January 12, 2018 at 2:00 PM
PARIS — Controversial plans to reissue three anti-Semitic pamphlets penned in the 1930s by the famed French novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline have been suspended, the French publishing house Gallimard announced Thursday.
For the better part of a month, the publishing house came under intense scrutiny from Jewish leaders and literary academics for agreeing to republish texts that experts say rank among the most virulently anti-Semitic tracts ever published. In mid-December, the French government intervened, demanding to know the details of Gallimard’s plans, specifically the type of contextual commentary slated to accompany the new edition.
“I understand and share the emotion of readers that the prospect of this re-edition shocks, injures or worries for obvious human or ethical reasons,” Antoine Gallimard, head of the publishing house, said in a statement. “In the name of my freedom as an editor and my sensibility to my times, I suspend this project, judging that the methodological and memorial conditions have not been met in order to envisage this project in a calm manner.”
Ever since it was announced, the project had shocked and scandalized a society where the written word remains a matter of fierce debate.
After more than 50 years of refusing to allow the pamphlets to be republished, Céline’s 105-year-old widow authorized their release. In a move that shocked many, Gallimard — among the most venerable names in the French cultural ecosystem — took on the project and planned to release the pamphlets in a single volume this spring.
But academics immediately decried what they considered an enterprise that seemed rushed and would require years, if not decades, to complete properly. The book-length pamphlets were rife with plagiarism, many scholars said, and Céline often recycled anti-Semitic cliches that warranted proper contextualization and sourcing. Gallimard’s template appeared to be a previous 2012 edition released in Canada but not in France, a project that some experts said was rife with errors.
In mid-December, Frédéric Potier, head of a French government delegation devoted to fighting racism and anti-Semitism, told The Washington Post that his concern had been the release of historic “calls to hatred” at such a sensitive political moment. Instances of anti-Semitic violence are regularly reported, such as the arson attack on a Paris kosher store Tuesday, three years to the day after a gunman targeted another kosher supermarket in the capital’s suburbs, killing four.
The government’s viewpoint echoed the sentiments of many prominent French Jewish leaders, who were almost uniformly opposed to the release of the infamous pamphlets, which have not been republished in France since the end of World War II.
“Looking at the past, they’re unpublishable, and in looking at the present, they’re unpublishable as well, because we are not in a society immunized against anti-Semitism,” Serge Klarsfeld, 82, a well-known historian and lifelong Nazi hunter, said on a France Culture radio broadcast this week.
“What I don’t want is an anti-Semitic bestseller,” Potier told The Post last month, emphasizing that the government was not attempting to censure the publishing house in any way. He did not respond to a request for further comment after Gallimard’s decision, which Jewish groups applauded.
Gallimard’s statement left open the possibility that the project may be resumed in the future.