PARIS (Apr. 28)
A French philosopher who converted to Islam has been placed under judicial investigation after he was accused of minimizing the extent of the Holocaust in a book he wrote.
Roger Garaudy, 82, became the object of a probe by the French judiciary after he denied in his 1995 book “The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics” that 6 million Jews were killed in Nazi death camps.
Garaudy, a former Marxist who fought the Nazi occupation of France, also argued in his book that the Nazi slaughter of Jews could be called pogroms or even massacres, but that it did not rank as genocide or a Holocaust.
The opening of a judicial probe is the first step toward a trial, but falls just short of an indictment.
If found guilty on charges of contesting the truth of historical crimes against humanity, Garaudy faces up to a one-year imprisonment and a $60,000 fine.
Pierre Guillaume, the director of Vielle Taupe, which published Garaudy’s book, has also been targeted for possible charges.
Accusations against the two men were leveled by groups representing former deportees, veterans and Resistance members.
Garaudy, who was expelled from the French Communist Party in 1970, was born a Protestant, but later converted to Catholicism. In 1982, he converted to Islam.
He is one of about 30,000 French Catholics who have converted to Islam.
Garaudy chose as his lawyer Jacques Verges, who once defended Lyon Gestapo Chief Klaus Barbie and international terrorist Carlos the Jackal.
The controversy over Garaudy’s book erupted after a Roman Catholic priest who helped Jews escape Nazi-occupied France defended the author as an “honest man.”
Abbe Pierre, who has devoted his life to helping the poor and who regularly tops opinion polls as France’s best-loved public figure, praised Garaudy for questioning whether the figure of 6 million was accurate.
Pierre also said it was excessive to call the book a work of historical revisionism.
Pierre’s support of Garaudy, a longtime friend, shocked his followers and dismayed members of human rights groups, some of whom had considered the 83- year-old priest a comrade in arms.
Monsignor Jacques Gaillot, a human rights activist whom the Vatican fired last year for his liberal views on birth control and AIDS, urged Pierre to retract his support for Garaudy.
“Abbe Pierre’s immense popularity can make this a problem in many people’s minds. It’s not possible to be on the side of the poor and support negationism at the same time,” Gaillot said.
Meanwhile, the mainstream anti-racist organization MRAP is seeking to take Garaudy to court on the additional charge of inciting racial hatred, which is punishable under French law by up to five years in jail.
And the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, known as LICRA, summoned Pierre, who has been an honorary member of the group for 20 years, to provide them with an explanation.
During his meeting with LICRA, Pierre sought to distance himself from Garaudy, stressing his “visceral” distate for Holocaust denial.
But some of his statements seemed certain to generate further controversy.
Pierre told LICRA officials that he had “no doubt that the concentration camps existed.”
But, he added, “it seems that there may have been some excesses in generalizing that gas chambers operated in all the camps.”
Pierre further called for a debate between “researchers who diverge in their conclusions,” which several critics saw as elevating Holocaust deniers to the same level as respectable historians.