Alexandre Gilbert

Honor Natzweiler’s Victims and Counter Holocaust deniers

Unterzeichnung des Koalitionsvertrages der 20. Wahlperiode des Bundestages: Annalena Baerbock (Wikipedia CC BY 4.0)
Unterzeichnung des Koalitionsvertrages der 20. Wahlperiode des Bundestages: Annalena Baerbock (Wikipedia CC BY 4.0)
On 16 May 2024, the Council of Europe celebrated its 75th anniversary in Strasbourg. For the first time, a German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock recalled the crime committed at the Natzweiler concentration camp, in August 1943, when 86 Jews were murdered by Nazi scientists to complete the collection of the „Reichsuniversität Straßburg“.


The issue of the Natzweiler-Struthof camp, the only Nazi concentration camp located in annexed Alsace, holds a significant place in the history of the Holocaust and Nazi crimes. In addition to its grim function as a detention and torture camp, Struthof is infamously known for the gassing of 86 Jews as part of a pseudo-scientific project orchestrated by Professor August Hirt. However, the memory of this camp has been targeted by numerous attempts at denial, aiming to minimize or deny the atrocities committed there. This essay explores three major aspects of this issue: the historical reality of Struthof and the rise of denialism, the introduction of Nazism into philosophy through the legacy of the Strasbourg School, and the rehabilitation of the gas chamber’s memory in the face of post-revisionism.

I. A Gas Chamber in Annexed Alsace: Globalization of “Post-Modern Denialism”

A. Historical Facts

To understand the importance of the Natzweiler-Struthof camp, it is crucial to delve into the historical events that took place there. On August 11, 13,16 and 18  1943, 86 Jews were gassed in the camp’s gas chamber in Nazi-annexed Alsace to complete Professor August Hirt’s skull collection. This barbaric act is part of the broader atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.

B. The Rise of Denialism

However, despite the clear evidence of the crimes committed, the Struthof camp has become fertile ground for denialism. In October 1980, Robert Faurisson published Memoire en défense, prefaced by Noam Chomsky, where he denied the existence of the Struthof gas chamber. This denial occurred shortly before the first islamic attack in France, the Copernic Street bombing. Faurisson, presenting himself as apolitical, hid his ties to the American neo-Nazi party, National Alliance.

C. Reactions and Controversy

Faurisson’s publication sparked strong reactions and intense controversy. On December 18, 1980, during Anne Sinclair’s program L’invité du jeudi (Thursday’s guest), Jean-Pierre Faye mentioned a retraction letter from Noam Chomsky concerning his preface to Faurisson’s book. Despite this, Faurisson persisted, using the lack of photographs of gas chambers as an argument to deny their existence. He also exploited trials and expert testimonies, such as those concerning Struthof, to promote his denialist ideology.

II. Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy: The Legacy of the Strasbourg School

A. Controversy Around Denialism

The impact of denialism extends beyond historical debates to the philosophical realm. In 1984, Jean-François Lyotard in The Differend discussed the controversy between Faurisson and Vidal-Naquet. Lyotard highlighted the absence of gas chamber witnesses, as they were all killed, making it difficult to refute denialist arguments.  President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas also contributed to the debate in an essay citing Faurisson, wrongly claiming that the gas chambers were used to cremate the dead to prevent epidemics.

B. Philosophical Legacy and Publications

This philosophical debate on denialism finds echoes in significant publications. For the 40th anniversary of the German defeat in 1985, Serge Klarsfeld published The Struthof Album, including photographs of human remains found in Strasbourg with Jean-Claude Pressac, a former holocaust denier who realized at that moment Faurisson was talking nonsense. However Pressac remained an admirer of the 3rd Reich and continued to deny certain aspects of the camp’s history.

In September 2003, Hans-Joachim Lang first presented in Strasbourg the 86 names which he had identified, at an event of the Circle Menachem Taffel. In 2004 his book Die Namen der Nummern was published and in December 2005 was put on the jewish cemetery of Strasbourg a gravestone with all 86 names.

In 2005, Emmanuel Faye published Heidegger. The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy, denouncing the persistence of Faurisson’s defense by academic figures like Jean Beaufret.

C. Controversies and Responses

Controversies surrounding the Nazi philosophical legacy continue to multiply. In 2006, François Fédier unsuccessfully attempted to publish a book in response to Emmanuel Faye. Eventually published by Fayard in 2007 without the denialist passage, this debate highlights the tensions between defenders and critics of denialism in the academic world.

III. “Rehabilitation” of the Gas Chamber and Post-Revisionism

A. Identification of Victims

Faced with the persistence of denialism, considerable efforts have been made to rehabilitate the memory of the victims.

On 27 April 2015, French President, François Hollande unveiled a memorial stone with the 86 names of the gas chamber victims at Natzweiler, accompanied by EU Council President Donald Tusk, Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma (her country held the EU presidency at the time), EU Parliament President Martin Schulz and Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland.

In 2017, Hans-Joachim Lang, Raphaël Toledano, and Emmanuel Heyd presented a documentary, Le nom des 86, on the identification of victims following the efforts of psychiatrist Georges Federmann and Consistory President Jean Kahn. This marked an important step towards recognizing the atrocities committed at Struthof.

B. Recent Academic Reflections

In 2023, the president of Israël Isaac Herzog, at the official opening ceremony of Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day 2023 at Yad Vashem mentionned the “Warriors of memory and human dignity, absolute saints, of Israel and the nations of the world” who found the identity of 86 victims from the Strasburg Reichsuniversitat gazed in occupied France.

These rehabilitation efforts are accompanied by in-depth academic reflections. In April 2023, Emmanuel Faye analyzed in “Revue Illusio N°20” the persistence of the distinction between Nazi victims and war combatants. He criticized the association of Struthof victims with other types of memorials, denouncing a holocaust denial trend that trivializes Nazi crimes.

C. Modern Denialism and Memory Efforts

Despite these advances, modern denialism continues to pose challenges. Romain Blandre, a Struthof specialist, noted in June 2023 that Robert Faurisson was the main denialist attacking the history of the Natzweiler-Struthof camp. Faurisson and his successors, such as Vincent Reynouard, sought to demonstrate the non-existence of Struthof’s gas chambers using fallacious arguments and manipulated evidence. Nevertheless, the work of historians and researchers continues to reaffirm historical truth and combat falsification attempts.


The Struthof question is emblematic of the struggle against denialism and for the historical memory of Nazi atrocities. Attempts to minimize or deny the crimes committed in this camp have been vigorously challenged by historians, philosophers, and memory activists. From the rise of post-modern denialism to philosophical debates about the Nazi legacy, and recent efforts for rehabilitation and victim recognition, the history of Struthof continues to raise crucial questions about collective memory, historical truth, and the dangers of falsifying the past. The persistence of memory and truth work remains essential to honor the victims and counter holocaust deniers.

About the Author
Alexandre Gilbert is the director of the Chappe gallery.