The Shoah: Fictive Images and Mere Belief?
The photography exposition "Mémoire des camps," currently on view in Paris at the seventeenth century palace known as the Hôtel de Sully, is stirring disquiet in some Jewish circles. This exposition, from which care has been taken to eliminate a few too obvious fakes, renders all the more stark, in our materialist age of the image, of photography and television, the absence of any photograph and of any material element which might prove that the Jews were, during the 1939-1945 war, "victims of an industrially planned extermination." The last six words are those of Jacques Mandelbaum, a staff writer at the daily Le Monde. In an article entitled "La Shoah et ces images qui nous manquent" ("The Shoah and those images we lack," January 25, 2001, p.17), the journalist does not conceal his perplexity.
Mandelbaum writes that "no [true] images describing this crime are available." He speaks, with regard to Auschwitz, of Soviet "propaganda pictures," adding:
Some of these [Soviet propaganda] pictures were nonetheless reused later as authentic archival documents. All the known images concerning this crime are thus, if not false, at least inappropriate. Including, and perhaps especially, those of the heaps of corpses discovered in the concentration camps, the spectacular horror of which is still far from the reality.
He reminds the reader that it is precisely because of the non-existence of real images that it has been "possible to produce images by way of fiction," and he thinks that fiction "is in the process of winning out." The organizers of the exposition go so far as to assert, as has Jean-Claude Pressac, that this or that photograph was taken from inside an Auschwitz gas chamber. Skeptical, the journalist asks: "From a gas chamber or from another building?"
Despite the objections voiced by revisionists, certain authors have dared to claim that, in the 1944 photographs taken by Allied pilots from high above the Auschwitz complex, the buildings containing the homicidal gas chambers could be discerned. Mandelbaum notes that, in these photographs, all "things existing at Auschwitz can be deciphered, except the presence of the gas chambers." He returns to "the insufferable lack of [authentic] images of the extermination," and he mentions a dispute amongst exterminationist authors "literally haunted by the near-total absence of photos relating to the extermination." In passing, he assails "the ineptness of the [exposition's] organizers."
In sum, this Shoah, the historical character of which Mandelbaum of course upholds, is at present reduced, on the one hand, to fictive images (he writes "images largely inappropriate") and, on the other hand, to a belief, itself founded on fictive images.
If seeing is believing, how can it be admitted henceforth that, with regard to the Shoah, the [authentic] image is precisely what is lacking?
This last question, which is clear, and the other quoted remarks, which are not without punch, have been wrested with much difficulty from the fuzzy mass of Mandelbaum's article. The journalist, writing in a yeshiva-style French, employs numerous contortions of language. He strives systematically to save the Holocaustic bacon, and also, perhaps, to leave an eventual escape route for himself and his newspaper -- whereupon Le Monde, come the day when the myth of the Shoah needs scuttling, will be able to pride itself on Mandelbaum's article and on a few others just as oblique.
More than twenty years ago, Pierre Vidal-Naquet and his co-religionists began to beat a retreat in the face of the revisionist upsurge, disowning some of the more blatant lies of their own propaganda. Over the years, they have made a habit of attributing such deceptive inventions to the Communists, the Russians, or the Poles. In this case, it is clear that Le Monde's journalist is imputing the counterfeit coin of Auschwitz to the Soviets.
January 25, 2001
From The Journal of Historical Review, Jan.-Feb. 2001 (Vol. 20, No. 1), pp. 6-7.
About the author
Robert Faurisson's trailblazing essay "Le 'problème des chambres à gaz,'" first appeared in Le Monde in 1978.