Macron’s mes­sage: Never again

In a bat­tle with the far right, cen­trist can­di­date re­minds vot­ers of French col­lab­o­ra­tion with Nazis

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - AN­GELA CHARL­TON

Amid wor­ries about ris­ing na­tion­al­ism, French pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Em­manuel Macron paid homage Sun­day to the tens of thou­sands of French Jews killed in the Holo­caust, with a som­bre, sim­ple mes­sage to vot­ers: Never again.

Chants of “Macron, Pres­i­dent!” mixed with tears of sor­row­ful re­mem­brance as he vis­ited the Holo­caust Memo­rial in Paris, walk­ing past pan­els bear­ing the names of those de­ported to death in Nazi camps, while Holo­caust sur­vivors and chil­dren of its vic­tims watched.

It was the sec­ond time in three days that Macron vis­ited a site tied to France’s wartime his­tory, as he seeks to re­mind vot­ers of the shame of France’s Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tion — and es­pe­cially of the anti-Semitic past of his ri­val Marine Le Pen’s far­right Na­tional Front party. They face a pres­i­den­tial run-off May 7.

Le Pen, who has worked for years to detox­ify her party’s image, laid a wreath at a memo­rial to France’s de­ported Jews in Mar­seille Sun­day, a na­tional day of re­mem­brance.

Yet the ges­ture can’t undo decades of anti-Semitism that poi­son her party. Her fa­ther was con­victed of de­scrib­ing the gas cham­bers as a “de­tail” of his­tory, and her tem­po­rary party leader was re­moved last week for sim­i­lar com­ments.

Af­ter vis­it­ing the Holo­caust Memo­rial and a wall hon­our­ing French peo­ple who pro­tected Jews dur­ing the Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion, Macron said: “We have a duty to­day to their mem­ory.” The 39-year-old for­mer econ­omy min­is­ter lamented a “moral weak­en­ing that could tempt some peo­ple to say all things are rel­a­tive. That could tempt oth­ers to negate the Holo­caust — a po­si­tion some peo­ple find refuge in be­cause what hap­pened is un­for­get­table and un­for­giv­able, and should never hap­pen again.”

Michel Pf­ef­fer, 74, is not a fan of Macron, but is de­ter­mined to vote for him next Sun­day for one rea­son: The names of his fa­ther and his grand­fa­ther are on the wall of the Holo­caust Memo­rial, two of the 76,000 French Jews de­ported to die. “I have al­ways voted con­ser­va­tive, and it will be dif­fi­cult to be­tray my po­lit­i­cal con­vic­tions, but I have no other choice,” said his wife Mireille.

While anti-Semitism has al­ways per­co­lated un­der the sur­face in France, they feel a grow­ing ac­cep­tance of it in re­cent years.

Re­spond­ing to crit­i­cism from Le Pen that Macron is us­ing mem­o­ries of the Holo­caust for po­lit­i­cal gain, Macron grew heated.

“Does she want us to no longer com­mem­o­rate?” he asked, pledg­ing to “proudly res­o­lutely de­fend what we are, our his­tory, the mem­ory of those who per­ished.”

France’s wartime col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nazis still casts a shadow of shame seven decades later. There was no na­tional atone­ment, and fam­i­lies across France have trou­bling sto­ries of col­lab­o­ra­tion that have been hid­den from their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

It wasn’t un­til 1995 that thenpres­i­dent Jac­ques Chirac ac­knowl­edged the French state’s role in the Holo­caust for the first time. De­spite Chirac’s ges­ture, many French prefer to see the Vichy regime that gov­erned wartime France as a his­tor­i­cal anom­aly. Le Pen voiced that po­si­tion re­cently, deny­ing that the French state was re­spon­si­ble for Nazi-era roundups of Jews.

PHILIPPE WOJAZER, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In­de­pen­dent cen­trist pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Em­manuel Macron looks at some of the 2,500 pho­to­graphs of young Jews de­ported from France.

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