The Faurisson Affair — II
- MEMOIRE EN DEFENSE, by Robert Faurisson, 275 pp, Preface by Noam. Chomsky, La Vieille Taupe; B.P. 9805; 75224 Paris Cedex 05, 1980,FF65.
- INTOLERABLE INTOLERANCE, by Jean-Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, Eric Delcroix, Claude Karnoouh, Vincent Monteff, and Jean-Louis Tristani, 206 pp, Editions de la Différence, Paris, 1981, FF42.
This review of the two cited books is a continuation of my account of Robert Faurisson’s struggles in France; it is assumed that the reader is acquainted with my review (in vol. 1, no. 4 of this journal) of Serge Thion’s Vérité Historique ou Vérité Politique?
When I was writing the Hoax of the Twentieth Century I encountered the name of a certain Dr. Kremer, a German physician who had been posted to the Auschwitz concentration camp in the summer and fall of 1942, and who had made certain entries in his diary that put Auschwitz in a terrible, even horrible light, e.g. “we are at anus mundi.” A limited examination of the Kremer matter indicated to me that what he was implicitly referring to, assuming the diary authentic, was the typhus epidemic that devastated the camp at that time (Hoax, 58, 125ffl. Moreover the leading bearers of the “extermination” legend had not attributed great significance to this diary so I paid little more attention to Dr. Kremer (this Johann Paul Kremer must not be confused with the Tibère Kremer associated with the Nyiszli book).
When the Faurisson affair erupted in the pages of Le Monde in late 1978, therefore, I was surprised to see the opposition, principally Georges Wellers of the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Paris, emphasize in its arguments the supposed implications of the Kremer diary. Some reflection revealed the reasons for this emphasis.
Above all, one must recognize the peculiar status of any true diary as an historical source. It is not written for publication, or even for the eyes of any but the author and perhaps (as is sometimes the case with prominent people involved in events known to be the objects of future scrutiny) a not unfriendly student who has taken the trouble to acquaint himself, as far as possible, with the context in which the diary entries were made. Consequently, diaries are particularly likely sources of sentences lifted out of context if they become involved in heated public controversy. For one thing, such lifting out of context may easily be quite innocent, for the reason that the participants in the controversy are removed from the circumstances in which the diary was authored. What is worse, the observers of the controversy are remote not only from the circumstances of the diary, but typically from the diary itself. Such facts make it especially difficult to set aright, in a manner convincing to the observers, the contextual meanings of disputed passages.
For such reasons Wellers was able to make a certain impact with his comments on the Kremer diary (Le Monde, 29 December 1978), while Faurisson, when given an amount of space in Le Monde (16 January 1979) typical of an article in a daily newspaper, could not under the circumstances give the diary the exposition that the controversy required.
It is well worth mentioning that Faurisson is a professional and specialist precisely in a discipline most relevant to such tasks; his field is “criticism of texts and documents.” Among all those whose views have been prominently aired on any side in the “Holocaust” controversy, Faurisson is to my knowledge the only such specialist.
The reader should not assume that the Weller’s misquotes from the Kremer diary were “innocent.” We read in his cited article the following alleged quotation from the Kremer diary:
This morning, at 3 o'clock, I attended a special action for the first time. Compared to that, Dante’s Inferno seems a comedy. It is not without reason that Auschwitz is called an extermination camp.
Among many other things Faurisson had to point out that Wellers had deleted the word “outside” in what should have been “outside at 3'oclock,” which would have made the action in question difficult to imagine as a gassing. In addition, there was a recoloring of meaning in the term “extermination camp,” which gave the impression that Kremer had written “Vernichtungslager,” a word which, contrary to the widely held view, did not exist among the Germans during World War II. What Kremer wrote was “das Lager der Vernichtung,” i.e. the camp of the annihilation, a term that takes on a clear significance only when the diary is understood in context.
Despite the points that Faurisson scored, there were puzzles outstanding in connection with the diary. When Faurisson’s litigations arose in 1979 the diary became a point of contention. No longer subject to Le Monde's space constraints, Faurisson drew up his superb analysis of the Kremer diary, for use in court, and this analysis constitutes the principal component of Mémoire en Défense (in legal context, “mémoire” is close in meaning to our “brief"). After many pages of analysis of the diary (which says nothing of gassings) Faurisson shows that the horrors Kremer was referring to were indeed essentially those produced by the typhus epidemic, and that if there had been gassings then Kremer would have explicitly written so in the diary, as Kremer was sufficiently sure of privacy to commit several anti-Nazi remarks to his diary (that Kremer testified in support of the propagandists' interpretation of his own diary, before a postwar German court committed a priori to that interpretation, scarcely requires explanation here).
Faurisson turns in his usual concise but thorough performance in this book and the only comment I might make on it, that may seem negative, is that the matters treated are nearly the ultimate in esoterica and are likely to interest only active investigators in this historical area (apart from those of Faurisson’s enemies who sniff all over his writings looking for things that might be somehow used against him).
The extraordinarily intense nature of Faurisson’s contributions to this volume stand in contrast to the routine, indeed “banal,” nature of the preface. However, since this preface was authored by Noam Chomsky, the famous M.I.T. linguist, it was the feature that brought even international publicity to the book (e.g. N.Y. Times, 1 January 1981).
It will be recalled that in 1979 Chomsky signed a petition in support of Faurisson’s right to research the “Holocaust” subject and to publish his conclusions (the statement is reproduced in Thion’s book).
In the U.S. journal Nation (28 February 1981) Chomsky explained the circumstances which led to the appearance of his preface in the book. Thion had later asked Chomsky to make a more elaborate statement in support of Faurisson’s rights as a scholar. Chomsky complied, telling Thion “to use it as he wished.” Thion chose to offer it to Pierre Guillaume, Faurisson’s publisher, for inclusion in the book. Chomsky was later persuaded by a French correspondent that “in France … (Chomsky's) defense of Faurisson’s right to express his views would be interpreted as support for them,” and so he attempted to stop the appearance of his statement in the book, but it was too late.
The gist of Chomsky’s preface is that the right of free expression should not be limited to those ideas of which one approves and, of course, it is precisely in the defense of the right to express socially unpopular ideas that any principle of free expression draws its.vitality. It is not unusual for professors to expound thus; they do so very often. What is unusual is that a professor, and a very prominent one at that, should feel obliged to direct such remarks to “intellectuals” rather than college freshmen. Chomsky saw the irony of the situation at the very outset of his essay by declaring that the “remarks that follow are so banal that I think I must ask reasonable people … to excuse me.”
The Chomsky preface is almost entirely focused on the issues of academic freedom and civil liberties that are involved in the Faurisson affair. He strays slightly away from such concerns in expressing his opinion that Faurisson is a “relatively apolitical liberal,” but nowhere does he endorse any of Faurisson’s theses pertaining to “exterminations” and “gas chambers.” In the ensuing controversy Chomsky went further and vigorously subscribed to the received “Holocaust” legend. For example, he had lively and even acrimonious encounters with Gitta Sereny in the British New Statesman (17 July, 14 August & 11 September 1981) and with W.D. Rubinstein in the Australian Quadrant (October 1981 & April 1982).
Sereny and Rubinstein, whatever their protests to the contrary, placed themselves squarely on the sides of both officially enforced censorship and informally enforced ignorance (in 1979 Rubinstein was writing letters to Australian libraries urging them not to make my book available). Chomsky, by contrast, placed himself almost as squarely on the side of the “free market in ideas.” I am not forgetting that when I remark, as I must, that Sereny and Rubinstein, despite the poverty of their thought and the hypocrisy of their arguments, scored some points in these encounters that should be noted. For one thing, Chomsky’s last minute attempt to withdraw the permission he had given Thipn leaves a bad taste. He is not ten years old. As Sereny remarked, “Surely Mr. Chomsky is not telling us that when he … consented to write this opinion … that it didn’t occur to him that Serge Thion — who has written a whole book upholding Faurisson’s arguments, published by Pierre Guillaume — would use a document of such publicity value for M. Faurisson’s benefit?”
For another and far more serious thing Rubinstein, following Nadine Fresco (Dissent, Fall 1981), takes Chomsky to task for the apparent contradiction between his libertarian position regarding Faurisson and his decade earlier (Social Policy, May/June 1972) position regarding Harvard psychologist Richard Herrnstein’s article “I.Q.” (Atlantic, September 1971). In the latter part of an otherwise carefully reasoned critique of Herrnstein, Chomsky lost his bearings, if not his marbles:
… the question of the validity and scientific status of a particular point of view is, of course, logically independent from the question of its social function; each is a legitimate topic of inquiry, and the latter becomes of particular interest when the point of view in question is revealed to be seriously deficient on empirical or logical grounds.
… (The scientist) is responsible for the effects of what he does, insofar as they can be clearly foreseen. If the likely consequences of his “scientific work” (can be used as a justification for class and caste hierarchies), he has the responsibility to take this likelihood into account. This would be true even if the work had real scientific merit-more so, in fact, in this case.
Similarly imagine a psychologist in Hitler’s Germany who thought he could show that Jews had a genetically determined tendency toward usury … or a drive toward antisocial conspiracy and domination, and so on. If he were criticized for even undertaking these studies, could he merely respond that “a neutral commentator … would have to say that the case is simply not settled” and that the “fundamental issue” is “whether inquiry shall (again) be shut off because someone thinks society is best left in ignorance?” I think not. Rather I think that such a response would have been met with justifiable contempt. At best he could claim that he is faced with a conflict of values. On the one hand, there is the alleged scientific importance of determining whether, in fact, Jews have a genetically determined tendency toward usury and domination (as might conceivably be the case). On the other, there is the likelihood that even opening this question and regarding it as a subject for scientific inquiry would provide ammunition for Goebbels and Rosenberg and their henchmen. Were this hypothetical psychologist to disregard the likely social consequences of his research (or even his undertaking of research) under existing social conditions, he would fully deserve the contempt of decent people. Of course, scientific curiosity should be encouraged (though fallacious argument and investigation of silly questions should not), but it is not an absolute value.
Chomsky is not specific either on the method by which his hypothetical scientists can “take … into account” the social consequences of their work or on what should happen to them if they don’t, apart from his vague reference to “contempt.” After a reasonably close examination of his article I can think of no other method to accomplish the former, in a manner seemingly acceptable to Chomsky, but to not publish the work, “even if the work had real scientific merit.” As for the latter, it is difficult to believe that as a practical matter the penalty for the unwelcome “curiosity” would stop at “contempt” if Chomsky’s principle is accepted. If Chomsky rejects such interpretations of his writings, he nevertheless must take responsibility for advancing a theory which would naturally be understood thus. As proof witness Rubinstein, who wants to hold Chomsky to such interpretations regarding Faurisson, on the grounds that Faurisson’s theories have, to Rubinstein’s mind, socially undesirable implications.
It should not be necessary to take the space here to describe the shambles, or perhaps madhouse, that scholarship becomes if the scholar must answer to influential colleagues regarding the supposed “social function” of his conclusions or even questions. I suspect that Chomsky, especially in the aftermath of his involvement in the Faurisson affair, would mitigate or, better, repudiate his earlier position. Among the many points that could be made to Chomsky is one that he, with his respect for strict logic, would have to concede. Namely, the statement that certain investigations should not be undertaken because i they might benefit the racists (or communists, or Republicans, or vegetarians), is itself a statement that could be used for the benefit of racists (or communists, Republicans, or vegetarians). It can even be used rather more effectively, for propaganda purposes, than “work … of real scientific merit,” since it relieves the racist (communist, Republican, vegetarian) of the need to prove anything, when he can validly argue that the scientists are intentionally stacking the deck against his side.
It was earlier noted that Faurisson has had a group of French supporters, more or less leftist, almost from the beginning of his “affair.” Some of them wrote articles attempting to explain the nature and degree of their support, and what further thoughts have come to them as a result. All of course support his right to research the subject and publish his revisionist conclusions, but all also state concurrence with his theses only to degrees. These articles were put together by Pierre Guillaume, not in his capacity as owner of the publishing house La Vieille Taupe, but as editor of the series “Le Puits et le Pendule” (whose members have been published both by Editions de la Différence and by the larger house J.E. Hallier/Albin Michel), and published as a book under the title Intolérable Intolérance.
Readers acquainted with recent history and controversies win, with only one exception, find that these essays deal with generally familiar matters. The exception is the contribution of lawyer Eric Delcroix, which requires some acquaintance with the French legal system.
Cohn-Bendit, self described “Jew of the extreme left,” seems most astonished at his present position, as he used to use, against the revisionists, “all the responses that are made to (him) today.” Worse, today he is strange bedfellow to “people of the right, even fascist types … and this situation is to (him) insupportable.” However he holds up under the pressure — and realizes past sins: “I helped myself to democratic principles for my right of expression and found all sorts of good arguments to justify the prohibition of other ideas.” In the Faurisson affair he has seen particularly impressive demonstrations of the fact that formal prohibition is not the only form of effective censorship, and that there is also the form that buries issues by declining to meet them directly and instead attacks the supposed motivations and consequences associated with a given thesis. Despite all this, he still considers himself “a convinced 'exterminationist',” but not a believer in the gas chambers; he compares Hitlees anti-Jewish policy to past Indian policies in the U.S.A., Armenian policies in Turkey, and Tatar policies of Stalin.
I should remark, parenthetically, that the word “exterminationist” means, in this context, “one who believes in the extermination of the Jews at the hands of the Germans during WW II.” Sometimes it more narrowly designates a prominent promoter of the extermination legend, e.g. Hilberg, Dawidowicz, Wiesenthal, or Poliakov. It is a strange term, but it seems to have caught on.
Monteil’s essay is a refutation of the judgment against Faurisson of 8 July 1981 (translations of passages from some of these judgments appeared in Patterns of Prejudice, October 1981). The court, after recognizing that it has “neither the quality nor the competence to judge history (and has) not been charged by law with a mission to decide how this or that episode of national or world history must be represented,” proceeded to do just that, e.g. “Faurisson has fixed his attention, in an almost exclusive fashion, on one of the means of extermination of which the reality has been established since the end of WW II and the discovery of the concentration camp system.” Monteil raises more or less routine points against such doublethink and then indicates imminent agreement with Faurisson:
Until 1978 1 believed in the general existence (or pretty much so) of the gas chambers in the camps, while having reservations on the unverifiable and surely excessive number of Jewish victims of the “Holocaust". It suffices to cite my book (unlocatable, by reason of the obstruction of the “Hachette octopus” which “strangled” Guy Authier, my publisher) — Dossier secret sur Israel: le terrorisme (Paris, March 1978) -to see what my position was then. But since then I have read and met Robert Faurisson: his earnestness and his good faith have convinced me, even if certain judgments appear disputable to me, that it is justifiably urgent to discuss them calmly, in place of heaping onto an honest and courageous investigator the anathema reserved to heretics!
Tristani, a social scientist at the Sorbonne, with degrees in theology and philosophy, finds a striking religious character in the whole affair. Such an idea should not be new to a student of this subject. Indeed, I have discussed (Hoax, 188f) the remarkable parallels between the “war crimes trials” and the witchcraft trials of centuries ago, and found those parallels far more convincing than parallels that could be drawn between the war crimes trials and earlier narrowly politically motivated trials. However Tristani’s point of departure is different:
The Holocaust, which represents one of the most popular themes of contemporary Judaism, thus falls into a long tradition. It is bound up with what it would be necessary to call the “invention of Israel,” of the Israel of today. The Hitlerian genocide perpetrated in the gas chambers, the Exodus and the creation of the Israeli state, do they not attain in effect the lofty meaning which the servitude in Egypt, the Exodus, and the installation in the Promised Land once had?
Tristani finds fault with the revisionists for apparently ignoring such matters:
Would not the “frivolity” reproached to Faurisson consist rather in having underestimated the importance of this religious function which the accounts of the gas chambers and the genocide have acquired? Moreover the same question holds for Serge Thion because, from the anthropological point of view where it becomes indispensable to place oneself to understand this affair, the primary alternative is not between historical truth and political truth but between historical and religious truth.
To this I must comment that such a criticism of Faurisson holds at best only in relation to his published writings. He and I have long been generally aware of the relationships that Tristani calls attention to. We discussed the matter at length in 1980 when he was in the U.S.A. His attitude on the subject was far from frivolous, as he saw this secularized religious hysteria as bringing the whole world down on him. I can say that my failure, and perhaps also Faurisson’s failure, to expound publicly on such matters is based on certain personal limitations, self or otherwise imposed, on the sorts of things considered manageable in terms of investigation and public discourse. I am happy to see that there are now authors, such as Tristani, who wish to tread this ground, as it is as interesting as it is treacherous, and I look forward to further developments.
The longest and, I would say, most representative essay in this book is Karnoouh's. Its major function is to interpret the “Holocaust” controversy from a point of view that is both leftist and friendly to Faurisson. Following the strange leftist practice of describing the millenial assertive, repressive and exploitive strivings of states as somehow partaking especially of the spirit of therecent, short lived and relatively benign (in comparison to its contemporaries) Mussolini movement, Karnoouh finds that
present day fascism has taken other faces, under the American tutelage; it has invaded the Third World (as witness) Somoza’s Nicaragua, Stroesner’s Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Indonesia … western Europe no longer needs concentration camps on its territories; it has displaced them elsewhere, where the reproduction of capital is facilitated with the aid of slave labor … and Israel hardly deprives itself of this facility …
For Karnoouh Israel fits into such a world very comfortably since “Zionism is also a national and socialist European ideology", i.e. it was developed in Europe contemporaneously with the other nationalist, socialist and racist ideologies that we are acquainted with by direct experience, and it grew to political consequence in the same epoch. Thus
The slow and irresistible displacement of Israel toward the American camp is also quite comprehensible if account is taken of the power … of the American Jewish community. And, without wishing to establish too simplistic a comparison, it is not insignificant (that) the Jewish state seems to play the role of custodian watching over the Mideast for the sake of American Imperialism.
Now the visibility of such relationships could put Israel and the Diaspora Jews into a defensive position perilous enough to cause the latter to entertain serious questions on the wisdom of supporting the Zionist enterprise. In Karnoouh’s view, the “Holocaust” provides the necessary binding:
… The nation-state has always had need of these simplified representations of history … in order to turn popular and collective emotions to its profit.
Only a religious or mythical version of the deportation and massacre of the Jews, the “Holocaust,” can assume this role because it simplifies history and transforms the contradictions and quite complex political, ideological and economic conflicts into a Manichean saga which expresses the eternal struggle between Good and Evil, the “Goy” and the Jew, the German and the Jew, the Arab and the Jew.
This sort of formulation must be expected from a leftist source but, in any case, there is much truth in it. Among the many reservations I have, it is worthwhile to mention two particularly important ones. First, Israel does not represent or guard American interests in the Mideast. The relationship is the reverse and to the American disadvantage. For another thing, I believe it is misleading to view the basic role of the “Holocaust” propaganda in terms of its effect on Jews. While the propaganda doubtless has the unifying effect among Jews that Karnoouh notes, it is paraded loudly and massively before predominantly gentile audiences, and its function should be considered in this light. Indeed the especially massive propaganda of approximately the past five years is not a response to any weakening of links between Israel and the Diaspora. If I may risk a charge of immodesty, it seems to me that it is a response to the revisionists.
Karnoouh seems to get some things backward when they relate directly to Jews, and that brings us to the secondary role of his essay. Karnoouh is of Jewish ancestry, but does not consider himself Jewish. However even that view, when expressed in his writing, reveals the existence of a “Jewish question.”
Can I today define myself in all sincerity as a Jew? Delicate question, (and to) the defense lawyer who asked it I answered: “For the anti-semites and racists, I am a Jew, for other men I am simply a man who belongs to the French culture.” This affirmation earned me the hatred of not only the xenophobic spectators but also that of certain of my friends, among the most tolerant, who considered the sentiment a betrayal on my part. In a few seconds, I had become a renegade who abandoned his own in the moment of “the danger.” But does one have the right to associate me with an identity which does not relate to my experience and which, consequently, is more or less exterior to my consciousness?
This view is both refreshingly rational and disturbingly paradoxical for, after all, Karnoouh has now given us a long and carefully considered essay in which his Jewish background is certainly not “exterior to (his) consciousness.” How does one resolve the apparent cohabitation of reason and paradox in Karnoouh’s views? If there is a way, many would be very interested to learn it, for we are here confronted not with a mere transient “problem” but with the quite subsistent and indeed robust “Jewish question.” This cannot be a revelation to Pierre Guillaume and Editions de la Différence for they have issued, almost simultaneously, a new printing of Bernard Lazare’s 1894 classic, L'Antisémitisme, son histoire et ses causes.
In summary, Intolérable Intolérance is an uneven book. It ranges from the trite, through the engaging, to the provocative. It is nevertheless a very important book, despite or even because of the nature of its shortcomings, and we must thank the authors and publishers for making it available. Its importance derives not only from new insights that it offers, but also from its posing of challenging questions in an arba of social relations in which thought has been in a state of suspension and controversy in a state of evasion for several decades at least. As its points of departure are not esoteric historical questions but current controversies, it is just the sort of book that can set into operation critical faculties that have been accumulating dust and even rust in this period of “suspension” of thought. It is hoped that an English translation will appear.
I should add a note on the availability, to the U.S. reader, of the books reviewed here. Intolérable Intolérance can be obtained through any established dealer in foreign books, via his special order. Mémoire en Défense, however, should be ordered directly from La Vieille Taupe in Paris. That is also the case for Thion’s Vérité Historique ou Vérité Politique?, as the distributor mentioned in my earlier review of that book is no longer handling it.
I close with a partial report on Faurisson’s litigations. The most serious dangers that his enemies raised for him were based on a statement he made in an interview on French TV on 17 December 1980:
The historical he has permitted a gigantic political-financial swindle, whose principal beneficiaries are the state of Israel and international Zionism, and whose principal victims are the German people, but not their leaders, and the whole of the Palestinian people.
For this he was charged with defamation of the Jewish people (group libel) and incitement to racial hatred. Found guilty of both, he was ordered to pay damages and fines totaling 21,000 francs, given a three month prison sentence (suspended) and, most important, ordered to pay for the reproduction of the judgment in four publications and over national TV (Le Monde, 5-6 July 1981). The last requirement involved a sum of about half a million dollars and was well beyond his means. The situation looked particularly ominous as there is no law of personal bankruptcy in France (only a business can go bankrupt there).
His appeal against this ruling, announced 23 June 1982, brought success for him on this most grave part of the judgment, and his conviction for incitement to racial hatred was overturned. However the charge of defamation of the Jewish people was sustained, as were the fines, damages, and suspended prison sentence (Le Monde, 26 June 1982).
Faurisson’s supporters breathed a sigh of relief over the important successful part of the appeal outcome. That which has been left standing is nevertheless a moral and intellectual outrage. In an age in which virtually all sectors of public opinion have proclaimed their devotion to “freedom” with the persistence of an absent minded devout who has lost count of his Hail Marys, a professor is being punished for announcing the politically unpopular conclusions of his research. This observation would hold even if Faurisson had been victorious in the first instances in all his trials. The professional and international yappers for “freedom,” whom we hear so often, have with only scattered and isolated exceptions either pretended that they never heard of Faurisson, or found rationalizations to excuse his persecution. This fact is almost not worth mentioning, because the hypocrisy referred to is all too familiar.
Faurisson’s trials are not concluded.