PARIS — Far-right leader Marine Le Pen planned to spend the next two weeks trying to build her base, including more moderate voters, after clearing the first hurdle of the French election on Sunday. To do so, she announced that she would temporarily step down as leader of her National Front party, naming Jean-François Jalkh, the party's vice president, to take her place.

But a story has now surfaced that Jalkh had allegedly expressed doubts in the past that gas was used by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The comments, from an interview in 2000, surfaced Tuesday after a journalist from the Catholic daily La Croix tweeted a passage where Jalkh questioned whether Zyklon B was really used in the Holocaust gas chambers.

[I stumbled onto this, concerning the new interim president of the FN!!!]

The damning passage was published in Le Temps des Savoirs in 2005:

"[...] the use of gas, for example, called Zyklon B, I personally consider that on a technical point of view, it is impossible, clearly impossible, to use it in [...] mass exterminations. Why? Because it takes days before decontaminating a room ... where one used Zyklon B."

Jalkh describes reading "the works of people who are deniers and revisionists," which surprised him for their "seriousness and rigor." It is unclear whether Jalkh was discussing his own beliefs or summarizing those of others.

Jalkh denies ever having made the comments, and the Le Pen campaign called the story "fabricated."

jalkh national front politics france

Jean-François Jalkh — Photo: Polomartini

However, researcher Magali Boumaza — now living in Istanbul — confirmed the accuracy of the quotes and claims to have recordings of the interview back in Paris: "I met Mr. Jalkh in April 2000 at the headquarters of the National Front," Boumaza told Libération. "The remarks in question represent three minutes of a three-hour interview."

Le Pen's National Front party has tried to distance itself from its anti-Semitism past. Last year, the party's founder (and Marine Le Pen's father) Jean-Marie Le Pen repeated remarks that the Holocaust was a "detail" of history. Le Pen senior, now 88, was subsequently forced out of National Front. In March, Benoît Loeuillet was suspended from the party after saying, "There were no mass deaths in the Nazi camps, as has been said." A month later, Marine Le Pen herself denied the French government’s involvement in deporting Jews, saying it was the responsibility of Nazi occupiers.