© Michel Fingerhut 1996/7

Pierre Vidal-Naquet:
A Paper Eichmann (1980) - Anatomy of a Lie (4)
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.

4. On the Revisionist Method

To all appearances there is more than one room in the revisionist house. Serge Thion presents a moderate - indeed antifascist - version, one capable of bringing tears to the eyes of Jean-Gabriel Cohn-Bendit. At stake is only a limited operation, aimed at eliminating from the list of Hitler's crimes one that, once submitted to critical reflection, seems impossible. "Let us reduce the question to its central articulation: striking a major crime from the catalogue of Nazi ignominies would be tantamount to rehabilitating the Third Reich, warping it 'leftward,' making it comparable to other political regimes. This proceeds from a confusion: one attributes to authors casting doubt on the gas chambers the intention of casting doubt on all the other horrors, which are far better known and documented. But that is merely a polemical ploy" (Vérité, p. 91).[35] The "revisionists," in fact, all more or less share several extremely simple principles.
  1. There was no genocide and the instrument symbolizing it, the gas chambers, never existed.[36]
  2. The "final solution" was never anything other than the expulsion of the Jews towards eastern Europe, their "repression," as Faurisson elegantly puts it (Vérité, p. 90). Since "most of the Jews of France came from the East," it may be concluded that it was never anything more than their repatriation, a bit as when French authorities repatriated Algerians, in October 1961, in their "native douars."[37]
  3. The number of Jewish victims of Nazism is far smaller than has been claimed: "There is no document worthy of the name which has figured the total loss of the Jewish population during the last war to be more than 200,000. . . . We may also add that included in the total number of Jewish victims are cases of natural death," the German lawyer Manfred Roeder writes calmly, which would mean that demographically the death rate among Jewish communities was exceptionally low. Others, in their generosity, go as far as a million (Rassinier, Butz),[38] attributing a large fraction of those deaths to Allied aircraft. Faurisson, for his part, (almost) divides the million in two: a few hundred thousand deaths in uniform (which is a fine demonstration of valor) and as many killed "in acts of war" (Vérité, p. 197). As for the death statistics for Auschwitz, they "rose to about 50,000" (ibid.).
  4. Hitler's Germany does not bear the principal responsibility for the Second World War. It shares that responsibility, for example, with the Jews (Faurisson in Vérité, p. 187), or it may even not bear any responsibility at all.
  5. The principal enemy of the human race during the 1930s and 1940s was not Nazi Germany but Stalin's Soviet Union.
  6. The genocide was an invention of Allied propaganda, which was largely Jewish, and specifically Zionist, and which may be easily explained by the Jewish propensity to give imaginary statistics,[39] under the influence of the Talmud.
Anyone can verify, through recourse to the relevant sources, that I am not inventing anything. Moreover, the revisionists convened a Los Angeles congress in September 1979, which allowed them to offer a reward of $50,000 to anyone capable of proving the existence of a gas chamber for the purpose of killing Jews.[40] It may be assumed that they themselves constituted the jury. They now possess a periodical, the Journal of Historical Review, whose first issue (Spring 1980) I have before me, and which features several of the masters of this ideological movement, notably Arthur Butz and Robert Faurisson. It contains the proceedings of the Los Angeles congress.

Here, for example, are several of the principles evolved by Dr. Austin J. App, a German-American who has taught in numerous colleges, both Catholic and secular:

The Third Reich wanted to get Jews to emigrate, not to liquidate them physically. Had they intended liquidation, 500,000 concentration camp survivors [an imaginary statistic] would not now be in Israel to collect fancy idemnities from West Germany. Absolutely no Jews were "gassed" in any concentration camp. There were crematoria for cremating corpses who had died from whatever cause, including especially also the genocidic Anglo-American air raids. The majority of Jews who died in pogroms and those who disappeared and are still unaccounted for fell afoul in territories controlled by the Soviet Russians, not in territories under German control. Most of the Jews alleged to have met their death at the hands of the Germans were subversives, partisans, spies, and criminals, and also victims of unfortunate but internationally legal reprisals.[41]
The various components of this ideological discourse can be easily discerned: German nationalism, neo-Nazism, anticommunism, anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism. These ingredients are to be found in differing forms and proportions, depending on the author (it is clear, for example, that German nationalism plays no direct role in the work of the French pacifist Paul Rassinier). The share of anti-Semitism - of a pathological hatred of the Jews - is enormous. The operation's aim is obvious: it is a question of depriving, ideologically, a community of what represents its historical memory. For here we find ourselves forced, in the last analysis, to prove what happened. We who, since 1945, know find ourselves obliged to be demonstrative, eloquent, to use rhetorical weapons, to enter into the world of what the Greeks called Peithô, persuasion, which they had made a goddess who is not our own. Is there a realization of what this means?

But let us return to our "revisionists." It will be suspected that - to parody the formula ascribed to Colonel Bigeard (since then a general and a minister) - one does not arrive at such historical results by resorting to the procedures of a choirboy. What then are the rules of revisionist method? All things considered, they are rather simple. Let us pass over the most obvious tactics: out and out lies,[42] forgeries, the appeal to imaginary documents. Those are common practices, but if need be a revisionist could make do without them. We shall mention, instead, since Butz (not without reticence, pp. 119-120, 128-130), Thion, and Faurisson (pp. 70, 88, 105-106, 156, 212n) make him one of their witnesses, the report written by Th. Christophersen, who was growing dandelions (for the production of synthetic rubber) in 1944, on a state farm, three kilometers from Auschwitz, a very real - but different - place. Nothing is missing, neither an imaginary "finding by the United Nations" explaining that "the undeniably regrettable losses of the Jewish people during the Second World War went as high as 200,000 and not six million" (Mensonge d'Auschwitz, p. 15), nor the idyllic description of a camp, or rather a vacation resort in which women wore makeup and put on weight. It may be observed, since such a witness has been invoked, that the "revision," like the revolution of days gone by, is a block.

The principles of revisionist method can in fact be summarized as follows:

  1. Any direct testimony contributed by a Jew is either a lie or a fantasy.
  2. Any testimony or document prior to the Liberation is a forgery or is not acknowledged or is treated as a "rumor." Butz and Rassinier, for example, are totally unaware of the documents written by members of the Auschwitz Sonderkommando, which were hidden by them and then rediscovered after the war, documents giving a precise description and agreeing in all respects with what is known from other sources about the functioning of the gas chambers.[43] Faurisson is satisfied with an allusion (Le Monde of January 16, 1979) to "manuscripts - miraculously - rediscovered," and whose inauthenticity he does not even attempt to demonstrate.
  3. Any document, in general, with firsthand information concerning the methods of the Nazis is a forgery or has been tampered with. Thus Faurisson summarily categorizes as belonging to "forgeries, apocryphal, or suspect" works (Vérité, p. 284) the heroic "chronicle" of the Warsaw ghetto, which was kept by Emmanuel Ringelbaum and a team of whom I know one member personally. Upon inquiry, one discovers that the chronicle was indeed truncated - above all in its Warsaw edition of 1952 - but the cuts consisted for the most part of a few passages damaging to Polish national pride.[44] They in no way modify the validity of the documents concerning Nazi policy.
  4. Any Nazi document bearing direct testimony is taken at face value if it is written in coded language, but unacknowledged (or underinterpreted) if it is written plainly, as in the case of such speeches of Himmler as that of December 16, 1943: "When I was obliged to give orders in a village to march against partisans and Jewish commissars - I say this to this audience, and my words are intented solely for those present - I systematically gave orders to kill the women and children of those partisans and commissars";[45] or this entry in Goebbels's Diary for May 13, 1943: "Modern people thus have no other solution than to exterminate the Jews."[46] On the other hand, any manifestation of wartime racism in the Allied camp (and they were not lacking, as may be imagined) is taken in the strongest sense.
  5. Any Nazi testimony after the end of the war - in trials either in the East or in the West, in Warsaw or Cologne, Jerusalem or Nuremberg, in 1945 or 1963, is considered as having been obtained under torture or by intimidation. I shall return to this important point, but note at this juncture that it is a bit surprising under such conditions that no SS officer has denied the existence of the gas chambers. More precisely, Rassinier "is of the impression" (Ulysse trahi, p. 132) that the last commandant of Auschwitz, Richard Baer, "declared that there had never been any gas chambers at Auschwitz under his command." But Baer died, providentially, to be sure, in his prison cell in June 1963.
  6. A vast pseudotechnical arsenal is mobilized to demonstrate the material impossibility of mass gassings. Concerning the validity of Faurisson's "chemical" arguments, a chemist's observations have been appended below. As for his considerations on gas chambers used for the execution of those sentenced to death in certain of the United States and the precautions surrounding their use (Vérité, pp. 301-309), they in no way prove that mass gassings are impossible. They amount to comparing realities that are incommensurate, as far from each other as the voracity of a starving man and a dinner at Maxim's. The act of gassing, like that of eating, can be performed under vastly different conditions.
  7. Formerly, God's existence was proven by the notion that existence was contained in the very concept of God. Such was the famous "ontological proof." It may be said that for the "revisionists," the gas chambers did not exist because nonexistence was one of their attributes. Such is the nonontological proof. For example, the word Vergasung does indeed mean gassing when it appears in the negative in a letter from the historian Martin Broszat to Die Zeit (August 19, 1960): "Keine Vergasung in Dachau" ("no gassing in Dachau"); but Vergasungskeller means "carburation chamber" in a document of January 1943 cited by Georges Wellers (Faurisson, in Vérité, pp. 104, 109).
  8. Finally, anything capable of rendering this frightening story acceptable or believable, of establishing its evolution or furnishing terms for comparison is either unacknowledged or falsified. Not a line in Faurisson and Thion recalls the exploits of the Einsatzgruppen (the famous ravine at Babi Yar, for instance). Not a line in Thion and Faurisson recalls that mentally ill Germans were exterminated from 1939 to 1941 and that certain of those in charge of the operation (e.g., F. Stangl at Treblinka) would soon try out their talents on the Jews.[47] Was that episode an invention of the psychotic international? As for Butz, he is satisfied to affirm that there is nothing in common between the euthanasia of the mentally ill and the pseudo-extermination of the Jews (The Hoax, pp. 174-175). There are but a few lines in Butz (pp. 124, 130, 220) about the presence of Gypsies at Auschwitz. He does not even make an effort to refute what is taught in other quarters about their extermination. As for Faurisson, he limits himself to affirming that the Gypsies were interned not "for racial reasons, but for reasons of vagrancies and 'potential delinquency,'" which is quite simply false.[48] He specifies that numerous Gypsy children were born in Auschwitz, without saying what became of them (they were exterminated), and maintains that it was members of the Resistance who were responsible, when such was the case, for the disappearance of the Gypsies (Vérité, pp. 192, 212n53).
It will perhaps now be better perceived what such a historical method signifies: in our spectacle-oriented society, it is an attempt at extermination on paper that pursues in another register the actual work of extermination. One revives the dead in order the better to strike the living. Eichmann crossed Europe to organize the train transport system. Faurisson does not have trains at his disposal, but paper. P. Guillaume describes him for us: "a man thoroughly in possession of his subject (200 kilograms of working documents, representing research on several tons of texts)" (Vérité, p. 139); the worst part is that it is true, that Faurisson has indeed spent an incalculable number of workdays in the French or German archives in search not, as he pretends, of the truth,[49] but of falsehood, in quest of a way to destroy an immense system of indestructible proof, and which is indestructible precisely because it constitutes a system, not, as the attempt has been made to have us believe, a sheaf of suspect documents.

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