Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said she “abhors” Holocaust denial and that nobody in the leadership of her National Front party advances such “unfounded” theses.
She spoke out on Friday, hours after her interim successor as party chief stepped down amid a storm over an interview he gave in 2000 in which he cast doubt on the Nazi gassing of Jews during the Holocaust.
“I abhor this thesis [of Holocaust denial],” Le Pen said in a French television interview. “These are completely unfounded theories. I have always rejected these theories. My position on this is completely clear.”
She added that “there is nobody in the National Front leadership who defends such theories.”
Le Pen was speaking after the resignation of Jean-François Jalkh, who took her place this week as National Front president on an interim basis while she campaigns for president ahead of the runoff vote May 7.
National Front vice president Louis Aliot said Jalkh was stepping down to avoid further damage to the party, but that he is contesting allegations of Holocaust denial, a crime in France.
Jalkh is also among seven people called to trial in an alleged illegal financing scheme for the party — one of the other challenges facing Le Pen’s campaign.
Aliot said Jalkh would be replaced as party leader by Steeve Briois, mayor of Le Pen’s electoral fiefdom of Henin-Beaumont in depressed northern France.
“Personally, I think that it is impossible from a technical point of view to use for mass extermination,” Jalkh had said of the use of Zyklon B in gas chambers in the 2000 interview. “Why? Because it takes several days for a place where Zyklon B was used to be decontaminated.”
Laurent de Boissieu, a journalist for the La Croix Christian daily, found the interview while researching Jalkh, a relatively unknown figure within the National Front. They were republished in the Le Monde newspaper.
Earlier this week, Jalkh told Le Monde that he did not recall the interview.
“It’s the first time I’ve heard of this rubbish,” he said. “I have no memory of this. I may have given an interview, but these are not my preferred subjects.”
He added: “It’s possible that I saw these people in 2000, but I can see students who show up wanting to talk about Zyklon B coming. I’m no FN beginner, I’ve been here since 1974: I challenge anyone to say they’ve heard me talk about these matters.”
However Magali Boumaza, who interviewed Jalkh in 2000 as part of his research into the FN as a doctoral student, told Buzzfeed news he still has the recordings with the comments.
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.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report