Sunday, February 27, 1994

The beginning of the revisionist controversy in France: 1974-1978

Early in 1974 I decided to send a letter, on the stationery of the Sorbonne (where I was teaching at the time), to a number of historians and specialists around the world. Here is the text:
May I take the liberty of asking you your feelings, your personal feelings, with regard to a particularly delicate point of contemporary history: do Hitler’s gas chambers seem to you to have been a myth or a reality? Would you perhaps be so kind as to specify in your answer what credence, in your opinion, should be lent to the “Gerstein report”, the confession of R. Höss, the testimony of Nyiszli (should one say Nyiszli-Kremer?) and, in a general way, to what has been written from that point of view on Auschwitz, on Zyklon B gas , on the initials “N.N.” (“Nacht und Nebel” or “Nomen Nescio”?) and on the phrase “final solution”? Has your opinion as to the possibility of the existence of those gas chambers changed since 1945, or is it the same today as it was twenty-nine years ago?
Up to now I have been unable to find any photographs of gas chambers that appear to afford any guarantee of authenticity. Neither the Paris Centre de documentation juive nor the Munich Institut für Zeitgeschichte has been able to supply me with any. Would you, for your part, know of any photographs to add to the dossier on this question?
My thanks in advance for your reply and, perhaps, your help.
Amongst those to whom I addressed my letter was a Dr Kubovy, director of a Jewish documentation centre in Tel Aviv. But little did I know that Dr Kubovy was deceased. His heirs turned my letter over to the daily newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth, which published it in truncated form on May 26, 1974. In France, the weekly Tribune juive, in its issue of June 14, echoed the matter. Then the satirical weekly Canard enchaîné did likewise on July 17. The Sorbonne authorities denounced my “allegations” and I was later expelled from my University teachers’ union.
For three years the media followed a policy of silence. But during those three years, whilst carrying on my research work, I continued sending to Le Monde and to a few other publications a stream of letters on the problem of the gas chambers and the genocide.
It was then that Le Monde decided to go on the offensive against historical revisionism. Its journalist Pierre Viansson-Ponté devoted a venomous article to the French version of Richard Harwood’s booklet Did Six Million Really Die? (“Le Mensonge” [The Lie], July 17/18, 1977, page 13). I thereupon redoubled my efforts and bombarded Le Monde with letters. In August 1977 the magazine Historia published a letter of mine in which I spoke of “the imposture of the genocide”. In June 1978 an extreme right monthly, Défense de l’Occident, directed by Maurice Bardèche, author of Nuremberg ou la Terre promise (Nuremberg or the Promised Land, 1948) and of Nuremberg II ou les Faux Monnayeurs (Nuremberg II or the Counterfeiters, 1950), published an essay that I had entitled “The Problem of the Gas Chambers”.
The pressure mounted. Pierre Viansson-Ponté went on the attack again, advocating legal action against the revisionists (“Le Mensonge – suite” or “The Lie – continued”, Le Monde, 3/4 September 1978, page 9). On October 28 the magazine L’Express published a resounding interview with Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, former Vichy commissioner for Jewish matters exiled in Spain. He was supposed to have stated: “I am going to tell you what really happened at Auschwitz. There was gassing. Yes, it’s true. But it was lice that were gassed” (page 173). There is ample reason to think that the interview in question was only the product of a montage by a discredited journalist Philippe Ganier-Raymond, a man previously held liable in court, due to my intervention, for faking texts signed Louis-Ferdinand Celine. It is likely that certain circles in France, disquieted on learning that a University professor was engaged in such intense activity to make his revisionist arguments public, had decided to set a counter-fire in order to be able afterwards to present R. Faurisson as following in the footsteps of the “Nazi” Darquier de Pellepoix. The newspaper Le Matin de Paris in its turn mounted a provocation, accusing me directly and by name (November 16, 1978, page 17). All the media, in unison, unleashed themselves. The indignation against the heretic assumed such proportions that a Jewish journalist and some Jewish organisations went so far as to suggest using violence against the professor that I then was, teaching at Lyon University 2. On November 20 I was twice physically assaulted. The press, in its manner, reported the facts.
In France there exists, at least in principle, something known as the “right of reply”. By virtue of this right any person named or designated in a newspaper can demand, under certain precise conditions, the publication of a “text by way of right of reply”. So it was that Le Monde was compelled to publish a text at the end of which I slipped in the following sentences:
I await a public debate on a subject that is manifestly being avoided: that of the “gas chambers”. I ask Le Monde, as I have been requesting it to do for four years, to publish at last my two pages on “The Rumour of Auschwitz”. The moment has come. The time is ripe.
Obviously readers would not have understood the refusal of their newspaper to publish the two pages in question. It may be said that Le Monde, in the end, had been caught in its own trap. For years it had treated a revisionist member of the teaching profession with either calumny or silence. Now it was obliged, against its will, to let that professor express himself. Therefore on December 29, 1978 Le Monde published “The Rumour of Auschwitz”, not without accompanying my piece with an impressive set of others uniformly hostile to revisionism – which automatically afforded me a new right of reply. On January 16, 1979 the paper published my second text under the title of “A Letter from Mr Faurisson”. The controversy was to go on for a long time afterwards, but without my being granted the least opportunity to reply to the innumerable incriminations of which I became the object.
But what was later to be called “the negationist surge” had been released (Courrier international, January 13, 1994, page 38).
In France the blaze of controversy was thus ignited in 1974; then it quickly burnt itself out, at least in appearance, but it was smouldering beneath the ashes. Why did it flare up once more in 1978 with such virulence, never to die out since?
One may imagine several reasons for this, reasons pertaining as much to the action of revisionists in France and in the world as to the anti-revisionists’ reaction.
For my part, I would advance a hypothesis: it was from the moment that I had used material argumentation (grounded in physical, chemical, topographical and architectural considerations) that the opposing side felt itself truly in peril. In my letter of 1974 to Dr Kubovy and numerous other historians and scholars, my argumentation, implicit, remained historical in nature. On the other hand, in the letters that I sent to Le Monde and, in particular, in my article on “The Problem of the Gas Chambers or the Rumour of Auschwitz”, I was engaging the fight on a more solid terrain. Having recourse:
2. to documents on disinfestation with Zyklon B and
3. to an exposition of the American system of execution by gassing,
I left the shifting landscape of history for the firmer one of science. It is for this reason, it seems to me, that my opponents lost their footing and, in something of a panic, thereafter responded by manifestations of collective schizophrenia and by incessant manoeuvres of diversion and intimidation, thus showing that they wanted at all costs to avoid the risks of a debate that – not without reason – they felt was lost in advance.
February 28, 1994