The Holocaust Historiography Project

From the Gerstein affair to the Roques affair

Henri Roques

  • Translated by Ronald V. Percival. Paper presented to the Eighth International Revisionist Conference.

On February 21, 1979, the newspaper Le Monde, the Paris daily, published a text titled “The Hitler Policy of Extermination: A Declaration by Historians.” This declaration, whose style was intended to be solemn and whose conclusions were meant to be irrefutable, had been drafted by two persons:

  • Léon Poliakov, former director of research at the C.N.R.S. (the National Center for Scientific Research), an author of widely- distributed books translated into several languages and often republished, all devoted to the questions of anti-Semitism and the persecutions suffered by the Jews under the Third Reich (for example: The Breviary of Hate, The Third Reich and the Jews, The Trial at Jerusalem);
  • Pierre Vidal-Naquet, a professor at the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences at Paris, a specialist in ancient Greek history but at the same time the chief of a group of university academics who, at the time, had decided to oppose vigorously the revisionist theses expounded in France by Professor Robert Faurisson. Pierre Vidal-Naquet published in 1980 a work under the title: The Jews, Memory and the Present.

Poliakov and Vidal-Naquet had obtained, in order to support their text, the signatures of thirty-two other historians. Among the latter, who worked or taught at the College of France, at the National Center for Scientific Research, in the French universities, at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences and at the Practical School of Advanced Studies, one could identify the names of some academics very well-known in France as historians. Nevertheless, it should be noted that there was only a small minority of specialists in contemporary history and, more particularly, in the history of the Second World War. The declaration began as follows:

Since the end of the Second World War, it has happened on several occasions that publicists, sometimes taking the title of historians, have cast doubt on the veracity of the evidence of the Hitler policy of extermination. This evidence had, in 1945, a glaring obviousness. The great majority of the deportees today are dead. There remain their writings and the archives of the Third Reich, but this documentation does not always prevent reactions which are in the form of a “critique” in appearance only.

The declaration ends with the following bewildering phrases:

It is not necessary to ask oneself how, technically, such a mass murder was possible. It was possible technically because it took place. Such is the obligatory point of departure for all historical inquiry on the subject It is our concern simply to recall this truth there is not, there cannot be, any debate on the existence of the gas chambers.

In addition, in the fourth paragraph of this text, bearing the subtitle “The Evidence,” one can read the following: “A witness, a document, can always be suspected. The criticism of texts is one of the fundamental rules of our profession.” Personally, I have always remembered very specially this last sentence and I asked myself: “Has there been any critical textual evaluation of sufficient substance to deal with the rare written accounts which claim to attest the existence of homicidal gas chambers in the Nazi concentration camps?” To this question, I have replied in the negative. Now, in this declaration of the historians, an evidence in writing was partially reproduced; it came from what was customarily called the “Gerstein Report” (in German, Gerstein-Bericht). The writers of the declaration, Léon Poliakov and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, presented it in these terms:

From amongst so very much evidence, which obviously cannot come from those who have been killed, is it necessary to recall that of the SS [officer] Gerstein, who tried in vain to alert, as early as 1942, the civil and religious authorities on what was happening in these camps? Written by himself, April 26, 1945, for the French authorities, in hesitant French, his account, indisputable in its essentials, of what he had seen at Belzec is only the more moving.

This preamble was followed by an extract of the Gerstein report in its most widely-known version, which carries the reference PS-1553, a total of 55 lines spread over two columns of the newspaper Le Monde, on page twenty-three. Why was this evidence chosen “from amongst so very much evidence"? Apparently because Léon Poliakov and Pierre Vidal-Naquet believed it to be the most convincing of all the written evidence relating to the problem of the homicidal gas chambers. Léon Poliakov had long experience of this evidence because he had utilized it very often in his writings. As far as Pierre Vidal-Naquet was concerned, he put his trust in Léon Poliakov who was considered to be one of the best specialists, perhaps even the best specialist, on this question in France. As for the thirty-two co-signatories to the declaration, it is very probable that the Gerstein report was hardly known to them, and that the reputations of the two initiators of the declaration sufficed to obtain their signatures.

The Gerstein evidence has a unique character: it is the only evidence to have been given spontaneously by a German officer who had been a member of the Waffen SS. Gerstein was described by his hagiographers as “a saint astray in our century,” as “God’s spy.” For Poliakov, this German was “a righteous Gentile.” However, the Gerstein report began its career badly: it was, in fact, rejected as proof by the Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which had called for the document during its session of January 30, 1946. Subsequently, the Gerstein account was used in legal proceedings, notably in the Doctors' Trial of November 1947 and, later, in the Eichmann Trial at Jerusalem in 1961. If a critical review of the various published versions of the texts was indispensable, it seemed clear to me that it was necessary to begin by a critical review of the texts left by Gerstein or which were attributed to him. I am neither an academic nor an historian. My career has been spent in administration in the private sector, and I took my retirement in 1981. It happens that, since 1945, I have been greatly interested in several historical questions relating to the Second World War; in this way I have cultivated for a very long time what you Americans, I believe, call a “hobby.” I was a friend of the historian Paul Rassinier, whom we all recognize as the spiritual father of Holocaust revisionism. I often have to explain Paul Rassinier’s work to audiences who are not fully aware or whose knowledge of his work is poor. It is, for me, an immense pleasure to speak of the great and honest man who was Paul Rassinier. But I believe that here it is quite unnecessary to recall at length the historian whom you know well and whom you admire.

I had read, during the 1950’s and the 1960's, the works of Rassinier; I had long conversations with him at his home in the Paris suburbs between 1962 and 1967, which was the year of his untimely death. Rassinier certainly mentioned the Gerstein story; in regard to the witness Pfannenstiel, he even pointed out to me that his name meant “handle of the frying pan.” Unaware that one day I should write a thesis on the Gerstein texts, I did not pay sufficient attention to Paul Rassinier on this subject.

I did, however, have a record in a comparative presentation made by Rassinier in his book The Drama of the European Jews. On ten to twelve pages, he presented side by side:

  • on the one hand, the French version of the document attributed to Gerstein by Léon Poliakov in 1951 in his book The Breviary of Hate;
  • on the other hand, the French version of the document attributed to Gerstein by the tribunal at Jerusalem in 1961 and printed by the same Poliakov in The Trial at Jerusalem.

Paul Rassinier pointed out important and inexplicable differences between these extracts of the same original document. Moreover, a remark made by the historian stayed always in my memory: “Of all the evidence relating to the homicidal gas chambers,” Rassinier had said to me, “the craziest, the most extravagant, is that of Gerstein.” Then, in 1979, almost twelve years after the death of my friend, I found once more the evidence he had described as crazy and extravagant in a declaration by historians, signed by thirty-four French academics. I informed Professor Robert Faurisson, with whom I was already in contact, of my stupefaction. He shared my indignation, the more so because he possessed a solid documentation on this subject. The idea of bringing matters out into the open progressively imposed itself on me; I reread the books of Rassinier, those of Léon Poliakov, of Saul Friedlander and of Pierre Joffroy. In 1981, I took my professional retirement and began my work of research and study. In the course of this same year 1981, a trial confronted Robert Faurisson with Léon Poliakov; the former having written, in one of his works, that the latter was a manipulator and fabricator of texts, precisely a propos the Gerstein story. Poliakov, urged by his followers, brought a complaint of defamation against Faurisson. At the request of Professor Faurisson and as witness at this trial I prepared for the attention of the judges a memorandum which showed very clearly the manipulations and fabrications of Gerstein’s texts by Poliakov. But the Advocate-General recalled to the attention of the court in his summation that there was defamation in regard to a person from the moment that injurious remarks were made as to his reputation, even if those remarks were true. As a consequence, Professor Faurisson was found guilty. Now quite determined to prepare a university thesis in order to present a critical evaluation of the “Confessions” of Kurt Gerstein, I succeeded in obtaining the agreement of a professor of liturature to his becoming director of studies for my thesis.

On February 5, 1982, I registered myself in the correct manner at the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne.

My research was basically undertaken in two places:

  1. In the Archives of the Evangelical Church of Bielefeld in Westphalia, which possesses a unique file concerning Gerstein; the majority of these documents have been sent to the archives by the widow of the former SS officer. It was in these archives that I discovered a sixth version of the “confessions,” thus adding to the five versions already known but never published in full.
  2. At the Direction of Military Justice in Paris, where the file on the war criminal Kurt Gerstein, accused of murder and complicity in murder on July 5, 1945, by a military examining magistrate, is preserved. The Gerstein file had mysteriously disappeared from the French military archives from November 1945 until August 1971. On the latter date, it was rediscovered “by chance.” It seems that, before me, no one had sought seriously to study the documents contained in this file.

When I had collected an important number of these documents, often unpublished, I began the writing of my thesis. My director of studies at the Sorbonne advised me; I had great need of his advice, for I was not familiar with the academic methods applicable to textual criticism. I had visualized devoting one chapter to the cuts in the text made in the published versions, to the substitutions of words and figures, to the amalgams made in utilizing extracts from different versions, etc. My director of studies did not approve of this project; such a chapter would have brought into question the integrity of authors known for their Exterminationist works. I then opted for another method: throughout the length of my thesis, I have noted the inexplicable anomalies in the numerous alleged reproductions of Gerstein’s texts.

My work thus took the following form

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Establishment of the Texts
  • Chapter Two: Authenticity of the Texts
  • Chapter Three: Veracity of the Texts
  • Chapter Four: Gerstein’s “Confessions” and the Views of Their Readers.
  • Conclusion

At the end of Chapter One, I have drawn up large tables which permit the reader to compare the principal extracts of the “Confessions” of Gerstein according to the six versions, or even the eight versions, since version number five has two different texts in French and a translation in English. My study of the authenticity of the texts led me to doubt the authenticity of the two versions written in German; I consider, in fact, that these two German texts have been fabricated, at least partially, from the texts in French which themselves appear to have been composed by Gerstein. One of these two texts, the one dated May 4, 1945, was moreover rediscovered in the spring of 1946, in circumstances which are unclear, at the Hotel Mohren of Rottweil in the Wurttemberg region, where Gerstein had been interned as a prisoner of war by the French army. In regard to the veracity of the texts, the most remarkable aspect is to be found in the enumeration of the improbabilities and unrealistic assertions which are scattered throughout the account of the SS officer. I have enumerated 29, but I am fully aware that my list is incomplete. I shall not burden you with a recital of these twenty-nine improbabilities; some are moreover very well known. According to Gerstein, in three small camps in Poland, named Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor, sixty-thousand persons were exterminated every day. Now, for these three camps, the Encylopaedia Judaica gives the following statistics which are not, however, based on any scientific foundation one million, six- hundred thousand persons, which is already hardly credible. According to Gerstein, the total of the victims would be twenty-eight millions, by reason of the sixty-thousand daily deaths during the periods when officially the camps were functioning.. In addition, in the version of his “Confessions” which carries the code PS-1553, Gerstein himself gives the figure of twenty-five million victims. This strange SS officer, who did not lack imagination, saw piles of shoes or clothing that reached a height of thirty-five to forty meters, which is the equivalent of a building of ten to twelve floors. Was he not aware of the absurdity of such a statement? How could anyone climb such a height to deposit his shoes? Additionally, these mounds of shoes would have been visible from a very considerable distance, while at the same time Gerstein tells us that the exterminations in the camps had to be effected with the utmost secrecy. Again, Gerstein tells us in each of the versions of his story that seven-hundred to eight-hundred persons were packed into a room of twenty-five square meters. A simple arithmetical division permits us to question the possibility of packing thirty persons or thereabouts into one square meter. Finally, Gerstein boasts of having made his cargo of hydrocyanic acid disappear by burying it twelve-hundred meters before the camp entrance. One can already believe that the operation could not have been easy. But, to crown the improbabilities, the SS officer pretends that no one asked him for a report on his Mission when he returned to Berlin. Was it customary in the German army, or in any other army in the world, to assign an officer to an ultra-secret mission and then not bother to inquire whether this mission had been fulfilled? The conclusion of my thesis specifies the results I had proposed to attain

  1. to offer to historians, by my critical edition of the texts commonly called the “Gerstein Report,” a solid base on which these historians could form their opinions;
  2. to demonstrate that the SS officer’s story does not have the value one should require of a historical document;
  3. to encourage my readers to ask questions, and in particular the following question “Why have the Exterminationists considered a text so extravagant and so crammed with improbabilities as being major evidence, as one of the best proofs of the existence of the gas chambers?”

I ended my conclusion with a saying borrowed from a French writer of Jewish origin, Raymond Aron: “The fertile spirit of doubt.” This expression is very fine: it explains simply the necessity of exercising our critical intelligence in every scientific study, including, naturally, the study of history. l

My work was finished at the beginning of April 1984; on that date I sent a copy of my thesis to the professor at the Sorbonne who had agreed to direct my studies. Normally, I should have formally argued my thesis in the following weeks, at all events before June 30, 1984. But a jury composed of three professors was necessary; my director of studies, who was a professor of letters, thus had to find two colleagues, one of whom at least had to be a historian, in order to constitute this famous jury. He had warned me: by reason of the “explosive character” of this thesis, it would be imperative to have a jury “above all suspicion.” I had myself proposed as members of the jury the three professors who, the following year, constituted the jury at the University of Nantes. But the professor of Paris-Sorbonne objected to them. In effect, my director of studies in Paris was a victim of the intellectual terrorism which is rife throughout France as in the other European countries and even North America. He was frightened at the possibility of underwriting a thesis which would support revisionist opinions. The months passed by with the situation unresolved.

At the beginning of 1985, I requested the Paris professor to withdraw and with much delight I accepted the offer of a courageous professor of the University of Nantes to become my new director of studies for the thesis. The jury was then rapidly formed. It is a pleasure for me to give you the names of the members of this panel. They are:

  • Professor Jean-Claude Riviäre, who teaches literature at the University of Nantes;
  • Professor Jean-Paul Allard, who teaches German language and literature at the University of Lyon-III;
  • Professor Pierre Zind, who teaches modern history at the University of Lyon-II.

The oral argument of my thesis took place on June 15, 1985, in full accordance with all the established regulations. In the autumn of 1985, a communique was sent to the press and to a certain number of historians to inform them of the success of my thesis and of my duly being awarded a doctorate for research, in the Faculty of Letters. With the exception of some brief reports in some friendly newspapers, a great silence supervened until April 1986. On April 18,1986 (the date is worth noting), a letter was sent to me by the University of Nantes informing me that the certificate of my diploma was at my disposal; the letter suggested either that I should go personally to collect it or that I should send the small sum of money required so that the diploma could be mailed. My mind and my conscience both being quite untroubled, I did not make the journey to Nantes. Now, to be sure, I regret my decision, because the diploma would then have been handed to me and I could have shown it to you today. About the twenty-fourth of April, that is to say some days later, Professor Jean-Claude Riviäre telephoned me to tell me of his consternation the issue of Le Monde juif [The Jewish World] for the first quarter of 1986 had just been profusely distributed at the University of Nantes, principally by dropping free copies into the postboxes of the teaching staff and other key personnel. This issue contained a lengthy article by Georges Wellers, who is the editor of Le Monde juif and, at the same time, a principal member of the managing committee of the Center for Jewish Documentation in Paris. The Wellers article did not address itself properly to the issues raised in my thesis: academically, or historically, it was insignificant. But it was a well-calculated and quite persuasive propaganda attack; and we have to bear in mind that the vast majority of the persons who read it — in all innocence — had not read my thesis, which was then unpublished, and were thus unaware of the basic facts.

So, to give the Devil his due — or rather, in this case Georges Welters — his article was a clever and well-planned propaganda effort. The primary purpose, obviously, was not to refute my thesis on matters of fact or interpretation but to embarrass the University: and, in this context, it succeeded. From this issue of Le Monde juif, the scandal of the Roques Affair exploded, though for a further three weeks the scandal was confined to the region of Nantes. The scandal of the Roques Affair reached Paris and the whole of France on May 22-23, 1986. One evening, a so-called debate was organized, during a peak listening period, on a major radio channel. In the guise of a debate, it was rather more an attempt at a lynching party. I had beside me my friend and lawyer Maitre Eric Delcroix thus, we were two, confronting six adversaries who, for the most part, were experienced in radio phone-in debates. In the course of the broadcast two Ministers, one of whom, Alain Devaquet, was the Minister of Research and Higher Education, intervened by telephone. Madame Simone Veil, a member of the European Parliament and a former president of that institution, also a former deportee to Auschwitz, likewise intervened. Maitre Delcroix and I came out of this pre-arranged ambush fairly well; our adversaries lost their self-control to the extent of offering us insults. The following day, the twenty-fourth of May, all the national press was writing of the “affair,” often on the front page. On the twenty-eighth of May a demonstration was held in Paris in front of the Jewish Memorial, with the participation of several government ministers and other political personalities.. On the same day, the affair was discussed with indignation at the National Assembly in Paris, as well as the Knesset in Jerusalem. On the thirtieth of May, several persons reputed to be historians met together in front of the press at the Insfftute of Modern History, in order to declare my thesis completely invalid.” This round table was composed entirely of Exterminationist theoreticians This is the first occasion in the history of French universities that a thesis accepted by a properly constituted university jury was then rejected by a sort of extra-mural and self-appointed anti-jury, not qualified by any sort of university authority and, moreover, in the absence of the doctoral candidate! For what reason did these learned critics believe it was not necessary to invite me to be present to defend my thesis? It is obvious that they had no wish to hear me cite the irrefutable fact in my favor, namely, the palpable unreliability of Gerstein’s evidence.

Throughout the whole of the month of June 1986, that is to say one year after the success of my thesis, the rector of the University of Nantes was obliged to complete a strange and laborious task. Charged by the Minister of Research and Higher Educaffon to undertake an administrative inquiry, he examined with a magnifying glass my registration at the University of Paris IV- Sorbonne, the transfer of my file to the University of Nantes, and the circumstances in which the oral argumentation on my thesis had been held. In fact, it was absolutely imperative for him to produce for his minister a report of his inquiry making it appear that these had been some error in the formalities. You are all aware that if you look carefully enough you can always arrive at finding some error in some formality or other; failing which, an error in the formalities can also be fabricated. In this way, a fictitious signature, one which even if authentic would have been perfectly useless, was “discovered” on the report on my oral defense for the thesis. I shall not say more on this ridiculous affair for the moment, but if a question is put to me on this matter, I shall give you every possible explanation in my reply. 2 On July 2, 1986, in the course of a noisy press conference, the minister, Alain Devaquet, flanked by the rector of the Academy of Nantes and the administrator of the University of Nantes, announced to all the media the cancellation of my successful defense on the thesis. The moral of this story is summed up in a French proverb which probably has its equivalent in the English-speaking countries: “When someone wants to drown his dog, he says it has rabies.” When questioned that same evening by the reporters on French radio, my essential words were:

I receive the ministers decision with a great outburst of laughter. Since it is impossible to attack the thesis itself, a pretext has anxiously been sought regarding some pretended error in the formalities. This course of action is ridiculous and scandalous. But my thesis exists and there are innumerable people willing to read it. As of now, I am beginning proceedings before the Administrative Tribunal of Nantes in order to regain my doctorate.

The media earthquake whose epicenter was, at the end of April 1986, at Nantes had, by July, reached your “neighbors” in Los Angeles; that is to say the famous Simon Wiesenthal Center. Upon the announcement of the annulment of my thesis, this Center published a communique particularly insulting to France. I quote this statement:

This measure shows that France recognizes not only its responsibility towards the victims of Nazi Germany, but also the menace threatening university standards and historical truth raised by those who attempt to deny the crimes of the Third Reich or to exonerate them.

The same day, the French prime minister, Jacques Chirac, let it be known through his spokesman that “solemnly and personally he was outraged.” Do not imagine that Monsieur Chirac was outraged by the insolent communique of the Simon Wiesenthal Center! Not at all. He was outraged “by the subject of my thesis, its lack of seriousness and the attitude adopted.” Surely it is superfluous to inquire whether Monsieur the Prime Minister had read or had had someone read my thesis for him, even in part. Certain attitudes and declarations by the “great ones of this world” are often dictated by conditioned reflexes.

Exactly four weeks after this absurd ministerial decision, I held in my turn a press conference in a large Paris hotel. The association SOS-Racism, which, with powerful private and public support, militates for a “French Melting-pot,” sent twenty or thirty of its members to prevent me from holding this conference. These troublemakers succeeded only in delaying the conference for about an hour and a half: when the police, who had been alerted at the start, decided to intervene, the rowdies disappeared within a few seconds and the press conference proceeded in the normal way. Paradoxically the most attentive listeners were the foreign journalists, in particular the Arabs and the Chinese. My alleged “racism” does not seem to have shocked them. My press conference had been chaired by a young Swiss lady, a teacher of French and history at a high school in Lausanne; her name is Mariette Paschoud. She had been one of the first to pay respect to the seriousness of my thesis, in an article published by a periodical in Lausanne. Upon her return to Switzerland, Mariette Paschoud was the target of a campaign of calumny conducted by the press in her country and stirred up by certain very influential personalities, notably the Grand Rabbi of Lausanne. For more than six months the Paschoud Affair developed, at the end of which Mariette Paschoud had to resign her position as teacher and accept a transfer to an archives department; thus, no longer in contact with the students or teaching colleagues, she no longer risks “polluting them ideologically.” Happily, the Roques Affair included some encouraging events.

On August 2-3, 1986 the newspaper Ouest-France, which is the regional daily with the widest distribution in France, published two articles in support of my thesis. In particular, it printed an interview with an academic of great repute, Michel de Bouard, who is an historian and a member of the Institute of France. Monsieur Bouard was deported to the concentration camp of Mauthausen for acts of resistance during the occupation; in this respect, he holds many decorations and, as a historian, is a member of the Institute of Modern History. With great intellectual honesty and great courage, in view of the climate surrounding the Roques Affair, Monsieur de Bouard declared principally: “The thesis of Monsieur Roques is a good critical publication. If I had been a member of the jury, I should probably have accorded the grade 'Very Good' to this thesis.” This statement of his position by an academic as respected and as competent as Monsieur de Bouard has greatly troubled the consciences of many of his colleagues.

One other expression of support was especially precious to me: that of an historian very well known in France, Alain Decaux, a member of the Académie Française. Alain Decaux, in a letter published by a Paris daily on September 13, 1986, expressed himself clearly on the matter. He said essentially that, after having read through the complete thesis, he maintained what he had already written on the subject, namely, that he believed Henri Roques to be the best-informed man on the subject of Gerstein and that future historians of the subject of gas chambers would have to take Henri Roques' work into account. He even described my work as “remarkable.” He makes clear, however, that he does not share all my conclusions.

Everyone knows that one can judge a thesis to be a good thesis even if one disputes its conclusions. Additionally, in the interview which I have previously quoted, Monsieur de Bouard states clearly: “A thesis is not a catechism. A thesis is to be discussed …” In the last months of 1986 and the first months of 1987, there were still frequent articles and mentions of my thesis in the newspapers, on the radio and even on television.

My critical evaluation of the texts of the “confessions” of Kurt Gerstein had been done with a view to serving historical science in a revisionist spirit and to accord it a university label. This action, judged to be scandalous by conformists of all kinds, has given rise to a tornado in the media and in certain political circles not only in France but overseas as well, most especially in Israel. It is appropriate to study the reactions caused by my thesis among academics, and more especially historians, with careful attention. The first academic requested to give his opinion was Dean Paul Malvy, Provisional Administrator of the University of Nantes. Monsieur Malvy is a professor of medicine. On May 5, 1986, he made the following statement to the daily Ouest-France:

I wish only to point out that the matters expressed in a thesis commit only the author of that thesis and do not commit the university in which that thesis is submitted in any way at all I have looked through this work. There is not, alas, any ambiguity about the conclusions drawn from the analysis of the texts studied … Personally, this perusal has disturbed me deeply; everyone will easily understand the reasons why; I was twenty years of age in 1942 and, in 1945, I was in Poland. I held in my hands, wrapped in twists of newspaper, with or without a label, that which has a name: ashes.

Those are the exact terms used by Dean Malvy. I should explain that Monsieur Malvy, a student of medicine in 1945, was a member of a mission charged with the repatriation of deportees; and it was for this reason that he visited the concentration camps in Poland shortly after the war. The statement of the Nantes academic is, taken as a whole, honest He points out that my analysis of the texts led me to conclude that Gerstein’s evidence has no historic value; he adds that reading through my thesis has deeply disturbed him. He recalls, at the end, a personal memory: he has held in his hands twists of newspaper containing ashes. Thus, there is no mention of the homicidal gas chambers in the remarks of the Dean Malvy; he has simply seen ashes which came from the incineration of bodies in the crematoriums. On May 6, 1986, the following day, the national press in France reproduced Dean Malvy’s statement and, naturally, the reproduction was often inaccurate. So we have sometimes been able to read that Dean Malvy had seen, in the Polish camps, ithe gas chambers functioning” [sic]; we have even been able to read that Dean Malvy had held in his hands twists of newspaper containing athe ashes of his relatives” [sic] Here we have a fine example of misinformation by the media! The second academic who made his feelings known was the Minister of Research and Higher Education, Alain Devaquet himself. Strangely, the minister chose to present himself in the context of a radio phone-in program to which I had been invited on the twenty-third of May, a program that I have previously mentioned. What did Alain Devaquet say on this evening? He addressed his remarks to the program moderator, Jean-Pierre Elkabach, in the following terms:

You know, Monsieur Elkabach, that the offense of freely expressing an opinion does not exist in our society. You know that the liberty of expression is a rule of French universities. But in this particular case, this freedom leads to a pseudo-science. It is genuine science which should reply and I believe, for my part, that the only true sanction, whether it be intellectual, or whether it be above all moral, is the overwhelming repudiation, the overwhelming disapproval, the overwhelming indignation of the whole scientific community. In particular, I believe that the true historians should rise as one man.

As you will notice, the minister’s tone was imbued with passion and solemnity. On that day, he called for a general mobilization against revisionists.

Now, it is about eighteen months since the minister launched this call to arms and, in France, we still await any authentic disapprovaL any repudiation by the scientific community, solely excepting the grotesque round table of which I have just now spoken. From the historians acknowledged for their competence in regard to the problems of the Second World War, we have heard nothing but total silence! And this silence still endures.

During 1987, we have well noticed a general mobilization against the revisionist school of historians and especially French revisionists; this mobilization was solely a mobilization of the media; it was unleashed for the great spectacle of the Klaus Barbie trial and accompanied, on the last days of the hearings, by an evening TV transmission of the serial film Shoah. I shall add a detail for those of my listeners who are not fully conversant with the ups and downs of French politics: as of early December 1986, Alain Devaquet is no longer a minister. He was obliged to resign in face of the student demonstrations against his plans for change in the universities. His enforced leisure should have eased the ex-minister’s task of bringing to fulfillment his mobilization against the Revisionist movement in France. If he has tried to act to this effect then it has been almost certainly without result, as no one has heard anything further.

In the last days of May and the first days of June 1986 the petitions and communiques condemning my thesis flooded in. From among these petitions and communiques, I shall mention only two:

the communique from the Scientific Committee of the University of Nantes which Disassociates itself from the teacher responsible for processing the thesis,” meaning their colleague at Nantes, Professor JeanClaude Riviäre, the tutor for my thesis;

the petition of a certain number of the teaching staff at the university of Paris-VII, in the midst of whom was Professor Pierre Vidal-Naquet, who certainly instigated this feeble petition.

As for the Israeli ambassador to France, he took the liberty of giving a lesson in morality to the French university community. The weekly magazine, Tribune juive Jewish Tribune] (edition of June 6, 1986) published a declaration by him in which one reads principally:

The duty of the democracies and of the scientific community is to struggle against all forms of destabilization of the free world. Those establishments of higher learning which lend themselves to the games of ignorant students cooperate with the destroyers of civilization and liberty.

Afterwards, there was the great turn in the tide in the month of August 1986, when the historian Michel de Bouard, a former deportee, gave his support to my thesis. Latterly, Monsieur de Bouard had waged an intensive campaign among his historian colleagues and we are already noticing some happy results. There exists in France a very official and very conformist Association of Professors of History and Geography which publishes a review titled Historiens et géographes [Historians and Geographers]. In the edition of July-August 1986, the professors of history gave free rein to their indignation against the Scandalous” thesis of Nantes; in the readers' letters columns, one found a letter written by the professors of the Academy of Nancy-Metz having as its heading “Against an untenable 'thesis'"; another letter, composed by the professors of Tulle in the south of France proclaimed: “Shame on the falsifiers of history.” Let us recall that these various reactions violently hostile, were precedent to the courageous position adopted by Dean Michel de Bouard, who is unanimously respected in the French university world. I exercised my right of reply in respect to the review Historiens et géographes and my letter was published in the issue of December- January 1987.3 who are these alleged falsifiers of history among whom I am numbered?” I asked. I recalled that the French courts have made their position known very clearly in regard to Professor Faurisson, who was accused, some years ago, of the falsification of history. Refusing to pursue the accusation, the Court of Appeal of Paris, in its judgment of April 26, 1983, declared that by reason of the seriousness of the work undertaken by the professor “the validity of the conclusions he defends belongs solely to the appraisal of experts, of historians and of the public.” I then emphasized that the objective of my thesis was defined exactly by its title; I mentioned the support of Professor Michel de Bouard and of the academician Alain Decaux; I pointed out that George Wellers himself, although very hostile, recognized that my study of the texts was Punctilious and that I had accomplished a Considerable work.”

The editors of the magazine accompanied my letter with a commentary which began as follows:

Our friends Alain Decaux and Georges Wellers have in fact acknowledged the merits of the literary work of Monsieur Roques, who has assembled, compared and evaluated all the reports concerning Gerstein. That is indisputable. But Georges Wellers and Alain Decaux do not agree with the conclusions of this study.

It is easy to remark how the tone has changed in respect to my work. There are no more insults or uncontrolled indignation. Even the merits of my Literary” work are acknowledged. There is, as yet, no mention of my Historical” work. But let us not be too hasty. There is also no mention so far of the supportive views of the distinguished historian Michel de Bouard. Patience! Truth progresses slowly, but it does progress.

Another French scientific review is called the Révue d'l7istoire moderne et contemporaire [Review of Modern and Contemporary History]; it is written by teachers of history who work in the French universities. The issue for the first quarter of 1987 is devoted to a study with the title “History, Discipline and the Media. A Propos the Roques Affair.” The authors of the study recapitulate, by a concise documentation, the essentials of the development of the affair; they note that my work supports Revisionist opinion. To be sure, they do not take sides in favor of my thesis; but this ffme they refer on several occasions to Dean Michel de Bouard, even reproducing as an appendix the whole of the interview which the historian accorded to the daily newspaper Ouest-France. From this, I can remark great progress achieved by the Revisionist school among French historians within the space of a few months. There remains one last step to accomplish: to obtain from the Administrative Tribunal of Nantes a decision in my favor for the restoration of my diploma. So long as I maintain the respect of persons whose opinions I value, the title of “Doctor,” however pleasing it is, does not matter too much to me. But I do believe, with all sincerity, that the scandalous insults offered to me, the three professors on my jury, as well as my friends and associates, should be expunged. They and I should be exonerated; and the only correct way to do this is to restore my doctorate. My application is still under review by this tribunal and I am awaiting, with a certain confidence, the result of this application.. It has already been firmly decided that if the Administraffve Tribunal of Nantes does not annul the unjust action taken by the ex-minister, Devaquet, the case will be taken before the Council of State, the highest legal authority in France, equivalent to the American Supreme Court or, in Britain, to the legal committee of the House of Lords.

It is now almost eighteen months since the Roques Affair exploded; and so it is now possible to analyze the cases and the developments with a certain perspective and detachment How do we explain that a thesis on the critical evaluation of texts, devoted to a subject as limited as the evidence of one SS officer on killings by gas in a small concentration camp in Poland, could have set off such a tidal wave in the media and in a certain number of political circles anxious not to diplease the centers of international Zionism? The so-called aGerstein Report” represents a fundamental proof of the homicidal gas chambers, say the Exterminationists. Let us assume this to be true. Nevertheless, these same Exterminationists affirm that they possess an abundance of proofs of these gassings. In such circumstances, why do they give way to a veritable panic when only one of these allegedly very numerous proofs is seriously challenged? The story written by Gerstein was not even retained as evidence against the accused by the International Military Tribunal of Nuremberg; this “Gerstein Report” was in fact rejected by the Tribunal in the course of its session of January 30, 1946.

An explanation for the behavior of our adversaries can only be found if we fully recognize that their behavior is, in effect, religious. A religion is founded on a dogma; a dogma has an imperative need of support from holy scriptures. Thus, the ZGerstein Report” is taken to be Holy Writ. Consequently, the exercise of my critical faculty in regard to the “Gerstein Report” had appeared to them as a sort of sacrilege or profanation. The ideal image of Obersturmführer Kurt Gerstein has been assembled religiously by Léon Poliakov, by Rolf Hochhuth, by Saul Friedlander, by Pierre Joffroy. For Poliakov, Gerstein is a “righteous Gentile"; for Hochhuth, a militant of the Confessional Church, Gerstein is a pure Christian faithful to the Gospel — the Gospel which Pope Pius XII betrayed by his political realism, interpreted by Hochhuth as treachery; for Friedlander, the SS officer is a asaint astray in this century"; for Joffroy, Gerstein rises even higher in this celestial hierarchy: he becomes athe spy of God"; the writer-hagiographer even subtitles his book “the passion of Kurt Gerstein,” as though referring to a new Jesus Christ The personage of Gerstein, as remodelled by his worshippers,4 could quite well sustain the double role projected for him

  1. to lead us, without any intellectual defenses, into the “magical gas chambers,” to use the expression of a very great French writer, Louis-Ferdinand Céline;
  2. to make us admit the universal culpability of all those, such as Pope Pius XII, who have kept silent before the greatest crime in the history of the world.

It is not impossible that my thesis, which is based on simple common sense, may have pulverized the ideal image of Saint Gerstein. In fact, over the past eighteen months, neither Poliakov, nor Hochhuth, nor Friedlander, nor Joffroy have stood up to defend the memory of their hero. They have been silent, with only one exception, that of Saul Friedlander. This Israeli professor, who teaches history at the University of Tel Aviv and at the Institute of European Studies in Geneva, had the chance to express himself on May 30, 1986. We should recall that Friedlander is the author of a book titled Kurt Gerstein, or the Ambiguity of Good. So, on May 30, 1986, Friedlander was in Paris, where he participated at the famous round table formed, as I have said earlier, as an anti-jury in order to proclaim the invalidity of my thesis. When reading a report of this stupefying conference, I learned that Saul Friedlander declared: “Gerstein was a very fragile man. scarcely prepared to be a witness.” What an admission!

It is easy for me to reply that the precise objective of my thesis was to demonstrate that a very fragile witness such as Gerstein could only give evidence that was, by the same token, very fragile.

To conclude this lecture it remains for me to thank the Institute for Historical Review for having invited me to this Eighth International Revisionist Conference. This is an honor that certainly cannot be attributed to the wide range of my researches, as I have concentrated on one individual, Gerstein, and, in effect, one camp, Belzec. If one wishes to acknowledge any qualities, I would admit two: patience and tenacity. Patience? I have exercised patience for forty years, while waiting for the chance to denounce a fraud perpetrated by those who, motivated by the need for propaganda at all costs, have exploited the inevitable obscurity, the inevitable anarchy of war. Tenacity? I have needed a little tenacity to arrive at the accomplishment of this thesis; I have needed a great deal of tenacity in order to succeed in finally constituting a university jury; perhaps I have needed even more tenacity in keeping my head throughout this affair, against certain powerful forces in the world, unleashed against me personally. As for my study, I have restricted it to one subject and I have made only a critical evaluation of the texts. Nevertheless, our adversaries have made my work known to the entire world by use of the media, of which they have almost a monopoly. For the historical revision of the Second World War, France is the country where, side by side, we have the worst and the best It was a Frenchman, Paul Rassinier, who, a quarter of a century past, laid the foundations of Holocaust Revisionism. But his struggle was a lonely one and rare were those of his countrymen who offered him their support It is in France that Professor Robert Faurisson, taking over the task from Paul Rassinier, was dragged before the courts, convicted, and overwhelmed with fines: but it is also in France that the courts have refused to convict Robert Faurisson for falsifying history, even admitting the seriousness of his work. France is now a country where, since the judgment of the Court of Appeal of Paris on April 26, 1983, everyone has the right to believe, to deny or to doubt the existence of the gas chambers.

Similarly, it is in France that we have been able to find three university professors courageous enough to constitute the jury at Nantes before which I was able to argue my thesis. The pitiful and illegal decision of an ephemeral minister must not allow us to forget the moral courage of my professors. Perhaps we shall be able to acknowledge our respects, at some time, to the professional honesty of the judges of the Administrative Tribunal of Nantes, if these judges concur in the validity of my appeal that the minister acted in excess of his authorized powers. I am proud to belong to the French Revisionist school, a school which has, moreover, now become Franco-Italian thanks to a young researcher, Carlo Mattogno. I hope that Mattogno will soon have the opportunity to reveal to you the results of his very extensive researches into the myth of the extermination of the Jews on this same platform from which I address you today.

On June 15, 1985, in the oral argument of my thesis, I stated that the Revisionist school should open its doors wide to all those who have questions to ask, to all those who have reason to distrust the hIanichean interpretations applied to the Second World War. Those who doubt cannot find their spiritual home among the Exterminationists because these latter refuse all debate which challenges their dogma. In France, our adversaries persist in trying to pour scorn upon us by treating us as a bsect of negators,” as Ma wretched little group who deny the Holocaust”

Our reply is simply that of the scientist, and in accord with the humanist tradition, which is based on a simple axiom since the truth is not historically established, men not only have the right to doubt, but they also have the duty to doubt.

Translators Notes

  1. In French, the word scientifique is used to describe any subject of academic study, including history; whereas the Anglodaxons tend to apply the word only to objective sciences such as chemistry, biology, etc. However, in the sense of a logical and systematic study, a literal translation seems perfectly clear.
  2. The forged Signature” in question was that of a lecturer at the University of Nantes who had been invited to participate in the oral argument of the Roques thesis as an expert witness. This lecturer had no authority to sign any document relating to the thesis, nor was he permitted to sit in on the jury’s deliberations. He was not even present at the public hearing of the thesis on June 15, 1987. Whoever forged the signature, which had no bearing on the original approval of the thesis, was clearly no friend of Henri Roques.
  3. In France there is an actual law which obliges, as in this instance, an editor to publish replies to personal attacks. Like most laws anywhere, it does not function perfectly; but it is a good law nevertheless. It does help to restrain the owners and editors from manipulating the media entirely in their own political or sectarian interests.
  4. Worshippers. It is unfortunate that many accurate and descriptive French expressions cannot be fully translated into English This small gloss has to suffice. The original word in French (theriférnires) denotes the cleric who incenses/sanctifies the altar — at a High Mass, for instance. That is one meaning. A second meaning, in popular use, is “sycophant” or “flatterer.” Yet a third meaning arises from the fact that a thurifer (incense-bearer) uses a thurible; and a thurible was the vessel also used by the alchemists allegedly to turn base metals into gold. Hence a triple-entendre. “Worshippers” seems to be the best explanatory compromise.

Bibliographic information
Author: Roques, Henry
Title: From the Gerstein affair to the Roques affair
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: Summer 1988
Issue: Volume 8 number 1
Location: Page 5
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.