Literature of the Holocaust
maintained by Al Filreis
ROUEN, France (Reuter) - Abbe Pierre, France's most popular defender of the poor and often revered as the conscience of the nation, partly retreated Tuesday in the face of a storm over his support for an author who questions the Holocaust.
The 83-year-old Roman Catholic priest, denounced by his church superiors, Jewish leaders, politicians and many friends, said he ``strongly condemns'' any attempts to deny the ``atrocious reality'' of Hitler's genocide of the Jews.
But Abbe Pierre also stood by his long-time friend Roger Garaudy, a philosopher who wrote a bitterly contested book that questions the extermination of the Jews in World War II.
Abbe Pierre, regularly shown by opinion polls to be the best-liked person in France, said in a statement he would withdraw his confidence in Garaudy only if the author failed to admit ``any mistake proven against him.''
Garaudy's work, ``The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics,'' doubts the widely accepted belief that six million Jews were systematically exterminated by the Nazis in World War II. It says the Jews suffered ``massacres'' that did not amount to genocide.
Monday Abbe Pierre, who helped Jews escape from Nazi-occupied France to neutral Switzerland, triggered fresh protest by reiterating his support for the book. He insisted he had lifted a taboo by agreeing with Garaudy that there may have been exaggerations after the war.
He said he was not backing ``revisionists'' who deny the Holocaust but added: ``Debate on the issue is not closed.''
Tuesday, Jewish and anti-racist leaders welcomed Abbe Pierre's acceptance of the Holocaust but said it was contradictory to insist it had to be proved anew before he withdrew his controversial backing for Garaudy.
``There's no reason to prove that the Shoah (Holocaust) existed, that there were gas chambers, that six million Jews died in this extermination,'' said Jean Kahn, president of the religious body that administers Jewish affairs in France.
Pierre Aidenbaum, head of the International League against Racism and anti-Semitism, said he was relieved by Abbe Pierre's latest remarks but now the priest ``must withdraw his moral backing for Garaudy's book.''
Anti-racist groups have launched court action against Garaudy, saying his views violate French laws that ban any revisionist questioning of what courts have judged to be crimes against humanity.
``I don't want in any way to allow any doubt about the atrocious reality of the Shoah and of the millions of Jews exterminated because they were Jews,'' Abbe Pierre said in his statement.
``I strongly condemn all those who for various reasons want to deny, falsify or trivialize the Shoah which will remain for ever an indelible stain of shame on the history of our continent.''
Abbe Pierre said he was withdrawing suggestions for a new debate by historians about the Holocaust, saying conditions were not yet right.
Garaudy, a former Roman Catholic who converted to Islam after being expelled from the Communist Party leadership, argued that Israel has used ``the myth of six million exterminated Jews'' to build its state and justify attacks on Palestinians.
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