Danish former Stasi collaborator sues historian for libel

A Cold War hangover was played out in a Copenhagen court room on Monday.

Danish former Stasi collaborator sues historian for libel
An unrelated file photo showing Stasi archives being inspected in Berlin in 1992. Photo: NF/Scanpix Denmark

A former unofficial collaborator with the East German Stasi intelligence service appeared at Copenhagen City court in a defamation case against historian Bent Jensen and publisher Gyldendal over two statements made in the 2014 book Ulve, får og vogtere I (Wolves, Sheep and Guards I).

The former collaborator, Jan Aage Jeppesen, who now lives in Spain, admits to having been in contact with the former official state security service of the German Democratic Republic, but disputes accusations made in Jensen's book that he “caused several East German citizens to end up in East German prisons,” and “spied against Denmark”.

Jeppesen was given code names including Hamster and Apollo and was paid for various assignments including infiltrating the Ost-West Transfer group, which helped smuggle East German citizens to the West.

He also gave the Stasi a description of Danish security service PET's offices and took photographs of Polish activists in Copenhagen, the court heard.

But he denies the two comments made in the 2014 book, saying there is no documentation to support them.

He is not seeking legal penalties against Jensen or Gyldendal.

The court heard during Monday's proceedings that Jeppesen cooperated with the Stasi while also smuggling cigarettes during the 1980s. He said he was motivated by economic, rather than ideological, considerations.

Denmark's State Prosecution Service shelved a criminal case against Jeppesen in 2002, stating that it was unlikely he would be convicted and that the case was too old.

“The statements are true and Bent Jensen has extended freedom of speech [due to his role as an academic historian, ed.],” defence lawyer Karoly Németh said in court on Monday.

Jensen is seeking acquittal in the case. A verdict is scheduled for March 5th.

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‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.