Holocaust row drives Abbe from France

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The Independent Online
The French may never again see the man who was voted the most popular personality in the country last year. The 83-year-old priest, Abbe Pierre, has taken up refuge in an Italian monastery following a scandal about his support for the revisionist writing of his philosopher friend Roger Garaudy, and is threatening never to return.

Yesterday it was revealed that he had left France for the Benedictine monastery of Praglia, near Padua, at the beginning of the month. "The attacks of which I have been the target have been beyond measure," he said. "I have greatly suffered and at my age I cannot exclude the fact that I may end my days here."

The controversy flared up in April after the publication of Garaudy's Mythes Fondateurs de la Politique Israelienne (Founding myths of Israeli politics). In this book, the 82-year-old former communist and convert to Islam questioned the existence of the Holocaust, saying that "until now we have only been given . . . false and arbitrary figures about the number of Jews killed". He also called the Diary of Anne Frank "a myth disguised as history".

When two associations of ex-deportees brought proceedings against Garaudy, he asked Abbe Pierre, his friend of 40 years, to intervene. Without even reading the book Abbe Pierre praised the "exceptional erudition" of the philosopher "who seeks for the truth in the face of undeniable deformations of reality".

The statement caused outrage and was seen as a serious stain on what had been described by the French news magazine L'Express as a life of "such biblical perfection". Indeed Abbe Pierre has been a national hero for more than 40 years.

Born Henry Groues, thepriest had helped Jews and resistance workers to escape during the war. At the beginning of the Fifties he founded an association for the homeless, Emmaus, and has remained at its head ever since.

His fame comes from his now legendary radio declaration during the harsh winter of 1964. With 2,000 people living on the streets of Paris in sub- zero temperatures, he called for the nation's help and was met with an overwhelming response.

He has failed to retract his comments, declaring that "to assimilate the work of the researcher and historian Garaudy with revisionism would be wrong". Even when he eventually condemned those "who in whichever way deny, falsify or reduce the importance of Shoah", he refused to withdraw his support for Garaudy.

Attacks against him came from all sides. His colleagues at Emmaus condemned his views. The French Catholic Church was also keen to distance itself from its views calling his standpoint "immoral". The grand rabbi, Joseph Sitruk, and the president of the Jewish Consistory of France, Jean Kahn, declared that: "His continued support for Roger Garaudy is unacceptable."

And he was ousted from the International League against Racism and Anti Censorship of which he had been a member for over 20 years.