PARIS – France is checking whether it can take legal action against a leading far-right politician who has questioned whether the Nazis used gas chambers in the Holocaust, Justice Minister Dominique Perben said on Thursday.
The University of Lyon has urged education officials to suspend Bruno Gollnisch, a professor of Japanese there, for questioning how the gas chambers were used in the wartime slaughter of the Jews and querying the death toll.
The president of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, also called for legal action against Gollnisch, a European deputy who is also the number two man in the National Front party of extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
“Mr Gollnisch’s comments are absolutely unacceptable,” Perben told France Info radio in announcing the probe.
“In an affair like this, I think the response should not only be penal … but it should be political and possibly also professional.”
France anti-racism laws have made denying the Holocaust a crime, punishable by fines and even prison.
Gollnisch, who is known as the intellectual of the controversial party, said on Monday he recognized that the gas chambers had existed but thought historians still had to decide whether they were actually used to kill Jews.
He called for an open debate about whether the total number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was actually 6 million as stated.
He also questioned the objectivity of leading historian Henry Rousso, who is investigating charges that certain Lyon lecturers were denying the Holocaust, by calling him “a Jewish personality”.
The CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish organizations publicly condemned Gollnisch’s comments at a news conference about Rousso’s report on Holocaust denial at Lyon University.
European Parliament head Borrell said: “I would like to say clearly to public opinion in Europe and to all those who suffered from Nazi ethnic cleansing that the European Parliament will not tolerate this kind of statement.”
At his Monday news conference, Gollnisch also said that serious historians no longer accepted that all the judgements of the post-war Nuremberg Trials of leading Nazis were fair.
“I don’t know if I will lose my chair as professor of Japanese or even be put in prison for saying that, but I stand by it,” he added.
Gollnisch, who studied law and political science at Kyoto University in Japan, holds a chair for Japanese language and civilization at the Lyon university named after Jean Moulin — the hero of the French Resistance murdered by the Nazis in 1943.