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Literature

Row erupts in France over plans to publish revered novelist’s anti-Semitic wartime pamphlets

French publishing house Gallimard has insisted it will go ahead with the publication of the 1,000-page collection of 1930s pamphlets by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, who called for the extermination of Jews

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 3:59pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 9:13pm

The planned publication of anti-Semitic pamphlets written by a revered novelist has sparked a fierce row in France, with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe weighing in on the debate in favour of their release.

Three racist 1930s texts by Louis-Ferdinand Celine are set to appear in a volume by leading French publishing house Gallimard in May, sparking angry calls for the book to be banned.

Philippe said Sunday he thought the pamphlets should be published, but only alongside a carefully composed critical and contextual commentary.

“I am not afraid of these pamphlets’ publication, but they must be thoughtfully accompanied,” the prime minister said in an interview with French weekly the Journal du Dimanche.

“There are very good reasons to detest the man himself, but you cannot deny the writer’s central position in French literature.”

Celine, best known for his 1932 novel Journey to the End of the Night, is regarded as one of France’s most prominent – and controversial – modern novelists.

But his reputation has been tarnished by his rabid, anti-Semitic, pro-Hitler wartime pamphlets.

His trio of anti-Semitic pamphlets to be released in the upcoming book Polemical Writings are titled Trifles for a Massacre (Bagatelles pour un Massacre), School for Corpses (L’ecole des Cadavres) and A Fine Mess (Les Beaux draps).

Aided by the French collaborationist Vichy government, German authorities deported about 78,000 French Jews to death camps during the occupation from 1940 to 1944.

Celine fled France at the time of the Normandy landings in 1944 and was later sentenced for collaboration in his absence, was spared prison and was able to return France.

Although Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is being reprinted in France in March, some historians have said there is a vast gulf between a historic document like that and Celine’s rambling hatred.

Four historians wrote a furious opinion piece in the Nouvel Obs magazine arguing that any footnotes were unlikely to be consulted much and that the exercise risked “at best voyeurism, as worst nostalgia, or the sanctification of appeals to murder wrapped up in a chocolate box of prestige”.

Serge Klarsfeld, an activist and advocate for the families of French Jews deported during the second world war, has demanded Gallimard be stopped from publishing the collection.

Frederic Potier, France’s governmental delegate for the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and anti-LGBT hatred, warned the publishing house last month of the risks of reprinting the texts, calling for a “guarantee” that the volume would also include critical context.

Additional reporting by The Guardian