Under attack from all sides for his recidivism on “the detail”, Jean-Marie Le Pen has recently retorted with this statement of three sentences which has appeared in the German weekly Der Spiegel (issue no. 42, 12 October 1998, p. 163). An English translation follows:
«Ich habe die Existenz der Gaskammern nie geleugnet oder verharmlost. Aber schriebe man die Geschichte des Zweiten Weltkriegs auf tausend Seiten nieder, kämen den Gaskammern allenfalls ein paar Zeilen zu. Churchill, Eisenhower und de Gaulle haben sie in ihren Kriegserinnerungen mit keinem Wort erwähnt.»
“I have never denied or minimised the existence of the gas chambers. But when someone writes a thousand-page history of the Second World War, the gas chambers get, at the very most, a few lines. In their war memoirs Churchill, Eisenhower, and de Gaulle did not use one word to bring them up.”
This indirect translation comes through the accurate French version (apparently made by Agence France Press) which was duly published in newspapers throughout the country. Even the provincial daily La Montagne (of Clermont-Ferrand, in the Auvergne) ran the three sentences. The cosmopolitan and oblique Le Monde, however, reproduced the statement by amputating its most substantial, its newest, and (as regards the comfort of the “right-thinking”, as well as the greater public’s way of thinking) most disturbing part; it left out the end (in cauda gravissimum), where Jean-Marie Le Pen pointed out that neither Churchill, Eisenhower, nor de Gaulle had devoted even a single word to what, for his part, he called a detail.
Why this silence?
J.-M. Le Pen could place his opponents in the most embarrassing position if he disclosed just why Churchill, Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and a good number of other leaders amongst the Allies, including the Soviets and the Czechs, throughout their lives refrained from mentioning, either in speaking or in writing, the Nazi gas chambers (or the genocide of the Jews).
The reason for this lack of any mention is that, after investigation, the Allies reckoned, from 1943 onwards, that there existed no satisfactory evidence to substantiate public claims that execution gas chambers did indeed exist: “There is insufficient evidence to justify the statement regarding execution in gas chambers.” (1)
Talk of gas chambers in Poland had been heard for the first time towards the end of 1941. In 1942 and ’43, the word had caught on somewhat, notably in Polish and Jewish circles in London. The British government thus decided to denounce the horror of these chemical slaughterhouses in a joint declaration with the Americans. Already on 17 December 1942, the Allies had issued a joint statement on “Nazi atrocities”. On that day, Anthony Eden in the House of Commons and Lord Simon in the Upper House read a declaration made in the name of twelve Allied governments concerning the crimes being committed by the Germans against the Jews. In it was denounced the Germans’ intention to exterminate the Jews of Europe. The words “exterminate” and “cold-blooded extermination” assuredly figured in the text, but in the context of the Jews “being transported in conditions of appalling horror and brutality” and, amongst the able-bodied, by a slow working to death. For the infirm, this deportation was followed by death from exposure, starvation, or even by outright deliberate slaughter in “mass executions”. The innocent victims of these “bloody cruelties” numbered, according to the statement, in the “many hundreds of thousands”, but there was no question at all of any gas chambers or chemical slaughterhouses being used within the framework of “this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination”, to be designated later on as “genocide”.
Eight months afterwards, in August 1943, the British and the Americans were putting together a new declaration and, this time, mentioning the killings in gas chambers. Here is an extract from this draft of their joint declaration:
“[In Poland] some children are killed on the spot, others are separated from their parents and either sent to Germany to be brought up as Germans or sold to German settlers or despatched with the women and old men to concentration camps, where they are now being systematically put to death in gas chambers.”
The emphasis on that last relative clause is mine. Three days after this draft release of 27 August 1943, the US government, at the instigation of the British, decided to “eliminate” (their word) the clause. The reason: there lacked sufficient evidence of these killings in gas chambers.
Until the war’s end both governments maintained that position, and that decision.
To take just one example, general Eisenhower, as late as April 1945 during the Allied take-over of the German camps, avoided any reference to these Nazi gas chambers in the speeches which he gave there. Even in his most forceful declarations (one of which is in part engraved in stone at the entrance of the Washington Holocaust Memorial Museum) he steadily observed an utter silence on the subject.
In numerous writings on the Shoah and in some “Holocaust museums”, a certain blame is put on Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Pope Pius XII, and the International Committee of the Red Cross for the stubborn silence on the Nazi gas chambers (and the genocide of the Jews) that they all observed during the war. They are criticised for having received accounts of the matter with disbelief, or, as was the case with the Red Cross, for having had an investigator who, on the spot at Auschwitz, did not even hear talk of those gas chambers. A similar charge of revisionism could be made still more surely against the great men who, after 1945, in drafting, for instance, their war memoirs, failed to mention those gas chambers and that genocide, accounts of which were nonetheless being published in abundance (2). Those great men thus acted implicitly as revisionists.
Such was the case, in France, of general de Gaulle, whereas J.-M. Le Pen, for his part, has on several occasions explicitly affirmed the existence of the Nazi gas chambers. From this point of view, for Le Pen’s accusers, de Gaulle should necessarily be worse than Le Pen. One can argue that de Gaulle was a revisionist (3), just as one may argue that Churchill, Eisenhower, and quite a few others were; but it must be acknowledged that Le Pen is not.
October 20, 1998
(1) Foreign Relations of the United States / Diplomatic Papers 1943, US Government Printing Office, Washington, 1963, vol. I, pp. 416-417; for the effective elimination of the mention of the gas chambers in the British-American communiqué, see “US and Britain Warn Nazi Killers”, The New York Times, 30 August 1943, p. 3.
(2) The reader may recall, apart from these accounts, the assertions of the Judges at Nuremberg and the works of such historians as Léon Poliakov (1951) and Gerald Reitlinger (1953), to say nothing of the publications of Eugen Kogon, David Rousset, Henri Michel, or Olga Wormser-Migot: the gas chambers were everywhere!