Céline’s Rehabilitation, from Nazi Collaborator to Distinguished Novelist

Louis-Ferdinand Destouches, writing under the pen name Céline, published his novel Journey to the End of the Night in 1932; it was praised by his contemporaries as a work of genius, and still retains its place as a seminal work of French modernism. A few years later, he began expressing his admiration for Hitler and hope for a Franco-German alliance, writing a series of viciously anti-Semitic pamphlets. In Céline’s eyes, the fall of France in 1940 was a proud moment. Reviewing a recent, meticulous study of the novelist’s views on Jews and race, Frederic Raphael explores how he returned to polite society after the war:

After France’s capitulation in 1940, . . . Céline was one of a band—Robert Brasillach, Drieu la Rochelle, and Lucien Rebatet at its head—whose gloating collaboration with France’s overlords ensured that their articles and books were printed in unprecedentedly large numbers. . . .

Céline’s post-war affectations of never having meant what he said, or even of never having said it, leave him without the cover of honest monstrosity. Annick Duraffour and Pierre André Taguieff [the new book’s authors] unpick the selective quotations and outright lies that allowed Céline and his bande to pervert the truth about his wriggles and wangles. As early as 1950, he had his supporters. . . .

The factitious category of “genius” spared Ezra Pound, as it has Céline, the consequences of “mere words.” Tactfully confined for a few years, Pound returned to sanity and celebrity status in 1949 by being awarded the first Bollingen prize by a jury of T.S. Eliot and friends. Only the poet Karl Shapiro dissented, to his cost. A veteran of the war in the Pacific, he made the bad career move of taking it seriously that, at the [zenith] of the Holocaust, Pound—while a guest of Mussolini—wrote that Jewish profiteers were transporting Europe’s best men to their deaths in—yes, he actually specified—cattle trucks.

After the war, Pound, like Céline, resorted to self-pity and dissimulation: anti-Semitism was declared a “suburban prejudice.” His seemingly mortified lines “Take down thy vanity, I say, take down” were in no way addressed by “ole Ez” to himself but to those who judged him a scoundrel. Oddly enough, Jews of one kind and another came to make pilgrimages to see, if not quite honor, Pound and Céline. Whatever the motive—perhaps the hope the great man might say it ain’t so—the pseudo-paradox of the artist who is also a [loathsome person] has abiding, morbid interest.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Times Literary Supplement

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Literature, Vichy France, World War II

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia