Comment Joel Bloker, vieux routier du journalisme américain, blanchi sous de nombreux harnais, essaie de récupérer le malheureux Pressac, qui se prête aux journalistes avec une complaisance de vieille hétaïre provinciale.


Jean-Claude Pressac and Auschwitz: A story of an ex-Holocaust Denier



Munich, October 6 (NCA/Joel Blocker)

Jean-Claude Pressac is

known as a reliable, unassuming pharmacist in the village of

La-Ville-du-Bois, a part of Paris' large southern suburban belt.

A burly man of 49 years, Pressac at first glance seems only to be

distinguished by his crew-cropped hair and oddly stiff military

manner. But the pharmacist is actually quite different from his

village neighbors: After the extensive coverage he has received

in the French and foreign press during the past fortnight,

Pressac has now been revealed as a respected, if amateur,

historian of the Holocaust -- the systematic extermination by the

Nazis of six million European Jews during World War



The unusual story of how Pressac became an expert on the Nazi

wartime slaughter of European Jewry is, in its own way, a model

of democratic experience. It bespeaks one man's determination to

corroborate the Holocaust as a historical event in the face of a

growing movement of so-called Revisionist and Negationist

historians and their popular followers. These Revisionists,

discredited and condemned by all respected authorities in the

field, either deny the event ever occurred or claim it

was on a far smaller scale than previously depicted by

historians. Pressac himself was for several years a Revisionist

follower who denied the full dimensions of the Holocaust.


Pressac has never had any professional training as a historian.

His parents were elementary school teachers with ties to the

French extreme right, disciplinarians who sent him to eight years

of tough military boarding school. When he emerged, Pressac told

the weekly Nouvel Observateur last week, he was "a real little

Fascist" obsessed with all things military, particularly Adolph

Hitler's Germany. He tried to gain entry to Saint-Cyr, France's

most prestigious officer-training school, but failed the exam.

That forced him into civilian life, where he first studied

chemical engineering, only to abandon that and finally enter and

complete pharmacy school.


Pressac's scientific background, particularly in chemistry, stood

him in good stead for pursuing the obsession of his entire adult

life, the obscure and arcane machinery of the Holocaust. He says

the obsession began when he was 18 years old and read French

writer Robert Merle's novel, "Death is My Profession," based on

the life of Rudolph Hoess, the last and most murderous Nazi

Commandent at Auschwitz. Later, he read Hoess' own memoirs and,

when he was 22, made his first trip to Auschwitz and other Nazi

death camps in Poland. "I didn't see very much," he says now. "I

understood nothing."


Pressac returned to Auschwitz in 1979 with a vague idea of

writing a historical novel about what would have happened if Nazi

Germany had won the war. It was his second visit, including a

meeting with Tadeusz Ivaszko, a Pole who is head of the existing

archives section at his government's museum at Auschwitz, that

triggered doubts in Pressac about the Holocaust. "You talk like

Faurisson," Ivaszko told Pressac. "Who's Faurisson?" asked

Pressac. "A Frenchman, like you, who doesn't want to believe" in

the Holocaust, replied Ivaszko.


Back in France, Pressac fell under the spell of Robert Faurisson,

a Lyons university instructor who had founded the French

Revisionist school and today, although dismissed from his

university post for his beliefs, is still its most well-known

advocate. Pressac remained friendly with Faurisson and other

Revisionists for years, and today justifies his long affiliation

with them by saying: "Remember, I'm not Jewish. I didn't know

very many Jews. I had no contact with them, I was never close to

their suffering.... But if I hadn't had doubts about the

Holocaust," he adds, "I never would have undertaken my research

and I never would have discovered anything."


Eventually, his researches led him to renounce his own original

doubts about the Holocaust's dimensions and to break with

Faurisson. With the help of professional historians, including

Nazi expert Serge Klarsfeld, Pressac began to grapple with the

same grim questions that preoccupied the

professionals: How did the Nazis manage to kill and burn more

than 4,300 inmates a day in Auschwitz at the height of their

wartime industrial murder process? Where was the proof of the

existence of a physical plant that could kill that number daily

and dispose of their bodies?


It was questions like those that gave the openings to Revisionist

reasoning. Faurisson had himself laid down the Revisionist

gauntlet with his notorious challenge: "Holocaust? Prove it

occurred!" That wasn't easy for several reasons.


For one thing, the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" had

been systematically concealed by Hitler and his SS chief,

Heinrich Himmler, in euphemisms like "deportation to the east."

Their orders to those who carried out the mass extermination were

always highly discreet -- either oral or, if written, accompanied

by injunctions for their immediate destruction. And most of those

that weren't immediately burned, historians suspect, were

destroyed in the last days of the Nazi regime. For another,

crematoria and other physical evidence in the death camps

themselves, along with most of the camps' political and technical

files, were also largely destroyed by retreating SS troops

in late 1944 and early 1945.


After a more than a decade of patient research, Pressac was

finally able to come up with fresh documentary evidence of the

crematoria installation in Auschwitz, almost entirely destroyed

by the SS in January, 1945. His breakthrough, and with it

international fame, came two weeks ago with the publication in

France of his fifth, and most important, work on the Holocaust:

"The Crematoria of Auschwitz: The Machinery of Mass Murder" (CNRS

Editions, Paris).


The book is largely based on new information garnered from files

taken by the Soviet Army from the Auschwitz concentration camp in

early 1945. The files belonged to the Bauleitung SS, the

organization in charge of death-camp construction for the Nazis.

They had inadvertently n-o-t been burned along with Auschwitz's

other incriminating files when the SS departed in haste. With the

help of Serge Klarsfeld and the intervention of Roland Dumas,

then French Foreign Minister, these files were made available to

Pressac in Moscow three years ago by the KGB, which had kept them

secret for 45 years.


Citing the files repeatedly, Pressac's tightly argued 96 pages

--plus supporting photos, charts and notes -- coolly recount, in

mind-boggling technical detail, how the SS built and operated a

murder machine in Auschwitz --and, by inference, in other

extermination camps. They document, among other things, the warm

and profitable cooperation of wartime German civilian

construction firms, most flagrantly J.A. Topf and Sons of Erfurt,

which built the Auschwitz human ovens. The files, and the book's

arguments, are not easily refutable.


For professionmal historians sympathetic to Pressac, "The

Crematoria of Auschwitz" ends the dispute about how the death

camps were able to kill and burn millions of people. "The

question is now resolved," says Denis Peschanski, a historian

with France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS in

the French acronym), which published Pressac's book. Beate

Klarsfeld -- Serge Klarsfeld's wife -- whose New York-based

foundation published Pressac's earlier major Holocaust work

("Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers," 1989),

says "he knows more about gas chambers and ovens than anyone

else. His work," she believes, "stands as the most complete

reference book on the question."


But Beate Klarsfeld says -- as does Pressac himself -- that "the

book won't silence the Revisionists because they enjoy their

notoriety too much and because they don't want to be convinced."

Claude Lanzmann, the French intellectual who created "Shoah," a

monumental nine-hour documentary and art film on the Holocaust in

1986, is even more skeptical about the effect of Pressac's study

on Revisionists.


"The only Revisionist that Pressac will convince of the

authenticity of the Holocaust is Pressac himself," says Lanzmann,

who believes that the human testimony of Nazi mass murder he and

others have compiled carries far more conviction than technical

plant data. Pressac, Lanzmann adds, has made the serious, perhaps

fatal mistake of arguing the authenticity of the Holocaust "on

Faurisson's grounds."


Perhaps the most balanced judgement of Pressac's work has

recently been expressed by Raul Hilberg, the U.S.'s -- and

probably the world's -- pre-eminent historian of the Holocaust.

Hilberg is the author of the encyclopedic three-volume

"Destruction of European Jewry," generally considered the classic

work in the field.


Hilberg both praises Pressac's work and suggests its limitations.

He says, first, that Pressac "had the merit to study a subject

whose importance had not been fully appreciated. The history of

the construction of Auschwitz raises crucial questions for

understanding the development of the process of the Final

Solution.... Pressac was the first to examine the subject closely

and to draw conclusions."


But, Hilberg adds, Pressac's work is "only a beginning." Pressac

is "not really an historian ... and some of his interpretations

could turn out to be erroneous," he believes. For instance,

Hilberg challenges Pressac's estimate of 630,000 Jews having been

killed in Auschwitz's gas chambers. His conclusion is that

Pressac's figure underestimates the real number of Jews murdered

in the camp, which Hilberg places at close to one million. And

for Hilberg, the difference in estimates is not merely

quantitative, but suggests a qualitatively different view of the

horrors of Auschwitz. In any case, the American historian

concludes, "there is still plenty of work for the historians of

the Final Solution to do."


As for Pressac, whose new-won fame has not changed his will to

continue his work, he clearly still has a lot to learn -- not

least about the Jews to whom he has devoted his life-work. Claude

Weill, a journalist with the Nouvel Observateur, France's most

influential magazine, accompanied Pressac on a trip to Auschwitz

last month. He reported that the pharmacist is still "almost

incredibly ignorant" about Jews and Judaism.


"What is that white fabric that certain Jews put on their heads

while praying?," Pressac asked Weill at one point in the trip. It

turned out he had never understood the function and importance of

the "talit," the common Jewish prayer shawl, hundreds of

thousands of which had been confiscated by the Nazis at Auschwitz

before mass executions. Pressac also revealed to the same

reporter that even today he had not the slightest idea of the

difference between Ashkenazi (most European) Jews and Sephardic

(Spanish and Mediterranean) Jews.


How does he stand politically today, the same reporter asked

Pressac? "I'm of the Right," he answered. "By upbringing and

education, I'm a maniac for order." But in a French election

today, Pressac continued, he wouldn't vote for Jean-Marie Le

Pen's extreme Right National Front, whose propaganda often has

anti-Semitic and Revisionist overtones. "After what I said about

the gas chambers, I'm not well liked in those circles," he says.


So whom would he vote for today? Well, Pressac said, "a few

years ago I would have voted for (Charles) Pasqua," the current

conservative French Interior Minister known for his hard-line on

controlling illegal immigration and the entry of foreigners in

general. "But after I met people like (Serge) Klarsfeld, I

changed somewhat. These laws restricting foreigners, we know now

where they can lead..."

[Récupéré sur INTERNET en août 95]


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