Saturday, October 17, 2015

France: Rebatet's 1942 anti-Semitic book republished and set to become a best-seller

Lucien Rebatet at a Les Décombres
signing session in 1942
Les Décombres ["The Ruins"] was a French best-seller released in 1942 during the Occupation of France by Nazi Germany.  It was written by Lucien Rebatet, one of the leading anti-Semitic intellectual collaborationists of the time.  The novel has been republished.  It has become a literary sensation and is on course to become yet again a best-seller.

Rebatet was one of the most vicious anti-Semitic writers.  In her biography of Darquier de Pellepoix, Carmen Callil describes him as: "The most notorious and celebrated fascist and collaborationist writer of the war." 

In France, Rebatet is considered, like the infamous Louis-Ferdinand Céline, to be a literary genius.  Le Figaro literary supplement (pay wall) has devoted two full pages to Rebatet.  One learns that the late president François Mitterrand rated another book by him as one of the major French novels of the twentieth century.  Mr Mitterrand, shortly before dying, complained of the Jewish lobby and was a life-long friend of René Bousquet.

The justification for reprinting one of the most anti-Semitic books ever written, is that Les Décombres is a masterpiece, that there shouldn't be any censorship and that the book will help readers understand what Fascism is.

For Alan B. Spitzer, "Rebatet was a French fascist, without apology or qualifications [...]. Les Décombres -or " the ruins, or "the rubbish" was a diatribe against all of the mistakes and blunders that led to the catastrophic decline of France, and an affirmation of the virtues of fascism.  It was the vehicle of a vicious anti-Semitism ornamented by such passages as this:
"After one hundred and fifty years of Jewish emancipation, these evil impure beasts carrying within themselves the germs of every plague ought to be returned to the prisons where the secular wisdom had once incarcerated them."
This quotation features in Le Figaro:
"Whichever way one looks at it, Jewry offers the unique instance in the history of humanity of a race for which only a collective punishment is equitable." (my translation). 
Gérard Guégan begs to differ.  Rebatet is neither a fine writer nor a nice person.  He points out that Rebatet used to brag about his bravery and liked to present himself as a soldier of the fascist revolution, but after the war he promptly fled to Sigmaringen in the PPF lorries.  He also points out the appalling fact that the novel was released on July 16, 1942, the day of the Vel d'hiv roundup.  His style is poor and ridden with adjectives.  Totally redundant, overblown and overworked.  As to its merits as a testemony of what fascism really was, Gérard Guéant has serious doubts.  With Rebatet all was pretence, fantasy and lamentation.  Though the title of the book is Les Décombres (The Ruins), Rebatet didn't really dig deep in the ruins.  Guéant raises another interesting point.  The book was writtent during the German occupation and was sent to all publishers.  They all turned it down, except Denoël that was facing financial problems. 

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