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A Jewish, far-right politician is being sued for Holocaust denial in France

French far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour delivers a speech during a campaign rally on the Trocadero square in Paris on Sunday. A lawsuit accuses Zemmour of trying to falsify history about France's role in the Holocaust.
Bertrand Guay
AFP via Getty Images
French far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour delivers a speech during a campaign rally on the Trocadero square in Paris on Sunday. A lawsuit accuses Zemmour of trying to falsify history about France's role in the Holocaust.

Six LGBTQ advocacy groups are suing French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, saying his embrace of a claim that homosexuals weren't arrested and deported during the Nazis' occupation of France during World War II amounts to Holocaust denial.

It's the first time such a lawsuit has been filed against someone for alleging that French homosexuals weren't deported during the war, according to attorney Etienne Deshoulières, whose law firm filed the suit on behalf of six organizations: Inter-LGBT, SOS Homophobie, Stop Homophobie, Adheos, Quazar and Mousse.

Tens of thousands of homosexuals were arrested or deported as part of the Holocaust, according to the U.K.-basedHolocaust Memorial Day Trust. In France, at least 500 men were arrested, and more than 180 were deported, according to academic research cited by the lawsuit against Zemmour.

So who is Eric Zemmour?

Zemmour is a right-wing TV pundit and author who is now battling Marine Le Pen to become the top vote-getter among France's far right in next month's presidential election. He founded his own party, Reconquete! ("Reconquest!"). Polls currently show both candidates trailing French President Emmanuel Macron.

Zemmour, who is Jewish, has been convicted of using hate speech three times over the past decade or so, stemming from the hard-liner's comments about immigration and Islam. The most recent verdict against him came in January, for saying that unaccompanied child migrants were "thieves, killers, they're rapists. That's all they are. We should send them back."

The lawsuit against Zemmour quotes his latest book, La France n'a pas dit son dernier mot ("France has not said its final word"), which was published last year.

The suit singles out a portion of the book stating that deportation of homosexuals in France due to their sexual orientation is a "legend," or a myth. In response, Zemmour's camp said that he was merely presenting another politician's ideas, reports France 24 — which adds that Zemmour also agrees with the idea in the text.

Homosexuals were an early target for the Nazis

Repression of gays and lesbians was an early focus of Nazi Germany, which labeled homosexuals as "socially aberrant." As the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum says: "Soon after taking office on January 30, 1933, Hitler banned all gay and lesbian organizations."

In occupied France, the museum adds, there are documented cases of French police handing over their records naming homosexuals to the Gestapo. Once incarcerated, the prisoners were forced to wear pink triangles on their clothes.

Scholars warn that the persecution of homosexuality during the Holocaust was likely under-reported for a simple reason: After the Allies seized control of Germany, they didn't revoke the Nazis' strict revisions to a part of German law called Paragraph 175 dealing with homosexuality — which was invoked in the arrest of thousands of men.

"Under Allied occupation, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment regardless of time served in concentration camps," the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum states. "Homosexuals were specifically denied compensation as victims of National Socialism."

For Zemmour, it's the latest in a string of lawsuits

The new case against Zemmour accuses him of falsifying history. In 1995, President Jacques Chirac publicly acknowledged France's complicity in helping German occupiers deport Jews from France to death camps. His sentiment has been echoed by other presidents, and its's been backed by French courts.

Another ongoing case also accuses Zemmour of denying crimes against humanity during World War II. That case, which is still pending an appeal, centers on Zemmour's controversial claims that while France's Vichy government colluded with the Nazis to deport Jewish migrants out of France, it also worked to save Jews who were French citizens.

Zemmour has said his comments are protected by the right to free speech, blaming the lawsuits and rulings against him on ideologues.

Under France's electoral system, the field of presidential candidates will be reduced to two on April 10, when the first round of voting occurs. A second round comes on April 24 — and polls currently project that Macron will likely face Le Pen, whom he defeated in 2017.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.