Anti-Semitic Author Booted From French Commemoration List

Mitterand decided not to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Louis-Ferdinand Celine, author of "Journey to the End of Night," "Mea Culpa," "Guigol's Band" and other works, following protests by Jewish community groups over his well-known anti-Semitism.

One of France's best-known 20th century novelists has been removed from the list of national commemorations for 2011, French culture minister Frederic Mitterand announced over the weekend.

Mitterand decided not to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Louis-Ferdinand Celine, author of "Journey to the End of Night," "Mea Culpa," "Guigol's Band" and other works, following protests by Jewish community groups over his well-known anti-Semitism.

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"Celine's talent must not allow us to forget the man who called for the killing of Jews during the occupation," said Serge Klarsfeld, president of the FFDJF, an association of descendents of Jews deported from France during World War II.

Klarsfeld called Mitterand's decision "courageous."

The list of commemorations this year includes the establishment of the national center for space exploration, the first issue of the graphic novel Asterix and the birthday of the French composer Franz Lizst.

Richard Prasquier, the president of KRIF, France's umbrella organization of Jewish community groups, said he welcomed Mitterand's decision.

"It is not logical that Celine serve as an example for a medal of honor," he said. "When the text is despicable, so is the writer."

Celine, who died in 1961, is considered the second most widely read author in France after Marcel Proust.

"Journey to the End of the Night," which brought Celine into the literary limelight in the 1930s, is still considered one of the most significant books written about World War I.

With the rise of the Nazis, Celine published a number of anti-Semitic tropes, one of which, "Trifles for Massacre" sold some 500,000 copies.

"We will finish off the Jews or we will die because of the Jews," he wrote, claiming that "the Jews and only the Jews are pushing us to arms."

Not everyone welcomed Mitterand's decision to ban Celine from this year's honors. A number of academics called on Mitterand not to mix "Celine the literary genius" with "Celine the anti-Semitic bastard."

Sorbonne Prof. Henri Godard, one of France's leading experts on Celine, said the author should not be ignored, being one of France's most widely read novelists and one of the world's most widely translated writers.

Debate over separating the man from his work was also sparked in Israel when "Journey to the End of the Night" was translated into Hebrew in 1994 by Ilana Hammerman.

The publisher, Am Oved, was roundly criticized, including by then-Education Minister Amnon Rubinstein.

Celine fled France immediately after the Allied landing in Normandy. He was deported to Denmark but in 1951 he was allowed to return to France after receiving a pardon because he was wounded in World War I. Celine mourned the loss of his reputation until his dying day, although he never expressed remorse for his anti-Semitic writings.