Macron restates France’s responsibility for WWII roundup of Jews
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French President Emmanuel Macron underscored France’s responsibility for the World War II deportation of Jews on Sunday while marking the 75th anniversary of the detention of more than 13,000 people at the Vélodrome d'Hiver (Vél d’Hiv) in Paris.
“France organised it,” Macron said, adding that “not a single German” took part in orchestrating the notorious roundup of some 13,000 Jews at the Vél d’Hiv and Drancy internment camps in Paris from July 16-17, 1942. Those interned were then deported to Nazi concentration camps; fewer than 100 survived.
“It’s very convenient to regard the Vichy regime (France’s WWII-era government) as a monster that just sprung out of nowhere […] but this is false,” Macron said at a commemoration ceremony on Sunday.
“I reject the notions of those who claim that Vichy was not France,” he continued. “Vichy was not all the French. But it was the government and administration of France.”
Macron’s comments stand in stark contrast to those of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who recently stated that the wartime Vichy regime was to blame for the tragedy, not France or the French themselves.
France’s participation and responsibility in the Holocaust is a sensitive issue in France and was only officially recognised in 1995 by then president Jacques Chirac.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also present for the ceremony, hailing the "special heroism" of the French resistance and praising the "noble French citizens who at great risk to their own lives" saved thousands more Jews from perishing in the death camps where at least 6 million died between 1941 and 1945.
"For the sacred honour of those who perished ... let us remember the past, let us secure tomorrow," he said.
"The strength of Israel is that it is the one certain guarantee that the Jewish people will never undergo a Holocaust again."
Netanyahu's presence at the event caused some controversy in France, with the Union of French Jews for Peace calling his presence "shocking" and "unacceptable". Former French ambassador to Israel Elie Barnavi told AFP that Netanyahu's visit made him "a little uneasy", adding: "This story has nothing to do with Israel."
French Holocaust survivors, of which only a handful are still alive today, also spoke at the ceremony.
Rachel Jedinak gave an emotional account of that fateful day in July in 1942 when she and her sister would see their mother for the very last time, after police rounded them up in Paris’s 20th arrondissement (district).
“I was eight,” she recalled. “There were many of us. We were standing up, pressed against each other with bundles of our belongings lying by our feet. The heat was stifling.”
“My mother only had one thing on her mind: To get us out of there. She ordered us to flee and join our grandparents. She told us to run into the streets and hide in the crowds.”
Jedinak, who was only 8 years old at the time, recalled how she had refused to leave her mother’s side, crying and clutching her mother’s dress so she would not be separated from her.
“So she slapped me in the face to force me to take action. It was the first slap of my life and it was difficult to accept, because at the time I didn’t understand that it was an act of love.”
Jedinak and her sister managed to escape, but their mother did not.
“My mother spent thirteen days in the Drancy camp [in Paris] before departing toward her death on July 29, 1942, in train car number 12,” Jedinak said.