Paris, July 16, BNS–French president Emmanuel Macron Sunday condemned his country’s collaboration with the Nazis in the Holocaust and criticized those who seek to reduce France’s role in sending tens of thousands of Jews to their deaths.
French Jewish leaders delivered speeches during an emotional event at the Velodrome d’Hiver indoor bicycle racing cycle track and stadium where 75 years ago, on July 16 and 17, 1942, Vichy police imprisoned about 13,000 Jews. Less than 100 of them survived being sent to Nazi death camps.
At the 75th anniversary ceremony president Macron affirmed “it was France who organized this.” The president noted not a single German had participated in the mass arrest, it was carried out by French police collaborators with the Nazis.
Macron rejected arguments from the French extreme right claiming Vichy collaborators hadn’t acted in the name of the French state and called such claims “comforting, but incorrect.”
At the event attended by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Macron pledged to fight continuing anti-Semitism. He called for an exhaustive investigation of a Paris women recently murdered and thought to be the victim of anti-Semites.
Netanyahu praised the “extraordinary heroism” displayed by the French resistance and “noble citizens of France who at extraordinary risk to their own lives” rescued thousands of Jews from murder at the death camps where approximately 6 millions Jews were killed between 1941 and 1945.
He said their sacred memory and honor compels the current generation to remember the past and safeguard the future. He said the existence of Israel was a guarantee the Holocaust would never again happen to the Jews.
Netanyahu’s presence at the ceremony wasn’t without controversy. The Union of French Jews for Peace (UJFP) called the decision to invite Netanyahu shocking and unacceptable. The UJPF accuses the Israeli government of “usurping the commemoration of the victims of the Nazis” in order to force “people to think Israel represents all the Jews of the world.”
The French Communist Party also protested and issued a statement saying Netanyahu wasn’t bringing tidings of peace.
Former French ambassador to Israel Elie Barnavi also criticized Netanyahu’s attendance, telling AFP: “Netanyahu’s presence here makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.” Barnavi is now a member of the Peace Now NGO promoting a two-state solution. “This history has nothing to do with Israel,” he commented.
Sunday’s event marks the day in 1942 when Vichy regime officials began sending more than 13,000 Jews in Nazi-occupied France into the closed Velodrome d’Hiver arena.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the first Israeli prime minister to participate in the ceremony, called his invitation “a very, very strong gesture” demonstrating long-standing French-Israeli friendship.
Macron is the fourth French president to acknowledge France’s role in the deportation of more than 75,000 Jews. Jacque Chirac as the first in 1995.
“Time is doing its work,” Macron said, speaking about the darkest chapter in French history during the war. “The archives are opening and the truth is becoming clear. It is clear and undeniable. It adheres to all of us.”
Pointedly intending the remarks for right-wing leader Marine Le Pen, Macron condemned “politicians prepared to overturn the truth.” Le Pen said during the recent election campaign today’s France has nothing to answer for the actions of the French Vichy regime. Macron addressed Netanyahu by his nickname, saying “dear Bibi,” and called anti-Zionism a new form of anti-Semitism.