© Michel Fingerhut 1996/7

Pierre Vidal-Naquet:
A Paper Eichmann (1980) - Anatomy of a Lie (5)
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.

5. Moscow, Nuremberg, Jerusalem

S. Thion has written the following statement, which takes us to the heart of the false problem he is intent on debating:
What is thus most incredible for anyone preoccupied with this question is - given the enormity of the facts and the generality of their representation - the narrowness of the sources, once one is willing to eliminate the crowd of hearsay witness who in fact did not see. It is literally stupefying to observe that the centerpiece is the set of confessions before Allied tribnals by the heads of the German camps. Once one is prepared to imagine the situation of those defeated men, gambling with their own lives between the hands of their jailers, a paltry game in which truths and lies are the basic tokens in a tactic of survival, one will not be prepared to accept all their declarations as valid currency. (Vérité, pp. 33-34)
The analogy, for the "revisionists," is with the Moscow show trials (Vérité, pp. 29, 63, 82, 161) or with witchcraft trials, to which the Moscow trials are in fact compared (ibid., pp. 82, 183). We find distilled here the quintessence of the revisionists' paralogisms.

It is quite simply false. There is much more testimony, many other documents than the confessions of camp directors. I have enumerated some and I could cite many more. I have before me, for instance, a particularly moving booklet that was published in Geneva, in 1944, by the World Jewish Congress; it contains documents concerning Auschwitz and Treblinka (spelled "Tremblinki") that served as the basis for an American publication, in November 1944, by the Executive Office of the War Refugee Board.[50] It contains nothing that is not in essential agreement with both the documents of members of the Sonderkommando and the testimony of SS officers. I dare say as well that "hearsay witnesses which in fact did not see" also have something to teach us. When, for instance, a man is separated from the rest of his family and learns from former detainees that exit from the camp is by way of the smokestack, when there exists an immense amount of analogous testimony, when one knows that the interested parties never reappeared, such testimony is, all the same, deserving of some attention. But for the moment, the heart of the matter is not there. There is a confusion, under a single rubric, of witnesses who are in fact quite different. Kurt Gerstein, for instance, a principal witness of the extermination process at Belzec in 1942, a Christian anti-Nazi wearing an SS uniform, can not be compared with the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess. Yet his testimony, which was called into question for a variety of reasons, not all of which were bad (the manifestly erroneous nature of his statistics, the mediocre quality of his first publications) has victoriously survived the test. It was even confirmed by the Nazi professor W. Pfannenstiel, not only during his own denazification trial, at Darmstadt in June 1950, but, quite remarkably, during a visit he paid to Paul Rassinier in person. The fact that the confirmation was delivered in ignoble anti-Semitic terms does not in any way diminish (quite the contrary) its validity.[51]

But we must proceed further. To reason as though only lies and falsehoods could emerge from Moscow or Warsaw is to lapse into a fundamental error. If it is true that the Hitlerians could speak the truth about Katyn, it is no less the case that the Soviets can speak the truth about Auschwitz. It cannot be claimed, moreover, that they were particularly forceful in denouncing the Jewish dimension of the massacre, and it was not even through them that such reports began to circulate from 1942 to 1944. As for the share of the camp archives that they seized during the Liberation, it has not, if I can believe my informants in Poland, reappeared since.

Concerning Poland, from 1945 to the present, a country, that is, whose satellite status, however real, has not penetrated in any depth, a country whose intelligentsia has retained its backbone, with a flourishing historical school, it is sheer absurdity to present the scholars working at the Oswiecim Museum as so many forgers. Their works are carefully executed and their publications - despite several perfectly obvious blind spots of a political nature (the U.S.S.R., the Communist party, Polish nationalism) - would do honor to any historical institute in the West.[52] And if the historian Michel Borwicz, a Polish Jew who emigrated to the West, is credible for Faurisson in a case involving forgery (Vérité, p. 284), his testimony and historical analyses, which are based in large part on Polish publications, are equally valid when what is at stake is affirming the truth.[53]

But the essential question is not even there. Is there something in common between a Moscow trial (or one in Budapest, Prague, Sofia, or Peking) and two major (but not exclusive) sources of documentation such as the Nuremberg trials (194501946) and the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem? Is there something in common between the confessions of Hoess at Heide and Minden (English zone), at Nuremberg and Cracow, where he wrote his autobiography while awaiting execution, and the confessions of Bukharin, since that rather unfortunate comparison[54] has been made by militants close to La Vieille Taupe (Vérité, p. 148), or, better still, of Slansky? The Stalinist trials were a literary genre obeying extremely strict rules. The author of these pages, who took the trouble - in 1949, approximately at the time of the appearance of a memorable article by F. Fejtö in Esprit (November) - of deciphering, which his friend Charles Malamoud, the official record of the Rajk trial, believes he knows them rather well. Plainly, a show trial is easier to stage if the accused, the police, and the magistrates have in common what Dan Sperber calls a "shared knowledge,"[55] that is, if they are all communists, but that is a condition, with the invariable use of torture, which is not indispensable. The first rule is that the accused adopt entirely the language of his accusers; but that rule, if characteristic of all trials of the Moscow sort, is valid for them alone. The second rule, which is fundamental, is that absolutely everything that the accused says, either during the official investigation or publicly at the trial, must be politically significant, in accordance with party policy. The signification may not be immediately apparent; it may, for instance, augur a future trial, or the possibility of a future trial, but it always exists.

In the documentation on Auschwitz there is testimony that gives the impression of having adopted completely the language of the victors. Such is the case, for instance, of SS Pery Board, who wrote, for the English in 1945, a report on Auschwitz, where he had been part of the Politischie Abteilung, that is, the Gestapo.[56] He speaks of himself there in the third person. But is it the case of the memoirs of Hoess?[57] Eichmann's lawyer in Jerusalem, Servatius, claimed as much: "Hoess's testimony is characterized by the fact of his total submission,"[58] but I doubt that any other reader of the autobiography would have that impression. Hoess proliferates autobiographical details, insignificant but authentic facts, personal comments, the most varied political commentaries (including a denunciation of the Soviet camps), anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy accusations. Nothing in it suggests either fabrication or dictation.[59] Upon being arrested by the Allies, Hoess was beaten (and why should we disbelieve him?) several times; he disavows his first signed statement (p. 244); he was also mistreated by his Polish guards at the beginning of his incarceration in Cracow (p. 247). At Nuremberg, on April 15, 1946, he was first called as a witness for the defense by Kaltenbrunner's lawyer, Kauffmann, a fact which Faurisson, normally so garrulous on the subject of Hoess, omits mentioning.[60] "Is it the case," the lawyer asked him, "that you can not give the exact number of victims, since you were forbidden to count them?" The reply was affirmative and renders futile any speculation on the numbers given by Hoess. The most absurd cases, moreover, deal not with the figures for his victims, but with the number of Jews that he claims would have arrived at Auschwitz had Hitler's reign continued (for example, four million Romanian Jews, two and a half million Jews from Bulgaria [p. 287]). Hoess's testimony is, to be sure, valid only for what he saw. It is also deserving of criticism.[61] Faurisson makes a great deal out of an error, copied over several times, which, in testimony collected by the British, had him speaking of an imaginary camp called "Wolzek near Lublin" (most probably a confusion - and repetition - between Belzec and Maidanek). I fail to see what can be derived from such arguments. Errors, confusions, and even absurdities are to be found in all kinds of testimony, and even in many celebrated writers who were not forced to confess. Here is an example of a confusion at least as serious as the error of "Wolzek." A French author, speaking precisely of Hoess, tells us (p. 43) that he was incarcerated at the prison in "Krakau," and on the next page, places him in "Cracovie." But Krakau is the German name of the city called Cracovie in French. The author is Rassinier in his book Le drame des Juifs européens.[62]

As for the Nuremberg trials, the principal target of the revisionists, it is possible to discover every imaginable fault in them: they were trials by the victors, who could also be reproached for war crimes. The statutes adopted in the inter-Allied agreement of 1945 present certain ambiguities, to the extent that the high court is placed partially under the authority of the controlling council of the four occupying powers. Article 21 requires the court to consider "as authentic evidence the document and official reports of governments of the United Nations." Article 19 not only affirms, as Faurisson has said (Vérité, pp. 29, 71, 180), that "the Tribunal will not be bound by technical rules relative to the administration of evidence," but explains: "It will adopt and apply, insofar as possible, an accelerated and non-formalist procedure and will allow all means which it will judge to have probative value," which is tantamount to saying that it is master to decide what constitutes evidence and what does not.

But in point of fact, the statutes were of little importance.[64] The only question that counts, historically, is the following: according to which of the two competing models of jurisprudence did the tribunal function, the liberal (and primarily Anglo-Saxon) model or the Soviet model? The answer is not in doubt. The Soviets, who had detained Supreme Admiral Raeder and H. Fritzsche (a collaborator with Goebbels), who was subjected to Moscow-style interrogation, did not impose their law. They could neither impose the inclusion of the crime at Katyn among those attributed to the Nazis nor prevent a German lawyer (despite censorship of his arguments) from shedding a bit of light on their 1939 pact with Germany, nor prevent three acquittals (including Fritzsche's). The prosecution was far from always triumphant over the defense, and the principle of Tu quoque, which was officially forbidden, occasionally triumphed in practice, as when the German admirals were able to show that the American fleet under Admiral Nimitz had done exactly what they were being reproached with. The principle of collective guilt, which was officially in effect, was not retained in practice, and the tribunal did not make use of the concept of "crimes against humanity" - such crimes were treated as war crimes - and abandoned the notion of a conspiracy.[65] That the raw material accumulated and stocked at Nuremberg was not always of very good quality is a certainty. That a certain amount of sifting must be done is obvious. But sifting does not mean rejecting en bloc and speaking of witchcraft trials in a situation involving defendants who, in the immense majority of cases, contested point by point the charges against them, frequently pleaded ignorance or innocence, but never denied what was not deniable. As for the Jerusalem trial, it too was deserving of serious criticism,[66] but no such criticism, I believe, has ever called into question the administration of evidence. Eichmann presented himself as a second-rank bureaucrat, a kind of chief railway conductor, making the trains run; he above all tried to free himself from the crushing weight of the accusations lodged against him - in the hope of exculpating themselves - by his comrades in the SS; questioned according to Anglo-Saxon procedure by Captain Less, he specified that he had had direct and personal knowledge of the death trucks at Chelmno, the executions at Minsk, the gas chambers at Auschwitz (Eichmann par Eichmann, pp. 111, 115, 139). What force in the world - since he was not tortured - what "shared knowledge" with the German Jew questioning him could have constrained him to utter these sentences: "We were deep into the summer of 1941 when Heydrich asked me to come see him. 'The Führer has given the order to do away with the Jews.' Those are the exact words he uttered upon receiving me; and to confirm the effect produced, contrary to his custom, he paused for a long moment. I still remember it quite well."[67]

As for works written on the Hitlerian genocide, Eichmann, who was in a better position to judge their historical validity than the "revisionists," "often referred to the works of Léon Poliakov as an authority and the best source for the events" (A. Less, Eichmann par Eichmann, p. 12). Thus the true question raised by those who are troubled by the "revisionist" arguments - and some of those who are troubled are in good faith - is not that of the validity of one trial or another. In the last analysis, they would be willing to reject all such trials. What is difficult for them to admit is that the official truth, sanctioned by the decisions of the highest courts, by the discourse of chiefs of state, in both the West and the East, should also be, exceptionally, the truth pure and simple. There lies the true difficulty, which obliges us to look a bit more closely at the works of the true cultural hero of revisionism, a hero, moreover, who died in 1967: Paul Rassinier.

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