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French publisher shelves reprint of Celine’s anti-Semitic texts

Gallimard sparked an outcry last week when it revealed it intended to publish a 1,000-page compendium of the controversial writer’s essays from the late 1930s. — Reuters pic
Gallimard sparked an outcry last week when it revealed it intended to publish a 1,000-page compendium of the controversial writer’s essays from the late 1930s. — Reuters pic

PARIS, Jan 12 — France’s most famed publishing house bowed to pressure yesterday and suspended plans to reissue a collection of violently anti-Semitic pamphlets by novelist Louis-Ferdinand Celine.

Gallimard sparked an outcry last week when it revealed it intended to publish a 1,000-page compendium of the controversial writer’s essays from the late 1930s.

The French lawyer and Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld threatened legal action to stop them, saying that Celine had “influenced a whole generation of collaborationists who sent French Jews to their deaths.”

But yesterday, Gallimard told AFP that it was shelving plans to reprint the texts in full.

“I am suspending the project, having judged that conditions were not right for ensuring a proper job in terms of methodology and history,” Antoine Gallimard said.

The publisher had earlier insisted that the pamphlets, which have been out of print since 1945, would be put “in their context as writings of great violence and marked by the anti-Semitic hatred of the author.”

It claimed that it wanted to issue a “critical edition” of the anti-Jewish diatribes, which have tarnished the reputation of the author of Journey to the End of the Night.

Celine fled France after the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944 and was later convicted in his absence of collaborating with the Nazis.

‘Sanctifying incitement to murder’

He died in 1961 saying he did not want the pamphlets to be reissued, but the lawyer of his widow, Lucette Destouches, now 105, recently gave consent for a reprint.

“Celine’s pamphlets belong to the most infamous chapter of French anti-Semitism,” Gallimard said in a statement to AFP.

“But to censure them prevents light being shed on their ideological roots and only attracts unhealthy curiosity,” it added.

Gallimard said he “understood the feelings of readers who might find this re-edition shocking, hurtful or worrying for obvious ethical reasons.”

France’s main Jewish group said Tuesday that the texts, written between 1937 and 1941, months after the start of the German occupation of France, were a “gross incitation to racist and anti-Semitic hate”.

The head of the French Council of Jewish Institutions (Crif), Francis Kalifat, had appealed to Gallimard to abandon these “rants”.

And a group of four leading French historians signed a blistering attack on the publishers in the weekly magazine L’Obs, calling the idea to reprint the pamphlets “at best voyeurism and at worst nostalgia, which risked sanctifying incitement to murder.”

The pamphlets, which were never banned in France, come out of copyright in 2031.

Gallimard’s supporters argued that the texts were readily available on the internet “without any mediation or context” and could be also bought from secondhand book shops across France. — AFP

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