Robert Faurisson couldn’t have picked a more fitting place to die: Vichy. The “leading” French Holocaust denier, who collapsed and died Monday at age 89, lived in the city in central France notorious for hosting the Nazi-aligned French government of Phillipe Petain from 1940 to 1944.
Faurisson, a onetime lecturer in French literature who grew animated by the pro-colonial cause in Algeria in the early 1960s, gained fame steadily throughout the 1970s with his ever-more florid tracts denying the Holocaust. One of those was a book-length screed decrying Anne Frank’s diary as a hoax. Le Monde, France’s newspaper of record, meanwhile, did the world no favors when it gave space in its pages to Faurisson in 1978 and 1979 to argue that there were no Nazi-operated gas chambers. He argued that they were a fiction cooked up by Zionists to justify the existence of Israel. "There was never never a single execution gas chamber under the Germans. ... So all those millions of tourists who visit Auschwitz are seeing a lie, a falsification,” he later claimed.
Faurisson picked up a number of unlikely allies throughout his sorry and sordid career. Noam Chomsky, notoriously, wrote the forward to one of his books in the late 1970s. (Chomsky said he did so merely to make a point about the importance of free speech.) Alongside David Duke, he attended a 2006 Holocaust denial conference in Tehran hosted by Iran's then-president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A few years later, Ahmadinejad gave an award to Faurisson for his "courage."
Faurisson took the usual Holocaust denial line: It never happened, but it should have. One of the ironies of Holocaust denial is that it is an allegedly “objective” historical inquiry, yet is embraced exclusively by those with an animus towards Jews. That suggests that Holocaust deniers are fully aware that they are lying. They’re malevolent, not morons. The eminent French historian Valerie Igounet, for her part, branded Faurisson a “forger.”
Faurisson had recurring legal and professional problems in the latter part of his life. In 1990, France passed the Gayssot Act, making Holocaust denial a crime. He was subsequently dismissed from his post at the publically funded University of Lyon. And he was repeatedly convicted and fined for what he said about the Holocaust, well into his dotage.
It might have been satisfying to see Faurisson in the dock. But Holocaust denial laws, if intended to stamp out the scourge, have manifestly failed. Sam Schulman noted in these pages, citing ADL polling data, that, “Twenty years of policing speech about the Holocaust has produced a perverse result. In the two countries in which Holocaust denial is freely available to anyone [The United States and Great Britain], the level of Holocaust denial and what might be termed Holocaust skepticism has changed very little. But despite the vigilance and police powers of the regulated-speech countries, the percentage of Holocaust deniers plus skeptics increased substantially, from 5 percent to 26 percent in France and from 8 percent to 11 percent in Germany.” Witness the popularity of Dieudonne, the French “comedian” who has made the Holocaust a recurring punch line. He, too, has been fined repeatedly, but apparently to little detriment to his career. (Naturally, Dieudonne and Faurisson were close allies.)
Robert Faurisson is dead. But Faurisson-ism lives on.