The leadership of the far-right National Front party in France replaced its pick for interim president on Friday following reports he had denied aspects of the Holocaust.
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Jean-François Jalkh, who took Marine Le Pen’s place at the helm this week temporarily in connection with her campaign ahead of the May 7 runoff in the presidential elections, was replaced two days after his appointment, by Steeve Briois, the mayor of Henin Beaumont and a member of the European Parliament, the Le Point magazine reported.
On Thursday, the Le Monde daily reported that Jalkh is disputing the veracity of quotes attributed to him in an interview from 2000 in which he was quoted as questioning the use of the Zyklon B poison by Nazis during the Holocaust to kill Jews.
“Personally, I think that it is impossible from a technical point of view to use for mass extermination,” he said of the use of Zyklon B in gas chambers. “Why? Because it takes several days for a place where Zyklon B was used to be decontaminated.”
Without mentioning Jalkh, Le Pen said later on Friday that she "abhors" Holocaust deniers and added that currently, "there's no one among the National Front's management who defends these theses."
Louis Aliot, the life-partner of Le Pen and a senior National Front member, did not offer an explanation for the decision to replace Jalkh, whom Aliot said “did not make the statements” attributed to him.
“We condemn these sort of views,” Aliot added.
Claims based on bogus science and chemistry especially is a tactic of Holocaust deniers, notably David Irving of the United Kingdom.
According to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, “Zyklon B was delivered to the camps in crystal pellet form. As soon as the pellets were exposed to air they turned into poisonous gas. A Nazi equipped with a gas mask would empty the crystals into the packed gas chamber through a small opening. Within minutes, the victims were dead.”
National Front’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has several convictions for denying aspects of the Holocaust, as well as for inciting racial hatred against Jews.
His daughter, who succeeded him in 2011 as party leader, has attempted to rehabilitate the party’s image, condemning the Holocaust and distancing herself from her father’s anti-Semitic rhetoric. But last month she said that “France is not responsible” for its authorities’ actions during the Nazi occupation, when French police officers helped Nazis round up Jews and send them to be murdered.
Under Marine Le Pen, the National Front has seen a purge in which dozens of members were kicked out of the party for making anti-Semitic statements or expressing revisionist views about the Holocaust. She kicked her father out of the party in 2015 for making anti-Semitic statements about a Jewish singer, whom Jean-Marie Le Pen said should “go into the oven.”
National Front won just over 21 percent of the votes in the first round of the presidential elections on April 23, trailing the centrist, independent candidate Emmanuel Macron by two points. It was the best result in the history of National Front, which made it to the second round for the first time in 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen won 18 percent of the vote in the first round.
In a poll from earlier this week conducted by Paris Match, CNews and Sud Radio, 60.5 percent of respondents said they would vote for Macron on May 7, compared to 39.5 percent who said they would vote for Le Pen.
AP contributed to this report.