Can Celine be judged the same way as three other fanatic laureates?
1) Agatha Christie (1890-1976), a veritable library of murders by the creator of Hercule Poirot, whose Jewish figures are “hook-nosed and money-grabbing”, has been tolerated by critics as representing English “reflex anti-Semitism”.
During a pre-war tour of the Middle East, the German ambassador to Iraq told him that “all the Jews in Britain should be exterminated”. To his credit, his recollection of the event in his memories and post-war Holocaust evidence also served to tone down the new Jewish figures. However, there has been no such change in the UK publication, while its US editors have deleted such passages.
2) TS Eliot (1888-1965): Many critics maintain that “Eliot’s relative anti-Semitism is one thing, his poems are another”. He never showed a postwar Agatha Christie type of remorse. He admired the anti-Semitic author of Vichy France – vehement nationalist and Christian fundamentalist – Charles Maurras.
An example: “My house is a damaged house and the Jew is crouching on the windowsill … The rats are under the stilts. The Jew is below the lot.
Abraham Foxman, then director of the Anti-Defamation League, said The New York Times in 1990: “Talent is no guarantee of wisdom. Mr. Dahl’s praise as a writer should not obscure the fact that he was also a fanatic.
Dahl in action: “There is one trait in the Jewish character that causes animosity, maybe it is a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews … even a stinky like Hitler does not care.” is not taken to them for no reason “(New statesman).
4) Céline (1894-1961), country doctor and writer, very early on who became pro-Nazi, calling for an alliance with Germany “to save France from Jewish hegemony”. In 1941 he was an informant, shocked that “the Germans weren’t exterminating French Jews.”
The great French writer Baudelaire had asserted that “literature and the arts pursue an end independent of morality”. This is how Céline, considered “a Baudelaire of the last days”, is read with admiration despite her novels marked with hatred of the Jews.
In 2017, the French government called on its publisher, Gallimard, to refrain from reprinting the worst of texts.
A cache of unpublished manuscripts, comprising some 6,000 articles, was revealed by a former journalist for the center-left French newspaper Release. Now in the public domain, there are two distant family claimants for what is valued at several thousand dollars.
In 1944, Céline and his wife fled a liberated Paris to the German castle of Sigmaringen, an enclave to accommodate the French government of Vichy in exile – including Marshal Philippe Pétain, Prime Minister Pierre Laval and other collaborators.
All were to be condemned in France as traitors … but not Céline and her wife, who moved to Denmark. Arrested, he will continue to write in prison. Finally, back in Paris, where he was exonerated, his files disappeared. Now that they have resurfaced, Gallimard has announced their possible publication, which could include at least three anti-Semitic novels, and other documents will follow.
We believe that Gallimard has a public obligation to remove all inciting language against Jews and to use the profits from sales for an endowment to educate and combat all forms of fanaticism and hatred.
Additionally, Roald Dahl’s family apology, 30 years after his death, coincides with a billion dollar deal with Netflix. We believe the same generosity should apply.
The writer is director of international relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.