A forum to denounce the instrumentalisation of history

COVID waves are finally calming down but conspiracy theorists have begun to insult history itself.

Mobilising against conspiracy theories and fake news

The COVID waves are finally calming down but the torrent of mud is still swelling. The rage is seeping into all spaces, media, digital and now in the street. Insults and bellowing are no longer enough, the conspiracy theorists have started to spit, to spit on history.

One cries out, "The health passport was put in place by Nazis." The other tries to make people laugh at his sad find: "They want the Holocaust part 2." This was on 24 May, in the middle of a demonstration against the health passport. Two days earlier, Martine Wonner had publicly accused healthcare workers of crimes against humanity, screaming: "They will be judged, history has always been able to judge murderers.” On social networks, the hashtag "#Nuremberg2" is spreading, promising doctors the same fate as the Nazis who carried out medical experiments in the camps.

Anonymous people, "artists", physicians and/or elected representatives of the Republic, they manipulate, like vulgar puppets, symbols and words  - the yellow star, the Shoah - that were intended to be untouchable. Are they stupid? Are they scum? The fact remains that there are no longer any brakes or dams. We are witnessing, dumbfounded, the trivialisation of disgracefulness.

"The trivialisation of the suffering of the countless victims of the Shoah, coupled with a systematic attack on physicians or healthcare professionals accused of enriching themselves, is - at best - a crass ignorance of history, at worst a contempt for it of a rare indecency."

So ends a panel discussion published on LinkedIn on 25 May, which has since become a petition addressed to Éric Dupont-Moretti and to the social networks Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. This forum against the instrumentalisation of history was born out of the imperative need to say "enough".

The authors and first signatories are part of an informal group of about twenty people gathered around Guy Nagel. In December 2020, this young lawyer from Lyon, who is also a teacher, launched the page C'est vrai ça?1 on Linkedin, which aims to combat fake news. Sylvain Tillon, a fan of innovative teaching and creator of a digital learning school, runs it with him.

From debunking to counter-fire

Several scientists and physicians quickly contributed their expertise. The members of this group first fought side by side on LinkedIn against the conspiracy theorists. Now they exchange information outside the network. When Guy Nagel proposed the idea of a forum following the episode of 24 May, they all followed.

Thierry Jacques is an intensive care physician in Nancy. "We spontaneously wanted to say 'stop'," he explains, "and above all, not to leave the field open to this populism that tends to corrupt colleagues”. He has been following the populist and conspiratorial drift since the beginning, since Didier Raoult's first videos. "We have seen the consequences. Raoult, Toussaint, Toubiana... who underestimated the crisis, letting people think that thousands of patients in the ICU were not serious ‘because in any case they were elderly people with comorbidities and they were going to die’". He has seen them, the COVID patients, and in his department he still sees them. During the first wave they arrived in numbers from Alsace. The second wave was worse, an endless wave.

Present on LinkedIn since 2008, Thierry Jacques is distressed by the rise of violence and references to the Shoah. "I had exchanges with a physician on this network. He likened our government to the Vichy regime. I hesitated to report him to the authorities." LinkedIn did not block the account in question. What worries Thierry Jacques is the influence of certain physicians and their titles. "This pseudo-legitimacy 'I'm a doctor so I can say anything' is a disaster. The most striking example is that of Gérard Maudrux, who was able to express himself for so long in a blog in the Quotidien du Médecin."

Olivier Kourilsky is another co-editor of the forum. This former head of nephrology still consults - when he is not writing thrillers.2 He too is disappointed by the attitude of certain colleagues on the networks. Like the one he tried to debate with on LinkedIn, a general practitioner from Marseille who ended up threatening him: "I know you're old, it will be easy to beat you up.” For him, this forum must be a way to counter-fire, a way of formalising what so many people are thinking. They will be able to make up their own words by signing the forum or by distributing it. "These conspiracy theorists make a lot of noise but they are few and far between, whether on social networks or in the street. Since they are making their voices heard, let's make ours heard."

Words without history

In Bayonne, among the retired physicians who have volunteered to vaccinate is psychiatrist Patrick Alary. If he accepted this project from the outset, it was to express his revolt but also his astonishment. "These references to the Shoah seem unimaginable to me. How can one compare a preventive measure with a work of systematic destruction? I have treated former deportees, Jews and homosexuals. They spoke about the camps with such difficulty, such modesty. Here, we see people emptying words of their meaning that, for them, have no meaning at all.”

Patrick Alary can't help but draw a parallel with the defacement of the Arc de Triomphe in 2018. "Some Gilets Jaunes attacked this monument, but did they even know that it is a symbol of the Republic?" This ignorance is bread and butter for the populists pulling the strings. "What an irony it is to see the far right denouncing the supposed 'Nazism' of the government or physicians," says the psychiatrist.

Impunity now seems to be a given: "34 years ago, Jean-Marie Le Pen's comments on the gas chambers as a 'detail of history' earned him a conviction. At the time, Patrick Alary wrote an article on this dark episode, an article that was taken up in his latest book.3 The title of this text, borrowed from Confucius, strikes us with its topicality: "When names are not correct, language has no purpose".  

"What has become of this ban? How can Martine Wonner remain a member of parliament?" asks the psychiatrist. For him, the erosion of this type of ban profoundly destructures society and our ability to "live together". He observes that the emergence of Didier Raoult is part of the same phenomenon, the decline of the principle of authority. "He used this principle, declaring "I am the best, so you can believe me". He presented himself as a structuring element, which gave him the right to say anything.

Thierry Jacques, Olivier Kourilsky, Patrick Alary. None of these three physicians was directly affected by the Shoah. But for the last two, who are older, the Second World War still has its faces. Raoul Kourilsky, Olivier's father, was an eminent physician and researcher. Baptised as a Catholic but probably of Jewish origin on his father’s side, he had to present to the Gestapo his baptismal certificate but also a certificate proving that his own father was not registered at the Odessa rabbinate.

In turn, Patrick Alary recalls a scene that still troubles him: "I was born after the war. When I was fifteen, I went to live with my pen pal in Germany. One evening his father told us about his war in Stalingrad. He was not a Nazi, just a German like so many others who had no choice. He had taken out a bottle of schnapps. I can still see his nervous hands pouring it over and over again. What he had been through was so hard that without that, without those sips of schnapps, he couldn't say anything.”      

Vox clamantis in deserto?

A spontaneous initiative, this forum aims to give words their depth and gravity. What will become of this petition? Who will carry it and how far will it go? Will it arouse a debate or a conscience? Will it make institutions or social networks aware of their duty of vigilance?

"Dictatorship, collaborator, genocide, yellow star, Nuremberg are your words (...) stolen from horror...". The almost simultaneous publication by Dr. Jérôme Marty of his open letter to Jean-Marie Bigard and Francis Lalanne4 shows that here and there the urgency to write is emerging. Faced with disgraceful opponents, these texts come together. Voices in the desert, perhaps. If in the future these words become derisory, at least they will have resounded in a dense, clear and just manner.

The petition Against the instrumentalisation of the yellow star and the Shoah!
is available on change.org
For more information: latribune@gmx.fr

Physician threatened, harassed, insulted... What to do?

We thank Guy Nagel for these reminders and clarifications.  

"If it is not in the DNA of the healthcare professions to file a complaint for a yes or a no, especially when the attacks in question come from patients, this does not have to be the case when - as can be seen on social networks - the attacks in question are nauseating remarks: thus, whether one is practising in private medicine or as a hospital practitioner, being called a Nazi is a criminal offence:

Moreover, hospital practitioners benefit from the functional protection provided for in Article 11 of the Law of 13 July 1983.7 This means in concrete terms that these healthcare professionals, when they are victims of violence, harassment, threats, insult or defamation in the context of their duties or because of their duties, can not only lodge a complaint but also benefit from the support of their institution, in particular by covering their legal expenses.

There is no point in thinking that there can be any impunity: In fact, if a complaint is lodged with an investigating judge, the necessary steps will be taken to find the author of the incriminating messages, put him under investigation and send him before a criminal court to be tried. This can be all the easier to achieve if the hospital practitioner has implemented his or her functional protection or if the liberal professional has taken out legal protection insurance that covers these legal proceedings.

Similarly, it is essential to lodge a complaint for any criminal offence under common law that a healthcare professional may be subject to, even on the web: harassment, threats, insult (defamation and insult are of a special nature and require personal action), etc.

We can only hope that the Public Prosecutor's Office will take up these complaints and act against the perpetrators by referring them to the court!"

1. C’est vrai ça? (on LinkedIn, an "Independent Citizens' Initiative that brings together private individuals motivated by the desire to fight against fake news)
2. Dr. Kourilsky's literary activity is presented in Le blog du Docteur K
3. PUISQUE JE PASSAIS PAR LÀ… De la psychiatrie de secteur à la réhabilitation polaire
coll.Psycho-Logiques, ed. L’Harmattan (2018)
4. Dr. Jérôme Marty: Open letter to Jean-Marie Bigard and Francis Lalanne
5. https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/loda/article_lc/LEGIARTI000006419790/1944-05-20 (alinéa 2)
6. https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/codes/id/LEGIARTI000034114921/2017-03-02/
7. https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/loda/article_lc/LEGIARTI000037313626/, as stated in article L. 6152-4 of the Public Health Code (https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/codes/article_lc/LEGIARTI000038922824/)