Debunking the Genocide Myth
Part II: The Experience of Others
Chapter Seven: Concentration Camp Literature
When the time came for me to draw a parallel between my own experience
and that of others, as they described it, I found myself in a state of mind
which the reader will easily understand.
While we were in the camp, all of our conversations during rare moments
of respite, were centered around three things: when the war was likely to
end and our individual or collective chances of surviving to see that end,
the food that we were going to eat after we were freed, and what might be
called camp "gossip," although the word "gossip" seems
inappropriate in view of the tragic reality of camp life. None of these
topics offered much possibility for escaping from the actual situation of
the moment. All three, on the other hand, separately or collectively, depending
on the amount of time that we had to discuss them, brought us right back
to the present with the use of a phrase like, "When we tell them about
that..." said with such a tone and such a sinister look that it frightened
me. Recognizing that I was powerless to do anything about these pangs of
conscience, given the atmosphere of the place, I retired within myself and
became an obstinately silent witness.
Instinctively I recalled the aftermath of the First World War: the veterans,
their stories and all of their writings. There was no doubt in my mind that
the coming post-war period would have, in addition, veteran prisoners and
deportees who would go back to their homes with even more horrible memories
than those of veteran soldiers. But, instead of merely telling their stories,
the way seemed to be open for these veterans to vent their feelings in a
spirit of hatred and vengeance. To the extent that I was able to distinguish
my personal lot in the great drama that was being played, all the Montagues,
all the Capulets, all the Armagnacs, and all the Burgundians of history,
taking up all their quarrels from the beginning, began to dance, before
my eyes in a frenzied saraband, on a stage enlarged to the size of Europe.
I could not convince myself that the spirit of hatred, being kindled before
my eyes, would be harnessed no matter how the conflict came out.
When I tried to envision the consequences of this smoldering hatred and
when I remembered that I had a son, I had to ask myself whether it would
not be better if no one returned. And, I even hoped that the higher authorities
of the Third Reich would realize in time that they could only be pardoned
by offering, in a gigantic and frightful holocaust, all that remained of
the inmates in the camps, as a redemption for so much evil. In that state
of mind, I had decided that if I ever got back from the camps, that I would
practice what I preached, and I swore never to make the slightest reference
to my experience in the camps.
For what seemed to me to be a very long time after my return to France,
I stuck to my decision; but it was not easy to do.
First, I had to struggle against a natural inclination to want to tell
my story. For example, I shall never forget a demonstration that in the
very first days, the deportees had arranged at Belfort to mark their return.
The whole town had gathered itself together to listen to their message.
The great hall of the Maison du Peuple was full to bursting. Outside the
square was thronged with people. Loud-speakers even had to be set up out
in the street. My health did not permit me to be present at this demonstration,
either as a speaker or listener, and I was very disappointed. But, my disappointment
was even greater the next day when the local papers reported all that had
been said; it was impossible to discern any statement of objectivity. My
apprehensions about the hate-filled and distorted stories of the camp veterans
had been confirmed. The crowd, however, was not fooled; never again could
the same mass of people be gathered together for such a purpose.
I had also to struggle against others. Wherever I went, over a glass
of wine or a cup of tea, there was always a distinguished parrot in the
grip of emotion, who was discussing the deportation, or a well-wishing friend
who thought he was doing me a favor by drawing attention to me by turning
the conversation to the subject: "Is it true that?" "Do you
think ...?" "What do you think of the book by ...?" All these
questions irritated me. When they were not inspired by a perverse curiosity,
they betrayed an uncertainty and a need to be reassured. Systematically
I cut the talk short, a practice which sometimes provoked severe criticism.
I resented such criticism, and I blamed it upon my fellow deportees and
their never ending publication of their stories, often imaginary, in which
they gave themselves the airs of saints, heroes, or martyrs. As their writings
collected on my desk like so many entreaties, I was sure that the time was
coming when I would be forced to abandon my reserve and to relate my memories
of my experiences as a deportee. Hence, I was not surprised when more than
once I thought that the saying, attributed to Riera, that after every war
all of the veterans should be killed without pity, was more than just a
Then one day I realized that a false picture of the German camps had been created and that the problem of the concentration camps was a universal one, not just one that could be disposed of by placing it on the doorstep of the National Socialists. The deportees -- many of whom were Communists -- had been largely responsible for leading international political thinking to such an erroneous conclusion. I suddenly felt that by remaining silent I was an accomplice to a dangerous influence. And, at one sitting, without paying attention to literary style and in as simple as possible a form, I wrote my Le Passage de la ligne in an attempt to put things into proper perspective and in an attempt to bring people back to a sense of objectivity and, at the same time, to a better conception of intellectual honesty.
Next, the idea occurred to me that future discussions about the problem
of concentration camps would benefit by starting with a general reconsideration
of those things that were attributed to the German camps, drawn from the
mass of testimonies that former prisoners have brought forth. As a consequence,
I have gathered together the first elements of this reconsideration. This
is the explanation and the justification for the Regard sur la Litterature
concentrationaire (Survey of concentration camp literature) which is found
in Chapters Eight through Eleven.
The experience of the ex-service men, still so fresh from the 1914 war,
offers another parallel which I believe to be pertinent. They came back
with a great desire for peace, swearing by all the saints that they would
do everything possible to achieve it: that this was the "war to end
all wars." They were shown gratitude, appreciation and a certain admiration.
With joy, hope, and enthusiasm, the whole French nation received them with
affection and confidence.
On the eve of the 1939 war, however, their opinions were very much questioned. Their experiences and the lessons from them were fully commented on in various ways, and the best that one can say is that public opinion was not kind to them. It sneered at their public statements, saying that they were in their dotage -- that was the word used -- and that their memories crowded into every conversation. The Ieaders of the national veteran associations, whose mission seemed to be limited to demands for fatter pensions were also criticized. Concerning the writings of the veterans, public opinion was just as categorical, and there was only one testimonial that it would acknowledge: Le Feu by Barbusse. When, in rare moments of good will, public opinion made an exception, it was for Galtier-Boissiere and for Dorgeles, but on other grounds: for the mocking obdurate pacifism of the one, and what it thought was the realism of the other.
Who can say what the real reasons were for this reversal of opinion?
As I see it, the reasons all belong within the framework of this general
truth: men are much more preoccupied with the future that they face than
they are with the past from which there is nothing more to be gained. Consequently
it is impossible to center people's lives around any event, no matter how
extraordinary, especially a war, a phenomenon which tends to become commonplace
and whose particular characteristics very rapidly become obsolete.
On the eve of 1914, my grandfather, who had not yet digested the war
of 1870, used to talk about it interminably to my father, who yawned with
boredom. On the eve of 1939, my father had not yet finished telling about
his war, and, every time that he brought it up, I could not help thinking
that Du Guesclin, rising up among us, full of pride in his deeds with his
cross-bow, could hardly have been more ridiculous.
Thus are generations opposed to each other in their ideas. They are also
opposed in their interests. Between the two wars, the rising generations
had the feeling that it was impossible for them to make any attempt to realize
their own destiny without coming up against the ex-service men, their pretensions,
and their preferential rights. They had been given "rights over us."
And they took advantage of it and kept pressing for more. But, there are
rights which even the fact of having suffered through a long war and having
won it, do not confer, particularly that of being the only ones fit to construct
a peace, or, more modestly, the right to positions regardless of merit,
whether they be in a tobacconist's shop, in a rural police station, or in
a teaching post.
The divorce between the public and the veterans took place during the
economic crisis of the Thirties. The rift was aggravated, about 1935, when
the veterans forgot about the vows that they had made on their return from
the battlefield and so easily accepted the possibility of another war, and
when, at the same time, the public sentiment was for peace. It is another
law of historical evolution that the young generations are pacifist, that
through them, over the centuries, humanity progressively becomes firmer
in its search for universal peace, and that war is always, in a certain
measure, the rancor of old age.
In any case, there is one thing due the ex-service men of that war as
well as of the last one: they told about their wars as they were. Almost
every word, to read them or to listen to them, rings profoundly true, or,
at least convincing. But this cannot be said of the deportees.
The deportees came back with hatred and resentment on their tongues and in their pens. They were not tired of war; rather they had an axe to grind and they demanded vengeance. Moreover, since they suffered from an inferiority complex -- there were only some 30.000 of them out of a population of 40 million inhabitants -- they wantonly created a story of horror for a public that always clamored for something more sensational in order the more surely to inspire pity and recognition.
The inflammatory fabrications of one deportee soon inspired similar stories
by others, and they progressively were caught on a treadmill of lies. Although
some deportees were duped by others in this process, most of them managed
quite consciously to blacken the picture even more in their zeal to hold
the limelight. So it was with Ulysses who, during the course of his voyage,
each day added a new adventure to his Odyssey, as much to please the public
taste of the times as to justify his long absence in the eyes of his family.
But, if Ulysses succeeded in creating his own legend and in fixing the attention
of twenty-five centuries of history on it, it is no exaggeration to say
that the deportees failed to do so.
Everything was fine for the deportees during the very first days of the
Liberation. One could not, without risk of being branded a "collaborator"
question what they had to say, even if one would have felt like it. But
slowly, the truth took its revenge. With the passage of time, with a return
to freedom of speech, and with conditions more and more normal, it burst
forth into the light. For example, one could write, sure of expressing the
common uneasiness and of not being incorrect, that "Travelers from
afar can lie with impunity... I have read many accounts by the deportees
and always I felt the reserve, or the pressure. Even David Rousset, at moments,
misleads us; he explains too much." (From a letter by Abbe Marius Perrin
published in Le Pays Roannais, 27 October 1949), or that "La derniere
etape is an imbecilic film that amounts to nothing." (From a letter
by Robert Pernot published in Paroles francaises. 27 November 1949.)
It was fifteen years before the military veteran of World War Two lost
prestige in the eyes of the public; it took less than four years for the
deportees. Except for that difference, their political destiny was the same.
Such is the importance of truth in history.
I would like to cite a personal story which is typical in that it shows
the relative worth which one must accord to all accounts in general.
The scene takes place in a law court, in the fall of 1945. A woman is
seated on the defendant's bench. The Resistance, which suspected her of
collaboration, had not succeeded in killing her before the arrival of the
Americans. Her husband, however, fell in a burst of machine gun fire, at
the corner of a dark street one night in the winter of 1945. I never learned
what the couple actually did, although I had heard, before my own arrest,
the most improbable tales. In order to get to the bottom of it, I went to
There is not much in her record. The witnesses are the more numerous and the more merciless. The principal one among them is a deportee, a former group leader of the local Resistance -- so he says! The judges are plainly embarrassed by the accusations whose substance seems to them to be very questionable.
The principal witness arrives. He explains that members of his group
had been informed against to the Germans and that it could on}y have been
by the accused and her husband who lived in their circle and knew their
activities. He adds that he himself has seen the accused in friendly, possibly
amatory, conversation with an officer of the Kommandantur, who lived over
a court behind his parents' shop; that they exchanged papers, etc. The defense
attorney then begins his cross-examination:
Attorney: "You used to go to this shop then?"
Witness: "Yes, just to keep track of this business."
Attorney: "Can you describe the shop?"
(The witness describes the counter, the shelves, the window at the back,
gives the approximate dimensions, etc ...)
Attorney: "It was through the window at the back which looks out
on the court that you saw the accused and the officer exchange papers?"
Attorney: "Then, you can describe just where they were when you
saw them, and where you were in the shop?"
Witness: "The two of them were at the foot of a stairway which led
to the officer's room, the accused with her elbows on the railing, and the
other one very near her ..."
Attorney: "That's enough. (Turning to the court and holding a paper)
Your Honor, there is no spot from which the stairway in question can be
seen: here is a floor plan of the place drawn up by a draftsman."
(The Chief Judge examines the document, passes it to his colleagues,
and admits the evidence.)
Chief Judge: "Do you adhere to your statement?"
Witness: "Well, that is ... It wasn't I who saw ... It was one of
my agents who gave me the report at my request ... "
Chief Judge: "You may step down."
The rest of the affair has no importance at all, since the witness was
not arrested on the spot for perjury and since the accused, having admitted
that she had attended some courses at the Franco-German Institute, which,
as she said, brought about a certain number of friendly relationships between
herself and certain officers of the Kommandatur, was in the end sentenced
to a term in prison for a number of things in which she was only implicated.
Even if the witness had been cross-examined further, such questioning
would probably have revealed that the agent he claimed to have sent to make
a report was non-existent and that his statement consisted of nothing but
those "they says" which poison the atmosphere in those small towns
where everybody knows everyone else.
It is not my intention to compare all of the writings that have appeared
on the German concentration camps to this experience. My only object is
to show that some were no better, even among those which were most popular.
And that, aside from good or bad faith, there are so many imponderables
which influence the witness that, one must always distrust History as it
is told, especially when it is still warm.
Les jours de notre Mort, which established the prodigious talent of David
Rousset, and which is discussed further in Chapter Ten, is, for example,
a collection of the "they says" which ran through all of the camps
and which could never be verified. It is upon this kind of questionable
testimony that the author has culled the facts upon which he bases his particular
interpretation. In this present work, which is concerned with truth and
not with virtuosity, no extracts from it will be found.
In 1950, I put the witnesses who had testified as to their experiences
in the concentration camps into three categories: first, those who were
not intellectually able to be careful witnesses, or accurate observers,
and whom I called, without any pejorative intention, minor witnesses, second,
the psychologists, victims of a bias, to my mind a little too subjective;
and, third, the sociologists, or those claiming to be. I had found no historians,
at least none worthy of the name.
On guard, so as not to fall into the error for which I was blaming others
of talking about things a little too removed from my own experience, I deliberately
gave up presenting a complete list of concentration camp literature of the
time. Moreover, the number of witnesses was necessarily limited in each
of the above-mentioned categories so as to keep this study in a manageable
form: three minor witnesses (Abbe Robert Ploton; Frere Birin of the Ecoles
chretiennes d'Epernay; and Abbe Jean-Paul Renard); a psychologist (David
Rousset); and a sociologist (Eugen Kogon). In addition, there is a witness
who defies> Since 1950, sustained and encouraged by the political policies
which underpin the so-called "cold-war," concentration literature,
which in turn supports those policies, has only grown and blossomed. For
example it is no secret that there are certain features of the foreign policy
of the United States which are expressly designed to prevent any serious
breakdown of relations with the Soviet Union; the contrived danger of a
re-birth of Naziism and Fascism in Europe is one of them. Both Stalin and
Truman fully exploited this myth, the former to keep Europe from achieving
economic and political unity and from integrating Germany into such a European
community, and the latter to justify in part the huge cost of maintaining
an army of occupation in Germany. And, Khrushchev continues to play the
same game that Stalin played with Truman, with Kennedy ... but, with a little
About 1950, the idea was revived among many Europeans that Europe as -- a political entity -- did exist. Formerly brought about by the haunting memory of the Franco-German wars, this pan-Europeanism was this time provoked by another obsession with two complementary aspects: on the one hand, the near certainty that, divided against itself, Europe was an easy prey for Communism; on the other hand, that no United Europe was possible without the integration of Germany. In Moscow and in Tel-Aviv, it was felt, from the first breath of this revival of pan-Europeanism that if it grew into a tempest, it could not fail to end in a united Europe, which would mean the political isolation of Russia and the end of the so-called reparation payments paid out by Germany to Israel. The counter-attack was not long in coming: two attacks, as remarkably synchronized as if they had been planned together ahead of time, were spear-headed by two propaganda organizations, the one with the title Comite pour la recherche des crimes et des criminels de guerre, located at Warsaw, and the other called the World Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation, whose two most important branches are in TelAviv and in Paris. The target was Germany. The theme was that the horrors and atrocities that had been committed during the Second World War by the Nazis were a natural vocation of Germany. Therefore, in order to prevent a re-emergence of this horrible propensity, the Germans had to be kept under severe control and very carefully segregated. The first result of this policy of defamation was, so far as I know, the publication of Documentation sur l'extermination par les gaz (1950) by Helmut Krausnik; the second, was Medecin a Auschwitz (1951) by a certain Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jew who was deported to that camp in May 1944, and the third was Le Breviaire de la Haine (1951) by Leon Poliakov. Since then the deluge has not stopped: every time that the least sign of rapprochement between Germany and the other European countries is seen (e.g., CECA., Common Market, Franco-German Treaty, etc ...) we get with the stamp of the Warsaw Committee or of an important member of the World Center for Jewish Documentation, or again, of the Munich Institut fur Zeitgeschichte, which is associated with the two, a study that each time amounts to an accusation more terrible than the last one. And, each time the world press supports the defamation with a spectacular publicity campaign. Thus have three publications appeared one after the other: Le Troisieme Reich et les Juifs (1953) by Leon Poliakov and Josef Wulf, I'Histoire de Joel Brand,un echange de 10,000 camions contre un million de juifs (1955); and Le Lagerkommandant d'Auschwitz parle, Memoires de Rudolf Höss (1958). These volumes are among the best known; to cite them all, just a list without commentary would require an entire book. Recently, an anthology of this literature was compiled by a Comite d'etude de la seconde guerre mondiale, whose head office is in Paris and among whose directors are a woman by the name of Olga Wurmser of the World Center of Jewish Documentation, and a renowned unknown, who can put his hand to anything, by the name of Henri Michel. It contains excerpts from 208 author-witnesses, and I can add that it cites only those authors who strictly followed the Zionist and Communist lines because on the shelves of my library there are almost as many books which are not cited, although they are often just as accusatory, often more intelligently, and although they often have the same lack of respect for historical truth. Naturally, I was not included in this anthology which is entitled La Tragedie de la Deportation (1962). What makes one despair is that there are historians who are intellectually dishonest enough to support these works with their authority: Labrousse and Renouvin in France, and Rothfels in Germany arnong others ... From the United States has come Raul Hilberg, whose book, The Destruction of the European Jews (1961), is surely the most important of all the works that have been published on the question and the one that has best succeeded in giving the appearance -- the appearance only -- of being a serious and objective study. Because of its importance, I have devoted the third section of this work to an examination of The Destruction of the European Jews, as well as other historical studies. Finally, to be thorough one should also cite the films, whose purpose is to condition public opinion, that have been taken from this literature: La Derniere Etape, Kapo, the Nuremberg Documents, etc....
The reader may be tempted to place this survey of the concentration camp
drama, with regard to its over-all tragic consequences alone, on the human
plane, and perhaps to find that I included too much detail. If I point out
that the deportation trains from France to Germany carried a hundred persons
per car in cars that were intended to hold forty at a maximum, and not a
hundred and twenty-five as some have claimed, it will be observed that the
fact scarely mitigates the conditions of the trip. If I point out that a
camp bore the name Belsen-Bergen and not Bergen-Belsen, that fact certainly
does not alter the lot of those who were interned there. If I claim that
the word Kapo is derived from the first letters of the German phrase Konzentrationslager
Arbeitpolizei, instead of coming from the Italian Il Capo, that fact does
not excuse the brutalities that were committed by the prisoner police. And,
the bad working conditions, the hunger, the tortures, etc ..., whether they
took place in one camp or in another, whether the one reporting them saw
them or not, whether they were the acts of the S.S. themselves or carried
out by the prisoner trustees whom they chose at random from among the inmates,
were still inhuman and brutal treatment.
I would like to make the observation, in my turn, that a whole is composed
of details, and that an error of detail, whether made in good or bad faith,
regardless of whether it is of a kind that is intended to mislead the observer,
must logically make the observer doubt the reliability of the whole; and
if there are many errors in detail ...? And if they are almost all shown
to be made in bad faith ...?
I shall make myself better understood by referring to a news item that
filled all of the papers a few years ago. Just before the outbreak of the
1939 war, a foreign student, taking advantage of a momentary distraction
on the part of the guards, stole a painting by Watteau called l'Indifferent
from the Louvre. A few days later the painting was recovered, but the student,
in the meantime, had made a slight modification to it: disturbed by that
hand raised in a gesture which all of the experts said was something that
had been left untinished by the artist, the student had rested it on a cane
that he had added. This cane did nothing to change the figure. On the contrary
it harmonized marvelously with the pose. But, it emphasized the figure's
indifference, and noticeably changed the interpretation one could place
on his reasons for it and his purposes. Moreover, one could argue that quite
another interpretation could have been made if, instead of the cane, a pair
of gloves had been put into the figure's hand, or if a bouquet of fowers
had negligently been dropped from it. In spite of the fact that no one could
swear that Watteau had not intended that the cane be included in the picture,
the cane was effaced and the painting was put back in its place. If the
curators had let the cane remain no one would have noticed anything amiss
either in the painting itself or in the general appearance of the painting
galleries of the Louvre. But, if, instead of confining himself to correcting
l'Indifferent, our student had taken it into his head to eliminate all of
the enigmas of all of the other paintings, if he had put a velvet mask over
the smile of the Joconde, rattles in all the outstretched hands of the little
Jesuses Iying astonished on the knees and in the arms of spell-bound Virgins,
spectacles on Erasmus; and if all that had been allowed to remain, one can
imagine how all of those little changes would have changed the general appearance
of the entire Louvre collection!
The errors that can be found in the testimonies of the deportees are
of the same kind as the cane of l 'Indifferent, without modifying noticeably
the picture of the camps, they have falsified the sense of History. Moreover,
by taking these errors collectively, the viewer is confronted with a distorted
picture of a similar magnitude as if he had gone through the Louvre's collection
of paintings, after they had been thoroughly corrected.
The same will hold true for the reader if he will reserve his judgment,
both on the secondary works and the documents which I indict and on the
conclusions which certain historians who are obviously in the service of
a cause, have drawn from them, and if he will ask himself apart from all
other considerations whether these documents and interpretations could be
upheld in their entirety before a properly constituted court of law, that
is, one that is not a kangaroo court like the Nuremberg Tribunal!(1)
- [This view is not unique to Paul Rassinier. For example, William O. Douglas, former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, observed that he "... thought at the time and still think[sl that the Nuremberg trials were unprincipled. Law was created ex post facto to suit the passion and clamor of the time .... " For additional strong "anti-Nuremberg" views by numerous notables who were in the highest echelons of the Allied governments during World War Two, see, H. K. Thompson, Jr. and Henry Strutz, eds., Dönitz at Nuremberg: A Re-appraisal (New York: Amber Publishing, 1976).]
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