Pierre Vidal-Naquet, 76, Dies; French Opponent of Torture

Historians in the News

Pierre Vidal-Naquet, an eminent French historian of the ancient world who became widely known for exposing wartime atrocities of the modern one, died on July 29 in Nice. He was 76.

The cause was a cerebral hemorrhage, his publisher, Éditions la Découverte, told the French newspaper Le Monde on July 30. Mr. Vidal-Naquet’s death has not been widely reported outside of Europe.

A leading scholar of Greek antiquity, Mr. Vidal-Naquet became known to a broad general readership as an outspoken opponent of Holocaust deniers. He was also one of the first people to document the systematic use of torture by the French during the Algerian war for independence in the 1950’s and early 60’s.

Reviewing Mr. Vidal-Naquet’s book “Assassins of Memory: Essays on the Denial of the Holocaust” in The New York Times Book Review, Walter Reich wrote:

“Mr. Vidal-Naquet — a Jew whose parents were deported from France during the German occupation and whose mother died in Auschwitz — is a subtle writer whose passion about the subject is expressed by means of a gracefully piercing irony. His reader, though dragged through the mire of intellectual dishonesty that characterizes the writings of Holocaust deniers, is nevertheless elevated by the energy and nobility of Mr. Vidal-Naquet’s intellectual and moral power and achieves, in the end, a deep appreciation of the absolute centrality of truth to the twin tasks of writing history and preserving memory.”

Pierre Emmanuel Vidal-Naquet was born in Paris on July 23, 1930. His father, a lawyer, was an early member of the French Resistance in World War II; after Paris fell to the Nazis in 1940, the family fled to Marseille.

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