Origin and Enduring Impact of the 'Garaudy Affair'

A French Scholar's Look at Israel's 'Founding Myths'

Theodore J. O’Keefe

When Les mythes fondateurs de la politique israélienne — soon to be issued by the IHR as The Founding Myths of Modern Israel — was first published in France at the end of 1995, it unleashed a nationwide sound and fury unmatched by any other revisionist book on the Holocaust, before or since. No book by Paul Rassinier, by Arthur Butz, or by Robert Faurisson has precipitated anything approaching the tempest among intellectuals and the uproar in the media that accompanied the appearance of this work by well-known French scholar Roger Garaudy.

Nor did the impact of Founding Myths end with the literary controversy that swept France in the first half of 1996. Garaudy's trial and conviction in Paris in 1998 for Holocaust heresy ignited further conflagration across the Islamic Middle East and beyond. As Zionist organizations soon had cause to lament, influential persons and groups in Arab countries, and in non-Arab Muslim nations such as Iran, made, for the first time in the Islamic world, a show of concerted support for the Holocaust revisionist position.

How to account for the extraordinary affair aroused by Garaudy's book? As he himself emphasized throughout Founding Myths by his prominent citation of sources in the text, little if anything of the book's scholarship is original — neither the Holocaust revisionism expounded here, nor his summoning of recent Old Testament scholarship against the “chosen people” and “promised land” myths that justify modern Zionism, nor his citation of Zionist leaders and anti-Zionist Jews in evidence against Israeli policies.

Rather, the cause of the uproar lies in the extraordinary syzygy of a man and a movement. The man is of course Roger Garaudy, who has made a twentieth century odyssey through literature, philosophy, and politics, from Christianity to Communism, through Stalinism back to Christianity, and then to Islam, and at last to the radical revising of World War II history that French attorney Pierre Pécastaing called “the great intellectual adventure of the end of this century.”

Roger Garaudy was born in Marseille in 1913. At 14 he became that rarity, a French Protestant, and then graduated from university with a bachelor's degree in philosophy. After service in the French army in 1940, he joined the anti-German and anti-Vichy Résistance, for which he was interned in a French camp in Algeria. After the war Garaudy joined the powerful French Communist Party, then at the height of its prestige following the triumph of Soviet arms.

Garaudy was much more than a mere “card-carrying Communist.” He was elected a Communist deputy to the National Assembly, later serving as deputy speaker and then as a senator. For a quarter century after the war, Garaudy was one of the French Communist Party's leading theoreticians, a respected philosopher and authority on Hegel, and an author of dozens of scholarly works, whose views carried weight well beyond party circles.

Although a Stalinist stalwart during the 1940s and 50s, at no time in his career did Garaudy abandon his interest in theology and religion. In the 1960s his growing interest in dialogue with the Catholic Church won him international notice, while his increasing disenchantment with Soviet Communism, signaled by his support for the anarchic student upheaval of 1968 and his condemnation of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in the same year, soon led to his expulsion from the Party. He continued to teach philosophy at the university level, and to develop his interest in art and literature from around the world. In 1982 Garaudy converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam, which he had come to see as a more authentic vehicle of the divine call. In the following years he became a respected commentator on Islam in the Muslim world, and a passionate advocate of the Palestinian cause. Despite his break with Communism, he never ceased to proclaim his anti-racialist, internationalist, and socialist beliefs.

After two of Garaudy's books on the Palestine question fell victim to unofficial censorship through the familiar means of intimidation and blackout, Garaudy's growing awareness of the role the Holocaust plays in silencing critics of Israel led him to examine the revisionist case. In December 1995 Marxist writer Pierre Guillaume, whose leftist “Old Mole” house had published Robert Faurisson and other French revisionists, brought out Garaudy's Les mythes fondateurs de la politique israélienne (reviewed in the March-April 1996 Journal, pp. 35-36).

Perhaps it should not surprise anyone that the rise of a French school of Holocaust revisionism antedates that of any other nation. The movement in France that struggles to subject to critical historical analysis the claim that millions of Jews were systematically killed on Hitler's order is closer to the French national genius than might be supposed. Despite its reflexive assignment to the right, the debunking of myths that have been enshrined by capitalist as well as communist powers, that have bolstered the mythologies of more than one nation, and that have been embellished with miraculous details to rival the legends of the saints, draws on a rationalist, critical, spirit that links French revisionism to such ancestors as Voltaire, Renan, and even Anatole France.

The “father” of Holocaust revisionism was Paul Rassinier, a French educator of Marxist and pacifist sensibilities who was arrested in 1943 for his underground Résistance activism and interned until the end of the war in the Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps. Like Garaudy, he was initially an admired figure in the postwar era, when he was elected to the National Assembly as a deputy of the Socialist Party (SFIO). Rassinier was an honest man, however, who — in his memoirs of wartime camp experiences — failed doubly in his duty to Holocaust “memory": he was not only unable to recall atrocities that had been fabricated after the fact, but also unable to forget the misdeeds and collaborations of certain of his fellow deportees who passed for heroes and martyrs after the war. The outspoken integrity and tenacity of Rassinier on what he had witnessed in the camps, as well as his diligent research into the alleged gas chambers, the six million claim, and wartime Germany's actual Jewish policy, resulted in his being pushed to the periphery of French intellectual society, as well as continual targeting in private lawsuits and state investigations.

Yet by the time of his death in July 1967, Rassinier had attracted a small but tenacious following in France, as well as backing from abroad that included, significantly, support from the eminent American historian, Harry Elmer Barnes, and a number of his colleagues.

In the late 1970s, university professor Robert Faurisson emerged as France's leading revisionist. After years of private research and study, this Sorbonne-educated authority on French literary texts, and specialist of document analysis, first made public his skeptical views about the Holocaust extermination story in articles published in 1978 and 1979 in Le Monde. Through his meticulous research, careful scholarship, writing, and tireless publicizing, and through the physical assaults and wearing court cases he has endured, he became the foremost French and European revisionist scholar. The “Holocaust” revisionist content of Founding Myths, and the scandal that its publication unleashed in France, would be inconceivable apart from Faurisson's contribution.

The appearance of a revisionist book on the Holocaust by an ex-Communist celebrity would have been scandal enough for France's ingrown intellectual community, many of whose members are Jewish. The appearance of Garaudy's Founding Myths provoked not only their shrill denunciations, it brought legal complaints under France's notorious 1990 Gayssot law, which makes it a crime to “contest” the “crimes against humanity” as defined by the Nuremberg Tribunal of 1945-46. (See “French Courts Punish Holocaust Apostasy,” March-April 1998 Journal, pp. 14-18.)

It was the involvement on Garaudy's behalf, however, of an octogenarian Capuchin friar whose well-publicized engagement on behalf of the homeless and other unfortunates has made him one of the most popular men in France, that converted the Garaudy affair into a nationwide event rather than just another spat among the literati. Abbé Pierre, as the Frenchman born Henri Grouès became known during his underground work with the Résistance in smuggling Jews out of France, has the national charisma and presence that a Mother Theresa might have had in America had she been working in Harlem rather than Calcutta. A longtime friend of Garaudy, who had come to share his sympathy for the Palestinians, the Abbé made headlines in April 1996 by seeming to endorse the book. (See: R. Faurisson, “On the Garaudy/ Abbé Pierre Affair,” July-August 1997 Journal, pp. 26-28.)

The Garaudy affair was soon enough the Abbé Pierre affair, and the baying pack of intellectuals dogging Garaudy was soon joined by the popular media and by France's most influential religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Paris, the Jewish convert to Catholicism Daniel Lustiger, and the chief rabbi of France, Joseph Sitruk. The controversy was not without its droll aspects: the Abbé Pierre seemed in constant retreat — acknowledging that he hadn't actually read the book, eschewing any allegiance to Holocaust revisionism, calling on Garaudy to correct any mistakes — but he accompanied each concession with a new thrust. He called for a national debate on the Holocaust — and at first got Grand Rabbi Sitruk to agree with him. He pointed out that some Holocaust claims must be wrong, and that there was room for revision. When at last the combined weight of church censure, rabbinical reprimand, the scolding of his left-wing friends, and his expulsion from the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA) and from the international Emmaus organization, which he had founded, led to Abbé Pierre's temporary flight from France to a monastery in Italy, he could still tell the press: “If the French church intervened to censure me, it did so only in response to the chorus of pressure from the media, inspired by an international Zionist lobby. I am absolutely convinced of that.”

There was much truth to the headline that appeared, together with a photo of the Abbé Pierre, on the cover of the weekly L'Événement du jeudi (June 27-July 3, 1996): “La victoire des révisionnistes.” As the journalist Jean-Francois Kahn had observed two months earlier, in response to Rabbi Sitruk's short-lived call for a debate among historians on the Holocaust, “Could Faurisson and [National Front chief Jean-Marie] Le Pen have hoped for more, even in their wildest dreams?”

Two months later, in a two-part article that appeared in the newspaper Le Nouveau Quotidien of Lausanne, Switzerland, establishment historian Jacques Baynac described the paranoia that reigned among French intellectuals during the Garaudy affair, as accusations and denials of a secret devotion to revisionism flew in Paris salons, and Faurisson, though legally muzzled and socially ostracized, was, like a latter-day Scarlet Pimpernel, here, there, and everywhere. (See: R. Faurisson, “An Orthodox Historian Finally Acknowledges …,” July-August 1998 Journal, pp. 24-28.)

Many of those who frothed against Founding Myths gave voice to their embarrassment — real or pretended — at the French law that makes it a crime to question the Holocaust. They would prefer it to be thought that the 1990 Loi Gayssot, named for the French Communist deputy who sponsored it, with the blessing of the Jewish premier Laurent Fabius, makes it easy for the revisionists to maintain the moral high ground. Still, it was the mainstream LICRA and MRAP (Movement against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples) that brought the charges that caused the French state to try Garaudy for violating the Gayssot law. Leading intellectuals, moreover, offered only feeble opposition to the trial in January 1998 of a man who, in his Communist days, had once been one of their own.

Of the trial itself, it may be said that Garaudy was at best a reluctant champion of his own book's theses on the gas chambers, which had been pruned back in a second edition that appeared in 1995. He drew his strength, rather, from his stand on behalf of the Palestinians, and from the extraordinary support and acclamation that began to flow his way from the Arab and other Muslim countries. This did nothing to deter the Paris court from deciding on a guilty verdict. On February 27, 1998, it fined Garaudy 240,000 francs ($40,000).

Whereas the appearance of Founding Myths had made Holocaust revisionism a sensation in France, the trial of its octogenarian author made Holocaust revisionism a byword throughout the Middle East. In the course of just a few weeks, social, political and intellectual leaders throughout the Arab and Muslim world expressed support for Garaudy and their outrage at his treatment. From the Persian Gulf to the Nile, lawyers, writers and politicians protested publicly. At the trial's outset, for example, Sheikha Zayed ibn Sultan Al-Nahayan, the wife of the president of the United Arab Emirates, donated to Garaudy's defense $50,000 — the equivalent of the maximum fine for violating the Gayssot Law.

Nowhere did Garaudy's star shine brighter than in Egypt, cultural center of the Arab world. Egyptian Nobel laureate in literature Naguib Mahfouz wondered at a society in which one was punished for denying the Holocaust, but free to deny God. As a guest of the country's Minister of Culture, Garaudy lectured and participated in symposiums associated with the annual Cairo Book Fair. His hero's welcome in the most populous Arab country included backing from an array of social and intellectual leaders. “Every Muslim should support Garaudy's thought and stand with all cultural, religious and diplomatic efforts,” declared Egypt's highest religious authority, Grand Mufti Nasr Farid Wasel. “It is a duty to defend him and stand by his side.”

In Iran, 600 journalists and 160 members of parliament signed petitions backing Garaudy, and during a visit to the country, he was received by the nation's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who congratulated the French scholar.

In the months since the Garaudy trial, Holocaust revisionism has continued its advance in the Islamic world. Impelled by the continuing persecution or repression of revisionists in the West, it has graduated from a novelty among Arabs and Muslims to an intellectual fashion and an ideological weapon. One consequence is that western revisionists are now regularly broadcast to Europe over Radio Iran.

Given this, it is not surprising that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and such American-based Jewish-Zionist support groups as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Zionist Organization of America have designated such books as Garaudy's Founding Myths as the “number one threat to Israel.”

Perhaps the best testimony to the service the Garaudy book has done in spreading revisionism to Muslims was given by German-Canadian revisionist publicist Ernst Zündel. During a taxi ride in snow-bound Ottawa, he relates, he had this exchange with the cabbie:

[the] driver, an Iraqi, within a few sentences of our conversation, said, with a smile from ear to ear: “So, you have studied the Holocaust? Then you must be familiar with the work of Roger Garaudy!”

The success of Founding Myths in spreading the Holocaust revisionist thesis in the Muslim world — propelled by Garaudy's great prestige and the injustice done to him — is not without its ironies for revisionists. For all his courage, Garaudy, who has not hesitated to invoke Zündel, David Irving, and Fred Leuchter, was inhibited by fear or odd scruple from mentioning the name of Robert Faurisson, without whose influence Garaudy's treatment of the Holocaust would scarcely have been imaginable. Ironic, too, is the fact that in the tumult over the book, the numerous garbled or misattributed citations in the original, above all in the section on the operations of the Zionist lobby in America, seem to have escaped the notice of critics and defenders alike. In this edition, care has been taken to restore, in conformance with the original sources, the numerous citations that give this book its unique character.

For all that Founding Myths reveals of its author's frailty and fallibility, whoever reads it with an open mind and heart must marvel at the breadth of spirit, learning, and intellect that propels Garaudy onward in unending quest. That the Faustian striving and the humanist ideals of this old Marxist and recent Muslim have come to encompass the struggle for establishing the truth about the Jewish “Holocaust” attest to the power and magnetism of a vital and unstoppable intellectual movement.


About the author:

Theodore J. O’Keefe is book editor for the Institute for Historical Review, and an associate editor of the IHR's Journal of Historical Review. He previously worked at the IHR from 1986 until 1994, serving as chief editor of this Journal from 1988 until April 1992. He also addressed the IHR Conferences of 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990 and 1992. Educated at Harvard College, he is the author of numerous articles on historical and political subjects that have appeared in a range of periodicals. This essay is adapted from the foreword to the forthcoming IHR edition of Garaudy's Founding Myths.


Bibliographic information
Author: O’Keefe, Theodore J.
Title: Origin and Enduring Impact of the 'Garaudy Affair'
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: July/August 1999
Issue: Volume 18 number 4
Location: Page 31
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.