Robert Faurisson, referring to contemporary denial and anti-Semitism, died on Sunday at his residence in Vichy, the city in which he had been living for decades and which was the capital of the French collaborationist regime with Hitler's Germany between 1940 and 1944. He was 89 years old.
Faurisson was a modest professor of literature until, at the end of the seventies, the media began to echo his theories, which denied the existence of the Nazi genocide. His name was associated since then, like that of also French Roger Garaudy or the British David Irving, to the current that sought to falsify history to question the truth of one of the greatest crimes of the twentieth century.
The Faurisson case sparked from the first moment discussions about the limits of freedom of expression
The story of Faurisson, born in 1929 in England and the son of a Frenchman and a Scottish, is the capacity for survival and reproduction of lies in a time before the existence of social networks and the Internet. It is a story of repeated prosecutions and convictions for the denial of crimes against humanity, and the legislation that pursues the discourse of hatred and denial, regulated in France by the Gayssot law of 1990. Their ideas always remained in the margins of what is acceptable in democratic societies, but Faurisson obtained in recent years the recognition of characters such as the then Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadineyad, who awarded him in 2012, or the French comic conspiracy Dieudonné, who in 2008 invited him to one of his shows .
Why France was one of the nuclei of negationism is one of the questions left by the death of one of its top promoters. The consensus, for decades, in this country about the French innocence regarding the deportation and the extermination of the Jews, can explain the inexistence of the preventions that could exist in Germany, for example. But also the strong roots of a reactionary and anti-Semitic tradition, which did not disappear with the end of the Second World War. And perhaps a tradition of debate of ideas that gave space and speaker to Faurisson. There is a key date in his biography and his rise to fame: December 29, 1978. That day, he went from being unknown to the general public to finding a powerful platform to defend falsehoods. The platform was Le Monde, the French evening with a deserved reputation of seriousness and moderation, which opened its columns to publish an article entitled The problem of the gas chambers or the rumor of Auschwitz. The author proclaimed that gas chambers never existed.
Why France was one of the nuclei of negationism is one of the questions left by the death of one of its top promoters.
The article "contributed widely to disseminate the denialist theses in the public space," he wrote years later, on his own Le Monde, the historian Henry Rousso. Rousso remembered that "until then [estas tesis] they were confined to extreme right-wing environments, notably in the National Front, created six years earlier. "
The decision to publish the article could be explained by the will of those responsible for Le Monde not to censor any discourse, even the most odious, or also because at that time the historical conscience in France about the Holocaust was still in development, as noted in 2012 by the journalist of the same newspaper Ariane Chemin, in an article about what he described as a "monumental blunder" of his diary. The article earned Chemin a lawsuit by Faurisson for defamation, because he described his thesis as "delusional" and called him a "professional liar". Justice gave the reason to Le Monde and to Chemin.
Reacting to the death of Faurisson, deportation historian Serge Klarsfeld told Agence France Presse: "The deniers have performed a great service involuntarily: they have made the Jewish world and the scientific world understand that a great university work was necessary in the Western world to be able to write every page of the Shoah in a very precise way ". The Minister of European Affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, wrote on the social network Twitter: "Let's bury once and for all the disgusting denial. Without flowers or crowns. "
The Faurisson case sparked from the first moment discussions about the limits of freedom of expression, stricter in France or Germany than in countries like the United States. Faurisson had the support – not his ideas but his right to express them – of personalities such as the linguist and activist Noam Chomsky. And it connected with the anti-Semitic current of the European far right, which survived the Second World War. When Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the National Front, says that the gas chambers were a "detail" of the Second World War, is presenting a version of Faurisson's thesis, an expression -referred to a specific historical moment of the twentieth century- of something deeper that runs through human history: conspiracy theories and secular anti-semitism.