© Michel Fingerhut 1996/7

Pierre Vidal-Naquet:
Assassins of Memory (7)
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

7. The Confusion of Feelings

The months of the trial were also, in France, the time of an unprecedented "revisionist" offensive, with (among other treats) the publication of the first two issues of the Annales d'histoire révisionniste. But the important issue is not that, but rather a certain banalization of the phenomenon. Already, in April, the satirical periodical Zéro had initiated an investigation and published parallel interviews with P. Guillaume, the leader of the sect disseminating the gospel according to Faurisson, with Faurisson himself, and with the author of these pages, who had not been informed of that format, and whose "text" had not been shown to him. In May a political tract[132] arrived at the Lycée Voltaire with the suggestion that it be distributed to student delegates, several of whom are minors. The principal, who is neither a Nazi nor an anti-Semite, calmly followed the suggestion, and distributed the tract under the official stamp of the Iycée, without even an explanatory note.[133] On May 28 the "Letters to the Editor" section of Libération published two revisionist letters, which provoked a rather devastating response the following day Serge July --who has not always been so meticulous in such matters-- and the dismissal of the person in charge of the letters section.

Other tracts continue to circulate, including one by a man who claims he spent forty-seven months at Mauthausen, and I see no reason not to take him at his word. Let us examine those various documents a bit. Nine years after the campaign began, the arguments have not budged at all. We are confronted with the discourse of a sect, which is totally incapable of evolving, of responding to arguments, or even of broaching the debate that it so vociferously demands. It is indeed a religious sect --or perhaps several sects-- characterized by a taurine incapacity to communicate with anyone who does not immediately enter into their frame of thought, the signal feature of sects.

Let us look at the two letters to Libération. One is at the level of technical argumentation, so dear to Faurisson: how much fuel would have been necessary to transport, gas, and burn four million human beings at Auschwitz? The figure is false, of course, but is described as "commonly accepted." The second is not specifically about gas chambers, but claims that massacres, all massacres, from that of the Jews to that of the Palestinians, by way of Dresden and Hiroshima, are the pure application of the logic of capitalism. Maintaining that there was one camp in the war that was infinitely worse than the other is tantamount to "according a meaning to that unequaled killing, which created tens of millions of victims, for can it be admitted that such a hecatomb was needed to reabsorb the economic crisis of 1929 and allow capitalism to start off afresh on the right foot?"

The tract distributed at the Lycée Voltaire and elsewhere adds this note: "Hitler did not want any more Jews in Europe. As of 1933, the Jews wanted a general war against him. And the crusade of the democracies is what they got. England and France declared war on Hitler.... Germany at war treated Jews as the enemies they were, pursued and interned them. NEVER EXTERMINATED THEM. The German people paid the bill in firebombing and deportations, with massacres added on." The Germans are simultaneously the victims of the Jews and, by way of capitalism, their beneficiaries. "The Jews will never allow the Deutschmark to be endangered. It is the currency of their 'reparations."'

Let us cut short these quotations. Which are enough to make one throw up. But what is to be done? Every society has its sects and its madmen. Punishing them would serve only to work toward their proliferation. It is with such individuals as with secret police agents or spies. Once they have been identified it is best to keep an eye on them and not let them out of sight. If they are arrested or expelled, others will show up to replace them and will be harder to locate. Judicial punishment is a dangerous weapon and can be turned against those using it. The lawsuit brought against Faurisson in 1978 by several antiracist associations ended with a decision by the Paris Court of Appeals on April 26, 1983, which recognized the seriousness of Faurisson's work --which is quite outrageous-and finally found him guilty only of having acted malevolently by summarizing his theses as slogans. Germany has experimented with legislation specifically aimed at deniers of the genocide.[134] Judging from the quantity of openly or discreetly revisionist publications in that country, one is hard put to view the effort as very successful. Perhaps contempt is a more effective weapon.

I am not, however, saying that the judicial weapon should never be used. There is a law against defamation and a law aimed at racist activities. In California, the institute financing revisionist activities had proposed a sum of $50,000 to whoever could prove the existence of a gas chamber. A citizen, Mr. Mermelstein, who had seen part of his family disappear at Auschwitz, accepted the challenge. Naturally, the conditions under which evidence was to be presented were such that only a dead person would have been an acceptable witness. The money was thus not awarded for reason of insufficient evidence. The candidate filed a suit, his case was heard, a settlement was reached under the supervision of the Los Angeles Superior Court, and the Institute for Historical Review apologized to the plaintiff and paid the promised amount.[135] Which is all to the good provided that one does not ask the courts to establish a point of history, but only a point of law. For to endorse such a request would be tantamount to accrediting the idea of two historical schools, one of which may crush the other. For there are not two historical schools, or rather, there are many more, and along with them there are those who say no and who will always say no. "It is not for the historian to attempt to convince Faurisson if the latter 'is playing' in a different mode of discourse, in which conviction, the obtaining of a consensus concerning a definite reality, is not at stake. If the historian persists in that path, he will find himself in the position of a victim." Such, according to Jean-François Lyotard, is the differend.[136] Any man has the ability to say: no, to all comers, and even to win disciples in the process. There are heroic forms of negation, and perverse ones as well.

Does this mean that one should capitulate in the face of such denial, sliding bit by bit toward a world in which all things are equivalent, the historian and the forger, fantasy and reality, massacres and car accidents?

Twentieth century, old junkshop
Feverish and problem-ridden.[137]

Plainly, we will have to come to terms with the fact that the world has its Faurissons, as it has its pimps and its pornography film clubs. But there can be no question of yielding any ground to him.

It is not enough, in this matter, to be, on the whole, on the right side of the issue. What is needed is ceaseless work, the establishment of facts, not for those who know them and who are about to disappear, but for those who are legitimately demanding as to the quality of the evidence. Such archeological labor was useless in 1945, because the ruins were still steaming and the witnesses crying out; today it has become indispensable.[138]

One should also stop laying oneself open to the criticism not of the revisionists, whose opinion is of little import, but of the well-motivated. There is currently no historian, to be sure, who is prepared to retain the figure of four million human beings disappearing in Auschwitz. A million deaths is a reasonable -- however enormous-- hypothesis.[139] But it is true that the figure of four million is officially indicated all over Auschwitz through the auspices of the Poles, and Claude Lanzmann was wrong to write that "the most serious estimates hover around three and a half million."[140] I follow him more willingly when he writes, "One has to observe and ascertain, ascertain and observe. It is a wrenching task."[141] Ascertaining and observing also means extricating from those who maintain it the quasi-monopolistic hold on memory that they have arrogated to themselves and that they present to the public of the mass media. No need to name them, the reference will be understood. As for the rest...

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