The worst Holocaust offender is NOT Sean Spicer

     (From left) White House press secretary Sean Spicer talks to the media during the daily press briefing at the White House, Monday, April 10, 2017, in Washington. French Far-right leader presidential candidate Marine Le Pen gestures as she speaks during a rally in La Trinite-Porhoet, western France, Thursday March 30, 2017. (Andrew Harnik and  David Vincent/ AP Photos)

    (From left) White House press secretary Sean Spicer talks to the media during the daily press briefing at the White House, Monday, April 10, 2017, in Washington. French Far-right leader presidential candidate Marine Le Pen gestures as she speaks during a rally in La Trinite-Porhoet, western France, Thursday March 30, 2017. (Andrew Harnik and David Vincent/ AP Photos)

    This Passover season has bestirred the contemptible clowns. And Sean Spicer isn’t even the worst of them.

    Granted, Trump’s propaganda minister sank to a new low of tin-eared idiocy when he insisted yesterday that Assad is worse than Hitler because Hitler “didn’t even sink to the level of using chemical weapons” — a fascinating ahistorical remark, given the fact that Zyklon B, which killed 6,000 Jews a day in Auschwitz alone, was hydrogen cyanide. Spicer later tried to clarify his remark, conceding that Hitler “brought them into Holocaust centers, I understand that,” but I found the term “Holocaust centers” to be a tad sanitizing, prompting me to wonder whether they had gift shops.

    But Spicer is not an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier, not really; he’s just a thoughtless dolt who disgorges mindless word chunks. Stupidity should not be confused with treachery. If you want treachery, check out Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party, who’s a serious threat to become the next president of that western democracy.

    Compared to this woman, Spicer is chump change. On French TV last Sunday, with the April 23 election creeping ever closer, she sought to rally right-wing voters with a creative assessment of a particulary dark episode in France’s past. On July 16, 1942, French police — at the behest of the Nazis — pulled 13,000 Paris Jews from their homes and packed them into Vel D’Hiv, a famous indoor stadium, from which they were speedily dispatched to Auschwitz and other death camps.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    But according to Le Pen, “I don’t think that France is responsible for Vel d’Hiv.” She wanted voters to heed her message because “I want them to be proud to be French again.” (Her version of Make America Great Again.)

    The big problem with her claim that France was not responsible for Vel d’Hiv — beyond the fact that President Jacques Chirac conceded two decades ago that France was indeed responsible (“France, on that day, committed the irreparable”) — is that she’s peddling alternative facts, trying to sell Holocaust denialism, in the hopes of winning an election. Nothing could be more despicable.

    Historians have long documented the French complicity. Fact is, the Paris police actively collaborated with the Nazi occupiers. Fact is, only 0.2 percent of the French population joined the Resistance. Fact is, the Nazi-collaborating Vichy government, which was popular with the French majority in the unoccupied zone until late in the war, actively particpated in the nationwide roundup of 76,000 Jews. Fact is, Vichy established the Milice, a French paramilitary force that worked with the S.S. to speed the roundups.

    Le Pen is playing to the sizeable number of voters who, even now, seek to whitewash France’s guilt. Indeed, that impulse was indulged for decades. President Charles DeGaulle, during the 1950s, banned all discussion of the Vichy era in French textbooks. Between 1950 and 1994, successive French governments failed to prosecute a single French collaborator. In 1978, President Valery Giscard d’Estaing even appointed, as his budget minister, the same guy who’d supervised the deportation of Jews from the Bordeaux region.

    I know a lot of this history because I spent considerable time in Paris as a foreign correspondent in 1994, when France was marking the 50th anniversary of its liberation. French officials heralded the event by curating a museum show that left the distinct impression that France had liberated itself and that citizens had flocked to the Resistance. I sought out the project’s consultant, whose name was Bruno Leroux, and asked him: Haven’t you whitewashed your own history?

    Leroux candidly replied (as I reported at the time): “In a certain way, yes … The defeat in 1940 was perhaps the greatest shame, the greatest disaster in our history to face up to. And for those people who personally suffered the shock, who lived through the occupation daily — for them to be confronted with a historical view, it is almost too much to ask of them.”

    But Arno Klarsfeld, a French prosecutor and son of the Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, told me that France needed to confront its dark past: “For years, people put a pillow over their heads …. But I’m thinking of the French teenager years from now, and what he’ll see in the history books. This is about the future. This is a fight about painting a true picture of France.”

    So he said, in 1994. And if Marine Le Pen can win the 2017 presidential election by painting a fake picture for willful amnesiacs, rescuing her party from the far-right fringe where it has long belonged, that would be the greatest shame. The last thing we Americans need is a western ally who makes Sean Spicer’s stupidity look benign.

    Kansas staged a special election last night to fill the congressional seat vacated by now-CIA director Mike Pompeo. It should have been a slam dunk for the GOP. The national Democrats barely put a dime into the race, and for good reason: The largely rural Fourth Congressional District had elected a grand total of one Democrat since the 1930s. Pompeo won re-election last November by 30 percentage points. Donald Trump’s winning margin in the district was 27 points.

    But last night, Republican Ron Estes won the seat … by less than seven points.

    If that’s how a Trump minion performs in a Kansas district, imagine what that might portend for the GOP in competitive ’18 races.

    A final French memory:

    March 1994 marked the first time that France successfully prosecuted a citizen for crimes against humanity. His name was Paul Touvier, he’d worked closely with the Gestapo while serving as a top cop in Lyon, and I covered his trial. He sat eerily still, like a lizard on a desert rock. I still cherish this exchange, which I reported at the time.

    Prosecutor: Were you aware that French citizens were being tortured in your own police building?

    Toiuvier: “No.”

    Did you know you were serving a regime that persecuted French Jews?


    Did you know that French Jews were being shipped to death camps?

    “We didn’t have television at the time.”

    Did you know Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, the reputed Butcher of Lyon?


    “Well,” the judge interjected, “he knew you.”

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal