In 1988, during 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 notorious "Butcher of Lyons," was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison. Yet despite the memories stirred and despite the verdict, to Alain Finkielkraut the trial was a moral failure. In Remembering in Vain: The Klaus Barbie Trial and Crimes Against Humanity, Finkielkraut maintains that the Barbie trial attests to the failure of international society to take responsibility for criminals of state. Trying Barbie not 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 - the French court blurred the definition of crimes against humanity. Finkielkraut finds most disturbing how seriously the arguments of the defense were taken in media responses to the trial. Manipulating the guilty conscience of the West by concentrating on French colonial crimes of the post-World War II era, Barbie's lawyers became accusers, disputing the special significance of the Holocaust and portraying nearly everyone as guilty - except Barbie himself. Remembering in Vain is Finkielkraut's passionate reminder that the Holocaust struck a mortal blow against the very idea of human progress, a blow that the West and the Third World cannot afford to forget or ignore. A substantial introduction by Alice Kaplan situates the book for an American audience, providing background on Klaus Barbie, the trial, and the Resistance. A glossary of names and terms is included.
Finkielkraut, prominent in the new generation of French intellectuals, was assigned as a journalist to report on the 1988 trial of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie. His discussion (published in French in 1989, Editions Gallimard) reflects on the failure to clarify the nature of crimes against humanity and the role of the media in diffusing the authenticity of the trial. An introduction by Alice Kaplan supplements this translation. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)