© Michel Fingerhut 1996/7

Pierre Vidal-Naquet:
Theses on Revisionism (3)
Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman in Assassins of Memory (NY: Columbia University Press 1992), English translation copyright 1992 Columbia University Press
No reproduction except for personal use only - Reproduction interdite sauf pour usage personnel

We are very grateful to Pierre Vidal-Naquet and his american publisher, Columbia University Press, for allowing us to make this text available here.

3. That There Are Several Abodes . . .

Revisionism is to be found in multiple and various forms: tracts, "scholarly" volumes, common propaganda, mimeographed pamphlets, apparently distinguished journals, video cassettes. Examining a collection of such documents on the shelves of a library,[35] noting the number of translations of a single text,[36] reading the numerous scholarly references to newspapers or to obscure volumes, one has the impression of a single vast international enterprise. Such a conclusion may be excessive, although undeniably there exists in California the center of a revisionist International, which receives and distributes all this literature.[37] There is nothing surprising about all this: it is simply the result of the planetary circulation of information and the dominant position of the United States in the world market.[38] In point of fact, the "information" is often disseminated, on very different levels, by the same individuals. Take the case of Dietlieb Felderer, who was born at Innsbruck in 1942, moved to Sweden, is a Jehovah's Witness, and thus belongs, through conversion, to a group that was persecuted, but not exterminated, during the Hitler period.[39] A collaborator of the Journal of Historical Review, a periodical with scientific pretentions,[40] he also publishes --in Täby, Sweden-- a truly obscene anti-Semitic mimeographed periodical, Jewish Information,[41] distributes numerous tracts, and organizes (theoretically each summer) "revisionist" trips to Poland. Taking such new-style tourists to Auschwitz or the remains of Treblinka and explaining to them that nothing very serious happened there is, all the same, a rather unprecedented idea, and surely furnishes a number of exceptionally piquant sensations. Revisionism occurs at the intersection of various and occasionally contradictory ideologies: Nazi-style anti-Semitism, extreme right-wing anticommunism, anti-Zionism, German nationalism, the various nationalisms of the countries of eastern Europe, libertarian pacifism, ultra-left-wing Marxism. As may be easily anticipated, these doctrines at times appear in a pure state, and at others --and even most frequently-- in alloyed form. Let us give a few rather unfamiliar examples. A Hungarian publishing firm in London has brought out, in addition to an English translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a book entitled The World Conquerors, in which, through a remarkable reversal, it is explained that the real war criminals of World War II were the Jews.[42] The book is also violently anticommunist, accusing all Hungarian communists, and even all Spanish communists of being Jews. Such a reversal is characteristic of this ideology. In The Jew Süss (1940), it was the Jews who were the torturers.

Whereas traditional (Maurrassian) French anti-Semitism tends to be pro-Israeli, all revisionists are resolute anti-Zionists. Some make the transition from anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism, which is the case for a certain extreme left.[43] Others follow the same path in the other direction. The absolute necessity of anti-Zionist discourse for revisionism is easy to explain. It is a matter of anticipating the creation of the state of Israel. Israel is a state that employs violent means of domination. That being the case, by proceeding as though such an entity already existed in 1943, it is possible to overlook the fact that the Jewish communities were unarmed. Pressing things to an extreme, one can even explain Nazism as a (no doubt phantasmatic) creation of Zionism.[44]

Once that is established, German nationalism can very well be combined with the defense of Arab positions.[45] There is a Palestinian revisionism that has, moreover, a number of staunch adversaries,[46] There are also, even in Israel, several Judeo-revisionists, though they appear to be quite few in number.[47]

Generally speaking, the thematic of all these works, and particularly those inspired by (old- or new-style)[48] German national socialism, is quite impoverished. One has the sense that all these volumes are pre-programmed, that their pages pile up without contributing anything new. The reader regularly relearns the same facts: that the Jews declared war on Hitler's Germany as of 1933, as is infallibly documented in some obscure journal or another from the Midwest;[49] that the losses they endured during the war and which, moreover, were quite moderate, were solely due to the random effects of the partisan resistance effort; that there were no extermination facilities; that deaths in the camps were due almost exclusively to typhus. I shall limit myself here to observing a point of method and to pointing out several deviations.

It is a fundamental practice of revisionism to refuse to distinguish between words and reality. During the world war, there were declarations by Allied leaders directed at the Germans that were horrendous, as well as acts that were no less so and that constitute war crimes in every sense of the term. But it is striking to observe that the revisionists, although they mention these acts (the bombing of Dresden, the dramatic evacuation of Germans from regions becoming Polish or becoming Czechoslovakian again, etc.), always put the accent on rather hysterical texts, smacking of the crudest wartime racism and which never even began to be applied. Since one Theodore Kaufmann, who is baptized for the occasion a personal adviser to Roosevelt, published a wartime pamphlet entitled Germany Must Perish, predicting the sterilization of the Germans, that pamphlet is placed on the same level as the speeches of Hitler and Himmler, which had every chance of being implemented.[50]

Nadine Fresco has suggestively compared the revisionist method with a well-known Freudian joke, that of the kettle:[51] "A borrowed a copper kettle. Upon its return, B complains that the kettle has a big hole, making it unusable. Here is A's defence: '1. I never borrowed the kettle from B. 2. The kettle had a hole in it when I borrowed it from B. 3. I returned the kettle in perfect condition."'

There are numerous examples. Concerning the "Wannsee agreement" (January 20 1942), which shows a number of functionaries at work on the "final solution," it will simultaneously be said --or suggested-- that since it is unsigned, it is hardly a trustworthy document, and that it contains nothing very surprising.[52] A kind of record is reached on the subject of Himmler's secret speeches, in which the theory and practice of mass murder are set forth with relatively little dissimulation.[53] It will be claimed simultaneously that these texts, published under a title not agreed to by their author, have been tampered with, that words that are not present in the original have been interpolated (such as umbringen, "to kill," which no doubt has replaced some other term, such as "to evacuate") and that their meaning is in fact benign: the extermination of Judaism (Ausrottung des Judentums) is not the extermination of the Jews.[54] But the joke about the kettle may be extended beyond Freud. Why wouldn't A say: I was the one who loaned the kettle to B, and it was in perfect condition. There is an entire literature proving that the true murderers of the Jews and above all of the Germans were Jews: Jewish kapos, Jewish partisans, etc. The collective murder, which never took place, was thus fully justifiable and justified.[55]

This is a transcending, through excess, of the revisionist norm. There are also transcendences through lack. The British historian David Irving believes that the final solution was elaborated by Himmler and kept secret from Hitler, despite a formal order, given by the German chancellor in November 1941, not to exterminate the Jews.[56]

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