Macron decries anti-Semitism on 80th anniversary of WWII roundup of Jews

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French President Emmanuel Macron warned against anti-Semitism and historical revisionism on Sunday as he commemorated victims of the Holocaust on the 80th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv roundup of Jewish families. "Anti-Semitism is not over and we should say so," he said.

On July 16-17, 1942, close to 13,000 people were taken to the Winter Velodrome, the Vél d'Hiv, in Paris before being sent on to concentration camps across Europe.

4,115 were children.

It was the largest mass detention of Jewish people by French police in collaboration with the Nazi German occupiers.

Macron commemorated this dark chapter in French history, 80 years on, at the inauguration of a Holocaust memorial in the central town of Pithiviers, about 100 km south of Paris.

Pithiviers was the second largest transit camp and deportation point in France for Jews, after Drancy.

"We have not finished with anti-Semitism, it is still there — stronger and more rampant," said Macron.

He cited examples of anti-Semitism in acts of terrorism, in graffiti on walls, on social media and as something that crops up in debates on some TV channels.

Part of France's soul lost

Earlier, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, whose father was sent to Auschwitz, said that "France lost part of its soul" in Vél d'Hiv.

The mass roundup "went even further than the Nazi occupiers demanded" and "no state official was unaware" of it, she said.

She told the survivors at the event: “Your stories will never leave us. Your words are engraved on the spirits of the youth who hear those horrible testimonies."

Survivor Arlette Testyler said it was “painful” to speak at the event and shed tears as she shared her story of being arrested by French police with her mother and sister at the age of eight.

“We should forget nothing”, she said. “To remember is a duty and we owe that duty to history.”

New type of revisionism

In his speech, Macron warned against a "new type of revisionism" and reiterated the active role of France in targeting Jewish people during the occupation.

His comments come just a few months after failed far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour claimed that Marshal Pétain, head of the Vichy regime, had saved French Jews during the war years.

Most historians contest the claim, pointing to Pétain's well-documented anti-Semitism.

Macron was himself criticised for saying in 2018 that Pétain had been a "great soldier" during World War I, even if he had subsequently made "fatal choices".

In Chirac's footsteps

Macron's speech continued the work of former president Jacques Chirac who in 1995, 50 years after the Vel d'Hiv roundup, acknowledged France's responsibility for what had happened.

"France, on that day, committed the irreparable," said Chirac, in what is now considered a landmark speech.

After Chirac, François Hollande went further during his presidency. In 2012 he spoke of a crime "committed in France, by France".

Shortly after becoming president in 2017, Macron reaffirmed France's responsibility for the roundup in a speech marking its 75th anniversary in the presence of then Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Memorial to the Holocaust

The Shoah Memorial in Paris, which collects archives on France's Holocaust victims, has launched an appeal to reach the last witnesses and survivors of the Vel d'Hiv round-up.

Pithiviers station, which has not served passengers since the end of the 1960s, has been converted into a memorial to the Holocaust. It opened earlier this month.

"This station is a place of memory unique in France," said Jacques Fredj, the director of the Shoah Memorial.

The new 400 metre squared centre is aimed mainly for academic research, said Fredj.

"It's a priority, in the face of the rise in anti-semitism, racism and conspiracy theories."

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