In this article, bearing the somewhat saturnine title « "Saint Paul" Godard contre "Moïse" Lanzmann ? », our writer and psychoanalyst takes the film-maker Jean-Luc Godard to task, contrasting him with Claude Lanzmann, producer-director of the film Shoah. The underlying debate seems to me to have been inspired by the challenge which I formulated in 1992: "Show me or draw me a Nazi gas chamber!" J.-L. Godard finds himself accused by G. Wacjman of having recently declared:

I think that, if I went to work on it with a good investigative journalist, I would find photographs of the gas chambers in twenty years' time or so.

To which G. Wacjman replies, clearly for once:

Beneath this smooth and guileless exterior there lies a poisonous idea. I don't like it. To have out with it, it worries me. It's not a right thing to say. – Obviously I am not dealing with the question of whether or not images of the gas chambers exist. I, for one, do not know the answer to that.

And, painstakingly, the writer-psychoanalyst henceforth tries to have us understand that it is wrong to want to prove the gas chambers' existence. Who needs a picture? Fifty years on nothing has been found, not even "a little bit of something": a fine business! No matter! Besides, if any evidence at all turned up, what would that prove?

The gas chambers existed. I know it. Yet, I have never seen them. I have not seen them work. I have seen remains, I have seen the places, I have seen pictures of the open crematoria, I have seen reconstitutions of the gas chambers, but the men, the children, the women running naked in the corridors, pushed into the showers, dying of asphyxiation as they tried to climb on top of each other, I have never seen them. Yet, I know that that took place. I know it just as everyone knows it – apart from those who do not wish to know it – just as we know that there are billions of galaxies in an infinite universe, without ever having seen them. – I know that the gas chambers took place [sic] because there are witnesses, evidence too. No pictures but an infinite accumulation of words, private or public, of the victims or of the henchmen.

The readable part of the article ends with the pronouncement of an atrocious suspicion:

If after twenty years, twenty centuries of research, it is concluded that there exists no image of that which must necessarily have an image, will that not suffice to justify, according to reason, the suspicion that, after all, it may not have existed?

After this heartrending query, G. Wacjman's piece becomes incomprehensible.

Would Paraz – so clear-sighted, so pessimistic, so convinced that we should "be in for centuries" of this "story" of the gas chambers and its consequences – have imagined that, forty-eight years from the day in June 1950 when he finished his preface to it, the fire-ship of a book that Rassinier was launching would still be as incendiary as ever?

Like many pamphleteers, Paraz, deep down inside, believed in Man. He advocated peace, even pacifism, European reconciliation, resistance to all brands of propaganda, the anti-Kraut as well as the anti-Soviet. He believed in the possibility of honesty and in the possibility of the independence of the historian, to the point of writing that "a group of historians must be brought together immediately" to get to the bottom of it all: the actual facts and the true numbers; an impartial group without Germans, without Jews and made up, for instance, of Indians, Chinese, Blacks, Japanese (p. 26).

Up to his very last days Paraz, deathly ill but without a thought for himself, could be seen going to the aid of the reprobates of his time: the anarchist or libertarian Louis Lecoin, the socialist Paul Rassinier, the Fascist (?) Maurice Bardèche and the unclassifiable Louis-Ferdinand Céline.

All through this preface, it is a French heart that I myself hear beating. By his generosity, his panache, his style, but also by a certain form of unawareness, Paraz the pacifist resembles, like a comrade in arms, the cavalryman, the cuirassier Destouches (4) who, as we know, set off so jauntily on his voyage to the end of the night.

December 7, 1998

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Notes

The following, not included in the original French text, are intended to clarify some elements with which the English reader may not be familiar.

(1) "Bloody Purge" designates a veritable twentieth century reign of terror: the largely Communist-inspired massacres and general persecution of those who were perceived to have sympathised with the Germans, which followed the latter's withdrawal from French territory (notably, in August 1944, from Paris).

(2) Again, the year referred to is 1944; the original nickname (septembriseurs) applied to the revolutionaries who murderously set upon their opponents in that month in 1792. It is worth noting that during the four-year Occupation, Sartre did not carry out the least act of Resistance. On the contrary, he won fame, thanks notably to his plays, which were passed by the German censors and applauded by German officers. Suddenly, in Paris, in September 1944, after the Germans' departure, he screamed for the death of "collaborators"; he became a supporter of the Communist Party and went so far as to write that Céline had been paid by the Germans, an outrageous falsehood.

(3) Before the war, Sartre willingly passed as an admirer of Céline. He let it be understood that Céline had "made" him. In exile in Denmark after the war Céline, upon learning of his abominable defamation by Sartre, wrote a letter entitled "A l'agité du bocal" ("To the Wriggler in the Jar"). In it, he said that he had "made" Sartre as one might "make" a lone parasitic worm in one's excrement. In his opinion, the author of the novel Nausea (1938) possessed not the slightest feel for animated life, was devoid of artistic liveliness; he had no music in him, no ability to make a French sentence that danced. The only movements which he might be able to effect were as those of a tapeworm, wriggling in a limp and viscous manner within the tight confines of its jar. Céline coined a word to describe the Sartrian existentialists: existenglaireux ("exislimiest").

(4) Louis-Ferdinand Céline's real surname was Destouches; he was of aristocratic ancestry (if remotely so) and his name could have been written "des Touches". In 1914 he served heroically in a regiment of heavy cavalry (cuirassiers), and was severely wounded in action.