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The “Toben Affair” seen by Voltaire

For the historian, the sociologist or the jurist, the case of Australian revisionist Fredrick Toben is among the simplest and most instructive. It is also both appalling and amusing.

One day, moved by curiosity, this German-born Australian left the antipodes on a journey to Europe in order to confer with an individual who had coined the phrase “No holes, no ‘Holocaust’”. From there he went on to Poland, to Auschwitz, where with his own eyes he observed that, in the effective absence of any “holes” in the collapsed roof of an alleged homicidal gas chamber, there was cause to doubt whether such chemical slaughterhouses had ever existed at that spot, the veritable centre of the “Holocaust”. Finally, on a pilgrimage to the Germanic lands, he shared his doubts and asked for explanations, an act that earned him forthwith a stay in prison.

Voltaire would have liked this “affaire Calas” (of a less tragic sort). He might have drawn inspiration from it for a tale entitled The Emperor’s New Clothes or The Imposture. It seems right to imagine that, as in a classical French play, the story should evolve in five stages.

In the first of these, our hero from the other hemisphere hears tell that a certain European emperor, dear to the Jews and thus also to today’s Germans, is, in the eyes of his court, bedecked in the most extraordinary attire, whilst in reality he is quite simply naked. It is said that some ingenious rascals had pretended to create for the emperor raiments of exceedingly rare cloth, costing a fortune. In the next stage our Australian, modern-day Huron of the Voltaire tale Le Huron ou l’Ingénu, armed with some advice on how to conduct his inquiry, arrives in Europe and prepares to see for himself. Once on location he gets the impression that this emperor could well be naked. In a third stage he proceeds to inquire of those around him, going so far as to whisper to the courtiers: “Is your emperor perhaps naked?” For want of a fitting reply, he resolves to go to the Germanic lands and consult a man of the craft. This latter person, most certainly a German and perhaps a Jew as well, has a reputation, the world over, for such good knowledge of the solution to the riddle that he will abide no other answer than his own. This individual, prosecutor of woeful mien, invites the sceptic to come back to see him the next day in order to get his answer. This our Australian does not fail to do. There, in the prosecutor’s study, with a stranger present, he is asked to repeat his question. Which he does. And so it is that, in a fifth and final stage, the question-man finds himself behind the bars of a German jail.

In the reality of the Toben case, the prosecutor was a man called Heiko Klein, the stranger was a police informer and the jail was, for seven months, that of Mannheim.

What followed would equally have inspired Voltaire. It throws a stark light on the way in which the German justice system works at present and on the mode of conduct adopted by a large number of Western democracies as soon as the most hallowed of their taboos, that of the “Holocaust”, appears to be in peril.

Removed from his jail cell, F. Toben, in handcuffs and duly escorted, was led into a courtroom. But, given the gravity of his case, he had the right only to a mock trial. He was, of course, provided with counsel, but the latter was made to understand that he would do well to keep quiet if he did not want to join his client in prison. The lawyer kept quiet and F. Toben was found guilty, sentenced to time served and a heavy fine, and then released on bail the next day.

In Australia the authorities were careful not to intervene in favour of the victim. Indeed, they fell little short of applauding the German judges’ decision, most likely envying their freedom of action.

In the rest of the Western world everyone, by and large, fell into tune with Germany and Australia. The “élites” in place either kept silent or approved. None of them got the idea of decrying an outrage. No petitions in support of the heretic, no demonstrations. Amnesty International considered it natural and normal that an intellectual, an academic should be so treated. In effect, precisely because he is a professor, many must be of the opinion that F. Toben surely ought to know that some questions simply offend decency.

Twenty years earlier

Twenty years previously I myself had lived through an experience comparable to that of my Australian colleague. In the columns of Le Monde (Feb. 21, 1979), thirty-four French historians – among whom some, like Fernand Braudel, enjoyed international renown – had issued a joint declaration rebuking me for having put a question that propriety should have forbidden me to conceive.

I had discovered that the existence and operation of the alleged Nazi gas chambers were, for physical and chemical reasons understandable to a child of eight, fundamentally impossible. In the late seventies I had therefore asked Germany’s accusers how, for them, such mass murder by gassing had been technically possible. The answer took some time in coming, then gushed forth:

One must not ask oneself how, technically, such a mass murder was possible. It was technically possible, since it happened. That is the compulsory point of departure of any historical inquiry on this subject. It is incumbent upon us to recall this truth in simple terms: there is not, there cannot be a debate about the existence of the gas chambers.

I had the awkwardness to think then that I had just brought off a decisive victory. My adversaries were taking flight. They showed themselves to be unable to reply to my arguments except by spin. For me, the myth of the alleged gas chambers had just breathed its last.

Pressac’s capitulation, Spielberg’s triumph

Of course, from a scientific standpoint, those gas chambers had fallen back into nothingness. The following years were to confirm this. From 1979 to 1995 every attempt to demonstrate their existence would abort: the Rückerls and Langbeins, the Hilbergs and Brownings, the Klarfelds and Pressacs would all suffer the most humiliating failures. It is not I who say this but rather one of their keenest apostles, historian Jacques Baynac. In 1996, in two long and particularly well-informed articles, this fierce opponent of the revisionists drafted, with a heavy heart, an assessment of the vain tries to establish the existence of the Nazi gas chambers (Le Nouveau Quotidien, Lausanne, September 2 and 3, 1996). Baynac’s conclusion: the historians had failed totally and, as a result, recourse was had to the judiciary in order to silence the revisionists.

In March 2000 Jean-Claude Pressac was, in a way, to announce his own surrender. On this point one may read an interview with him published by the French academic historian (and staunch anti-revisionist) Valérie Igounet in her book Histoire du négationnisme en France (Éditions du Seuil, Paris 2000, p. 613-652). The last two pages of the interview are staggering: J.-C. Pressac states that the “rubbish bins of history” await… the official story of the concentration camps! This text of a recorded talk, supposedly of June 15, 1995, must have been somewhat modified afterwards.

But, as is well known, the sphere of science, on the one hand, and that of the mass media, on the other, are plainly different in nature. In the latter sphere, while the Nazi gas chambers have had a very rough time of it, the adjoining myths of the genocide and the six million have prospered thanks to a thunderous promotion. Hilberg and his like may have failed in their work as historians but Spielberg, the master of special effects cinema, triumphs with his holocaustic epics. Today, the kosher version of Second World War history has force of law and of custom to such a degree that the nasty “deniers” seem annihilated.

The particular case of F. Toben

Nevertheless, a number of these rebels called revisionists remain alive, and very much so, to the despair of the thought police and their lackeys in the prosecution service, the judiciary and the media. Among these revisionists stands F. Toben who, upon leaving prison, did not have the decency to show the least contrition or, as is said today, repentance. It may be feared that, for him, the emperor (of the Jews) will stay definitively naked, and that he will continue going about repeating “No holes, no ‘Holocaust’” or, in allusion to the non-existent fabric, “No clothes, no ‘Holocaust’”.

Beginning with the indomitable Paul Rassinier, a good many other revisionists besides our Australian have endured or still endure a thousand travails. A few months ago one of them, in Germany, was driven to suicide. Werner Pfeifenberger, a professor in Münster, killed himself on May 13, 2000 after years of an exhausting struggle against his persecutors. On April 25, 1995, in a Munich square, Reinhold Elstner immolated himself by fire.

What distinguishes the revisionist Toben’s case from that of others is its simple and swift unwinding, and therefore its illustrative value. One might call it a synopsis, an all-in-a-nutshell sketch. It is nothing but the story of a man who, for having made a prosaic remark on a material fact, finds himself in prison. To whoever cared to listen, he had, in fact, held forth thus: “At Auschwitz-Birkenau, day after day, a deadly substance was apparently poured through four openings, specially made in a reinforced concrete roof, so as to kill, each time, the thousands of persons confined in the room below. How could such an operation be possible given that manifestly, as one may remark today, none of those four openings ever existed? Of course, the roof is now in ruins but, on the surface, no trace of those openings can be made out and, if one slides down beneath the ruin, one can see also that the ceiling has never had any openings in it. How do you explain that?” He received no answer. Then, he sought out a man who, by definition, must know the answer to his query (and the answer to several others of the same calibre – material and rudimentary). As his only reply that individual deemed it necessary to throw the inquirer into jail. But, once out of jail, what did our impertinent friend do? He repeated his question, but this time urbi et orbi, and with renewed vigour.

A story edifying in its brevity, and not without spice.

Toben as an “ingénu” hero in a tale by Voltaire

I shall say it again: a Frenchman familiar with Voltaire is tempted to see in this antipodean a reincarnation, in his own mode, of Candide or the Huron (the original Ingénu). Under Voltaire’s pen, the ingenuousness, real or feigned, of those two heroes, wholly of his imagining, ended up putting them through numerous ordeals – but it also helped them overcome adversity, and not without providing some interesting perspectives for the reader on the beliefs and superstitions to be found at the foundations of our society and institutions. The story of Fredrick Toben (German as was, indeed, the character Candide) would probably have appealed to Voltaire on another score, that of the execrable intolerance of the Jews and their high priests (see Henri Labroue, Voltaire antijuif, Les Documents contemporains, Paris 1942).

Today, in France, the re-editions of some of the works of the “patriarch of Ferney” are expurgated, for fear of displeasing the Jews. No-one can doubt that, if he came back to this world, Voltaire, following Toben’s example, would be “put inside” for his disrespectful questions. Even Switzerland, where in his time Voltaire knew he could find refuge, would today not fail to lock him up.


A note to the reader: Voltaire (1694-1778) was notably the author of Candide ou l’Optimisme (philosophical tale, 1759), Le Huron ou l’Ingénu (satirical tale, 1767) as well as the Dictionnaire philosophique ou la Raison par alphabet (1764). He intervened in a series of court cases, such as that of the Calvinist Jean Calas, to speak out against what he called the crimes of intolerance or of superstition. He spent his last twenty years at Ferney, near the Swiss border.

Note on a false attribution to Voltaire: It is by mistake that the following remark is attributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, sometimes with the adjunct “Monsieur l’abbé…”. In reality, a London author, in a book published in 1906, wrote the following, on the subject of the attitude taken by Voltaire in the event of intense disagreement with an adversary: ”’I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ was his attitude now.” The author was called Stephen G. Tallentyre (real name: Evelyn B. Hall) and the book was entitled The Friends of Voltaire. (Source: Paul F. Boller Jr and John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford 1989, p. 124-126.) Such, anyway, is the information I have drawn from an article in L’Intermédiaire des chercheurs et curieux (November 1993, p. 1157), kindly sent to me seven years ago by the Belgian revisionist Pierre Moreau, to whom I had confided my failure to find the remark in any of Voltaire’s writings.

August 22, 2000