According to an Italian author and his supporters, there is compelling evidence that the literary giant and defender of the working class might have been killed by the Soviets.
Albert Camus, an influential French author of a number of wildly successful books, including The Myth of Sisyphus, might have been murdered by the former Soviet Union’s intelligence service, the KGB, according to a newly released book.
Giovanni Catelli, an Italian author and poet, has penned the book, The Death of Camus, in which he argues that Camus, an anti-Soviet leftist intellectual, was assassinated by the KGB under orders from the country’s interior minister Dmitri Shepilov.
Officially, 46-year-old Camus died in a car accident near Sens, in Le Grand Fossard, in the small town of Villeblevin. He was making his way to Paris on January 4, 1960, after returning from a vacation along with his publisher, who died from his injuries days later. The publisher’s wife and daughter survived the crash.
Just three years before his death he was awarded the Nobel prize.
For a long time, the crash had been regarded as a regular accident, but Catelli says that he has evidence that it was set up by the KGB in collaboration with French intelligence.
Catelli’s theory appears to mainly rely on the account of Jan Zabrana, a Czech poet and translator, who wrote in his diaries in 1980 that “a knowledgeable and well-connected man” claimed that the accident was staged.
“They rigged the tyre with a tool that eventually pierced it when the car was travelling at high speed,” Zabrana wrote, quoting the anonymous source.
Zabrana claimed that three years after Camus wrote an article for Franc-tireur against the Soviets, condemning their Hungarian invasion as the Shepilov Massacres of 1956, the former interior minister ordered the KGB to carry out the assassination.
“It seems it took the intelligence three years to carry out the order. They managed eventually and in such a way that, until today, everyone thought Camus had died because of an ordinary car crash. The man refused to tell me his source but he claimed it was completely reliable,” Zabrana wrote.
Catelli first raised the claim in 2011 in an article for Corriere della Sera, Italy’s most read newspaper and one of its oldest media outlets.
Since then, the Italian author has investigated the literary giant’s death, culminating in the recently released book.
A fierce debate
Herbert Lottman, one of Camus’ biographers, also raised suspicions over the death in his 1978 biography of Camus.
“The accident seemed to have been caused by a blowout or a broken axle; experts were puzzled by its happening on a long stretch of straight road, a road 30 feet wide, and with little traffic at the time,” Lottman wrote.
But other researchers and biographers dismissed Catelli’s claim as a baseless theory.
“While I wouldn’t put it past the KGB to do such a thing, I don’t believe the story is true,” Olivier Todd, another biographer of Camus, told the Guardian in 2011.
On the day of the crash, Camus was not planning to ride with his publisher Michel Gallimard and, a train ticket was found in his pocket. As a result, opponents of the murder theory think that the alleged conspirators could not have calculated the spontaneous journey.
One of Camus’ daughters, Catherine, does not support the murder theory.
But Catelli maintains that another Italian, barrister Giuliano Spazzali, backs his theory, referring to Jacques Verges, a highly controversial French writer and lawyer, who was well-known for his defence of war criminals and terrorists.
“I remember how Verges was certain that the staged accident was schemed by a KGB section with the endorsement of the French intelligence,” Spazzali told Catelli, referring to a conversation between him and Verges.
Another backer of the theory is Paul Auster, an American filmmaker and writer, who wrote the foreword for Catelli’s book.
Some of those opposed to the murder theory think those who allege that Camus was murdered, are agenda-driven.
“Supporters of the assassination theory include a creative writer and film director [Paul Auster]; a Czech writer and translator [Zabrana], whose family were persecuted by the communist regime and who had good reason to hate communism; the highly controversial lawyer Jacques Verges, who, to be sure, defended Algerian independence fighters tortured by the French but who became infamous for defending the indefensible,” says Alison Finch, a French literature professor at Cambridge University.
Finch also finds the French connection to Camus' death “implausible”, thinking that the country’s legendary leader Charles De Gaulle, an intellectual figure himself, who was leading the country at the time of death, would not approve of or allow such a collaboration.
Camus was born in Algeria, a colony of France at the time, and grew up in a working-class family under difficult conditions, eventually becoming a defender of the downtrodden, even against the Soviet Union, an officially Marxist-Leninist state.
Camus developed a new philosophy called absurdism, which seeks to find meaning in a chaotic universe.
Ironically, his death has been regarded as ‘absurd’ by many commentators.
Camus reportedly said: “To die in a car crash was the height of the Absurd.”