Standing at a site from which thousands of French Jews were sent to their deaths during the Holocaust, President Emmanuel Macron of France on Sunday deplored his nation’s wartime role in abetting murder and pledged to fight a renewed tide of anti-Semitism.
Joined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, as well as Holocaust survivors, the Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld and others, Mr. Macron took note of the 75th anniversary of a roundup of Jews at the Vel d’Hiv, a stadium on the outskirts of Paris.
“It was indeed France that organized” the roundup of 13,000 people at the stadium on July 16 and 17, 1942, he said. “Not a single German” was directly involved.
Some 77,000 French Jews died in Nazi concentration camps or extermination camps before the end of World War II, the vast majority of them at Auschwitz-Birkenau in occupied Poland.
Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story
For decades, many French have held on to the idea that their ancestors were either victims or resisters of Nazis, or of the collaborationist regime that was set up in Vichy, France.
President François Mitterrand, who worked as a low-level Vichy administrator before joining the Resistance, declared in 1992 that “the French state was the Vichy regime, it was not the Republic.” He argued, as his predecessors had, that the only legitimate representatives of France were in exile with Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who ran the wartime Resistance from London.
Ending decades of equivocation, President Jacques Chirac in 1995 formally admitted France’s collective responsibility for wartime crimes, declaring: “the criminal folly of the occupiers was seconded by the French, by the French state.”
But the issue has not gone away. In April, Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front leader whom Mr. Macron defeated in a May runoff election, declared that “France was not responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” denying French responsibility and setting off a furor.
Ms. Le Pen later said she considered the Vichy regime illegitimate, and believed that the legitimate power was with General de Gaulle.
Mr. Macron condemned that argument. “Admittedly Vichy was not all of the French,” he said, “but it was the government and the administration of France.”
Mr. Macron’s comments came during a period of resurgent anti-Semitism in France, fueled by both right-wing nationalism and radicalized Islam.
Mr. Macron recited the names of victims of anti-Semitic and other extremist violence. Among those he named were Ilan Halimi, a young man who was tortured and killed in 2006; four people killed in 2012 at a Jewish school in southwestern France; and four people slain at a kosher supermarket in Paris in 2015. He also called for an investigation into the death of Sarah Halimi, a 66-year-old woman who in April was thrown from the window of her Paris apartment, which some suspect an anti-Semitic motive.
In his remarks on Sunday, Mr. Macron went further than his predecessors in linking attacks on Jewish individuals with attacks against the Jewish state, calling anti-Zionism an updated version of anti-Semitism.
“We will yield nothing to the messages of hatred. We will yield nothing to anti-Zionism, because it is the reinvented form of anti-Semitism,” Mr. Macron said.
The French president called on Israel and the Palestinians to renew peace talks and warned that ongoing construction of Jewish settlements threatened the region’s chances for peace.
“I call for a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in the framework of the search for a solution of two states, Israel and Palestine, living in recognized, secure borders with Jerusalem as the capital,” Mr. Macron said.
At the event at the stadium, Holocaust survivors, there to share their stories, were met by activists, critical of Mr. Netanyahu and his government’s policies on settlement-building and on the blockade of Gaza.