The interim successor to Marine Le Pen at the helm of France’s far-right National Front party reportedly claimed in 2000 that the poison used by Nazis to kill Jews in the Holocaust could not have been applied in reality.
Jean-François Jalkh, who took Le Pen’s place this week as president on an interim basis while she campaigns for president ahead of the runoff vote May 7, made the remark about Zyklon B in an interview in which he advocated a distinction between “serious” Holocaust deniers and ones who deny the Holocaust or aspects of it as a provocation.
“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.”
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.
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.
Making claims based on bogus science 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.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report