In 1988, in what was probably one of the last trials of a Nazi war criminal and the first of such trials to take place in France, Klaus Barbie, the torious Butcher of Lyon , was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison. Yet despite the memories stirred, despite the verdict, to Alain Finkielkraut the trial was a moral failure. In Remembering in Vain, Finkielkraut maintains that the Barbie trial attests to the failure of international society to take responsibility for criminals of state. Trying Barbie t only for actions against Jews but also for actions against the Resistance-actions heretofore considered war crimes, on which the statute of limitations had run out-blurred the definition of crimes against humanity. Finkielkraut finds most disturbing how seriously taken were the arguments of the defence. By manipulating the guilty conscience of the West, Barbie's Vietnamese-French, Congolese, and Algerian lawyers became accusers, disputing the special significance of the Holocaust and portraying nearly everyone as a Nazi-except the former Nazi himself. Finkielkraut points to the ultimate irony of this Third World defense of a Nazi.
Columbia University Press
Date of Publication
European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism