© Michel Fingerhut 1996/7

Pierre Vidal-Naquet:
A Paper Eichmann (1980) - Anatomy of a Lie (10)
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.

10. Living With Faurisson?

It is not easy to conclude. If the "revisionist" endeavor in general, and Faurisson's enterprise in particular, are in the order of a fraud, of an apologia for a crime in the form of a concealment of that crime, we have not yet finished explaining it by establishing the fraud. First, because no demonstration, however rigorous it may be, will completely convince everyone (there are still antiDreyfusards); and then, because we will have to pose the question of the meaning of the phenomenon and of its explosion in France at the end of 1978 and 1979. The only ones to be astonished, it is true, are those who will not have understood the commotion surrounding Holocaust, the last stage in the commodification of Auschwitz.[117] That it is possible to do something different and better is beyond doubt. There is still research to be done, men to be questioned, and I hope that Claude Lanzmann's film will be commensurate with its immense subject.[118]

But that is not the question, for we are observing a transformation of memory into history, and, as a film by Resnais and Jorge Semprun put it, "the war is over." My generation, now fifty years old, is more or less the last for whom Hitler's crime still remains a memory. That one must fight against the disappearance --or, worse yet, the debasement-- of memory seems to me obvious. Neither a statute of limitations nor a pardon seems conceivable to me. Can one imagine Dr. Mengele visiting the Auschwitz Museum or presenting his card to the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine? But what are we to do with this memory, which is ours, and not the memory of all? Legal action against the surviving perpetrators of the crime seems to me simultaneously necessary and ludicrous. So many crimes have occurred since then! There is really no common measure between the crimes of France in Algeria, of the United States in Vietnam, and actual genocides, those of the Armenians, the Jews, the Gypsies, the Khmers, the Tutsis of Rwanda; but, to restrict myself to the case of France, if Messieurs Lacoste, Papon, Massu, and Bigeard are petty criminals compared to Eichmann, they are not paper criminals. The Israels killed Eichmann, and they did well to do so, but in our spectacle-oriented society, what are we to do with a paper Eichmann?

It is not easy for me to expatiate on this point. I grew up with an exalted --some will say a megalomaniacal-- conception of the historian's work. That is how I was raised, and it was during the war that my father had me read Chateaubriand's famous article in the Mercure of July 4, 1807: "When, in the silence of abjection, all one can hear is the slave's chains and the traitor's voice, when all tremble before the tyrant and it is as dangerous to incur his favor as to fall from his grace, the historian appears, charged with the vengeance of peoples." I still believe in the necessity of memory and attempt, in my own way, to be a memory man, but I no longer believe that the historian is charged with the vengeance of peoples. It must be admitted that the war is over, that the tragedy has been, in a way, secularised, even if it entails for us, by which I mean us Jews, the loss of that discursive privilege that we have in large part enjoyed ever since Europe discovered the great massacre. And that is not in itself bad, for if there is anything that is unbearable, it is surely the pose of certain individuals who, draped in the grand sash of a major extermination, believe they in that way elude the banal pettinesses and cowardices that are part of the human lot.

For reasons of principle some have rushed to Faurisson's defence. A petition, circulated abroad and signed by several hundred, among the first of whom were Noam Chomsky and Alfred Lilienthal, has protested the treatment Faurisson has received-- as though he had been interrupted by persecution in the middle of his historical research: "Since 1974, he has been conducting extensive independent historical research into the 'Holocaust' question." Following which he would have been denied access to public libraries and archives. What is scandalous about the petition is that it never raises the question of whether what Faurisson is saying is true or false, that it even presents his conclusions or "findings" as the result of a historical investigation, one, that is, in quest of the truth. To be sure, it may be argued that every man has a right to lies and falsehood, and that individual freedom entails that right, which is accorded, in the French liberal tradition, to the accused for his defence. But the right that the forger demands should not be conceded to him in the name of truth.

As for the "bans" whose victim Faurisson has been: the fact that the staff of the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine, challenged in its fundamental activity, that of the memory of the crime, should --after years of forbearance-- refuse to serve Faurisson seems perfectly normal to me. But can we proceed a step further? Neither illusion nor fraud nor mendacity are foreign to academic and scientific life. What an extraordinary anthology one could prepare of Stalin's U.S.S.R. as a place where contradiction had disappeared, under the tutelage of professional historians and geographers, some of whom, moreover, were far from mediocre teachers. There is something paltry and base in the way in which the Faurisson affair has been treated both within and without academia. For the university to have claimed that he did not publish anything --if indeed it did make that claim and was followed by the cabinet[119]-- strikes me as deplorable. Faurisson's publications are what they are --try reading Nerval in Faurisson's "translation"[120]-- but they exist and are situated within the order of the university. No one is forced to speak to him.

To live with Faurisson? Any other attitude would imply that we were imposing historical truth as legal truth, which is a dangerous attitude available to other fields of application. Anyone can dream of a society in which Faurissons would be unthinkable and even attempt to work toward its realisation. But they exist just as evil exists --around us and in us. Let us be happy if, in this grey world that is ours, we can accumulate a few parcels of truth, experience a few fragments of satisfaction.

(Table of Contents)


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