French Jews have reacted in horror at reports President Emmanuel Macron will honor Marshal Philippe Pétain, the disgraced Nazi collaborator who authorised the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews to death camps.
Marshal Petain’s name appears alongside seven other military chiefs to be honored Saturday in a ceremony at the Invalides monument, site of Napoleon’s tomb, to mark the centenary of the end of World War 1.
Petain led the French army to victory in Verdun in 1916, but gained lasting infamy and a conviction for treason for his leadership of Nazi-sanctioned Vichy France during World War II.
In 1940, with France under attack from Germany, Pétain was appointed vice-premier. He later asked for an armistice, upon which he was appointed “chief of state”, enjoying almost absolute powers.
The armistice gave the Germans control over the north and west of France, including Paris, but left the remainder as a separate regime under Pétain.
Officially neutral, in practice the regime collaborated closely with Germany, and brought in its own anti-Semitic legislation.
Touring battlefields ahead of a formal commemoration of the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice that ended the war, Macron said Petain was still worthy of the honor for his leading role in the World War I victory despite his later record.
“Marshal Petain was also a great soldier during World War I” even though he made “fatal choices during the Second World War,” Macron said in the northern town of Charleville-Mezieres.
“I consider it entirely legitimate that we pay homage to the marshals who led our army to victory,” Mr Macron continued.
France’s leading Jewish organisation, Crif, responded immediately, telling the Associated Press it was “shocked” at the decision.
Crif leader Francis Kalifat said, “the only thing we remember about Philippe Petain is that he was, in the name of the French people, held in national disgrace during his trial in July 1945.
“I am shocked that we can honour a man who, it must be remembered, was himself responsible for the deportation of Jews from France, including the Vel’ d’Hiv raid .”
France’s participation and responsibility in the Holocaust has long been a sensitive issue in France and was only officially recognised in 1995 by then president Jacques Chirac.
In 1995 he admitted that Petain’s Vichy puppet government was the French state. Chirac spoke at the Vel’ d’Hiv cycling stadium in Paris, known for a 1942 roundup of French Jews that saw 13,000 people deported to Nazi concentration camps, a third of them children.
Fewer than 100 were to survive the war.