© Michel Fingerhut 1996/7

Pierre Vidal-Naquet:
A Paper Eichmann (1980) - Anatomy of a Lie (Introduction)
Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman
in Assassins of Memory (NY: Columbia University Press 1992),
English translation © 1992 Columbia University Press
Reproduction interdite sauf pour usage personnel - No reproduction except for personal use only

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


I hesitated a long while before responding to the friendly request of Paul Thibaud, the director of the journal Esprit (and who was also, from 1960 to 1962, the editor of Vérité-Liberté, a documentary publication on the Algerian war), and writing these pages on the so-called revisionist movement, concerning a work whose publishers tell us without the shadow of a smile: "Faurisson's arguments are serious. They should be answered." The reasons for not answering are many, but differ in value. As a historian of antiquity, what was I to do in a period "not my own"? As a Jew, was I not too directly party to the issue, incapable of being completely objective? Would it not be preferable to relinquish the busines of responding to historians less immediately concerned? And finally, was not answering in itself tantamount to giving credit to the idea that there was indeed a debate, and thus giving publicity to a man all too eager for it?

The first argument does not impress me very much. Having always fought against the overspecialization of historical guilds, having always done battle for a history untrammeled by artificial divisions, I had a chance - and not for the first time - to practice the position I had advocated. Moreover, the subject is not so difficult as to preclude one's apprising oneself of it in short order. I reject, to be sure, the notion that a Jewish historian should abstain from treating certain subjects. But it is, alas, the case that, on the whole, the historians' guild in France has shown little interest in such questions. And they do indeed have a repugnant aspect that must be confronted. It is enough to consider the state of our major libraries. Neither at the Sorbonne nor at the Bibliothèque Nationale can one find fundamental documentation concerning Auschwitz, which has to be consulted, for the most part, at the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine, which itself is far from possessing all that it should. A large number of historians signed the declaration published in Le Monde on February 21, 1979,[1] but very few set themselves to work, one of the few exceptions being François Delpech.

The final objection is in fact the most serious one. It is true that it is absolutely impossible to debate with Faurisson. Such a debate, which he persists in calling for, is excluded because his way of arguing - what I have called his use of the nonontological proof - makes discussion futile. It is also true that attempting to debate would amount to accepting the unacceptable premise of two "historical schools" - one "revisionist" and the other "exterminationist." There would be, as a tract signed in October 1980 by various "extreme left" groups dared to maintain, the "advocates of the existence of lethal 'gas chambers'" and the others, just as there are advocates of a higher or lower chronology for the tyrants of Corinth, or as there are at Princeton and Berkeley two schools of thought at loggerheads over what, at bottom, the Attic calendar was. When one knows how the "revisionists" work, the idea has something obscene about it.

But does one know? And can we proceed, in France, in our centralized society, as one does in the United States where the most skillful revisionist, Arthur Butz, peacefully teaches computer science at a small university in Evanston, Illinois, admired by a minuscule sect and completely unknown to those, from New York to San Francisco, who practice the historian craft?

For better and for worse, the French situation is not the same. From the day that Robert Faurisson, a duly certified academinc teaching in a major university, was able to express his views in Le Monde, even though he was refuted immediately thereafter, the question ceased being marginal and attained a certain centrality. And those without any direct knowledge of the events in question, specifically young people, were right to ask whether there had not been an effort to conceal something from them. Whence the decision of Les Temps modernes and Esprit to respond.[2]

But how to respond since discussion is impossible? By proceeding as one might with a sophist, that is, with a man who seems like a speaker of truths, and whose arguments must be dismantled piece by piece in order to demonstrate their fallaciousness. And by also attempting to elevate the debate, by showing that the revisionist fraud is not the only one to adorn contemporary culture, and that not merely the how but also the why of its lie needs to be understood.

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