French Jewish leaders say they have been left “shocked and appalled” after President Emmanuel Macron of France praised a Nazi collaborator, as the country marks 100 years since the end of the First World War.
Macron hailed France’s WWI hero Marshall Phillippe Pétain as a “great soldier,” despite Pétain having later led the collaborationist Vichy government during the Second World War, which oversaw the deportation of thousands of French Jews to death camps.
“I am appalled that such a man could be honoured,” said Francis Kalifat, president of the Jewish umbrella group CRIF. “This is the man responsible for the deportation of French Jews, notably at the Vel d’Hiv [stadium] in July 1942.”
Macron acknowledged Pétain made “disastrous choices” during WWII, but said “it is right that we honour the marshals who led France to victory (in WW1)”. He later said: “I’m not forgiving anything, but I’m not going to erase anything from our history,” adding that Pétain was “complicit in grave crimes”.
Pétain led the French to victory during the nine-month long Battle of Verdun in 1916, which marked a turning point in the war, restoring French morale.
In 1940, with France about to fall to Nazi Germany, he made peace with Hitler and moved the government to the spa town of Vichy. After the war, he was convicted of treason and sentenced to death, but due to his old age (89) the sentence was commuted.
He died in prison in 1951, but before that, British Royals – including Queen Mary and the Duke of Windsor (who abdicated as monarch in 1936) appealed to President De Gaulle for his release, without success.
Kalifat said: “The only thing we will remember about Pétain is that he was convicted, in the name of the French people, of national indignity during his trial in 1945.”