President Valery Giscard d'Estaing accused France's leading newsweekly. "Express, yesterday of having gone beyond the bounds of decency in publishing a lengthy interview with a man known as "the French Eichmann" justifying the Nazi regime's anti-Jewish policies.
Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, who was commissioner for Jewish affairs in France's German puppet government of Vichy, said that the gas chambers in which Jews were killed in Nazi concentration camps were in fact used only for delousing new arrivals in the camps and that the systematic Nazi massacre of 6 million Jews during World War II never happened and was invented by Jewish propagandists.
Darquier was convicted in absentia of organizing the shipment of Jews from France eastward to the concentration camps. Adolph Eichmans was tried and executed by Israel for organizing the shipment of East European Jews to the camps. An Express report found Darquier, now 80, living in exile in Spain and persuaded him to speak for the record.
Since the interview was published Saturday there has been a rising chorus of demands for the extradition to France of the ailing Darquier.
What turned the interview into a major issue was a statement by Health Minister Simone Veil, one of Giscard's favorite ministers, that l'Express was wrong to publish the interview without photos of the war-time atrocities or a commmentary.
Veil, who is Jewish, was deported to Auschwitz, the largest extermination and labor camp, at the age of 14. Her denunciation of l'Express was taken up in front-page editorials by the leading afternoon newspapers, the intellectual Le Monda and mass-circulation France-Soir.
No one is accusing L'Express - which became an important force in France as an opponent of the colonial war in Algeria - of endorsing Darquier's views. But it is accused of being irresponsible in giving him a platform.
Including headlines and photos of Darquier and others, the interview ran for the equivalent of nine full pages in the Time-sized magazine. The questions of the interviewer constantly challenge Darquier's assertions, and quotations that l'Express printed from documents of the time often contradict his answers.
The two leading l'Express editors, Raymond Aroa and Jean-Francois Revel, both widely respected Eberal intellectuals, wrote an indignant letter to Le Monde defending their magazine's presentation but admitting that there had been disagreements inside l'Express about whether to publish the interview.
Giscard said that "even though freedom of expression is total in France, it should be balanced by decency and tespect for truth," the president's spokesman said Giscard "desires that the organs of information take those requirements into account."
The dispute coincides with a great debate that is just starting at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO over the relationship of the press and government. The need to combat racism and warmongering is being presented by a majority coalition fo Third World and Communist states as one of the main justifications for government control of the press.
The United States is in the fore-front of countries arguing that any such declaration by UNESCO would be a danger to press freedom and newsgathering. France, on the other hand, is taking what Culture Minister Jean-Philippe Lecat this week called a measured position."