Macron stirs anger with WW1 trib­ute to Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tor Pé­tain

Cyprus Today - - WORLD -

PRES­I­DENT Em­manuel Macron said on Wed­nes­day it was “le­git­i­mate” to pay trib­ute to Mar­shal Philippe Pé­tain, who led the French army to vic­tory in World War One’s Bat­tle of Ver­dun but decades later col­lab­o­rated with Nazi Ger­many dur­ing World War Two.

Mr Macron’s plan to hon­our Pé­tain along­side seven other French mar­shals who di­rected mil­i­tary cam­paigns dur­ing World War One, which ended 100 years ago on Novem­ber 11, has un­leashed crit­i­cism from Jew­ish groups, po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents and on so­cial me­dia.

“I con­sider it en­tirely le­git­i­mate that we pay homage to the mar­shals who led our army to vic­tory,” Mr Macron said in the eastern town of Charleville-Mez­ières that once lay on the front line be­tween French and Ger­man troops.

“Mar­shal Pé­tain was a great sol­dier in World War One.”

Mr Macron’s of­fice ap­peared to back­track later on Wed­nes­day. “Pé­tain won’t be hon­oured,” an Elysée of­fi­cial said, adding that only the five mar­shals who were buried at the In­valides mon­u­ment in Paris would re­ceive an of­fi­cial trib­ute.

Mr Macron him­self later told re­porters his in­ten­tion was not to ex­cuse the crimes com­mit­ted by Pé­tain dur­ing World War Two but to en­sure French his­tory was ac­cu­rately re­mem­bered.

“I don’t for­give any­thing but I don’t erase any­thing from our his­tory,” he said. “I will al­ways fight against anti-Semitism.”

Renowned as a “sol­dier’s sol­dier”, Pé­tain was pro­moted to com­man­der-in-chief of the French armies in mid-1917, af­ter vic­tory at Ver­dun, re­build­ing troop morale af­ter a se­ries of mu­tinies and other set­backs.

Ver­dun was the long­est bat­tle of World War One, killing more than 300,000 French and Ger­man sol­diers dur­ing 10 months of trench bat­tles. Pé­tain emerged from the Great War as a na­tional hero with streets in towns and cities across France named af­ter him.

Two decades later, with France poised to fall to Nazi Ger­man forces in World War Two, Pé­tain was ap­pointed prime min­is­ter of France. His ad­min­is­tra­tion, based in the un­oc­cu­pied part of the coun­try known as Vichy France, col­lab­o­rated with Nazi Ger­many and its de­por­ta­tion and ex­ter­mi­na­tion of the Jews.

Af­ter the war, Pé­tain was sen­tenced to death for trea­son, though then-Pres­i­dent Gen­eral Charles de Gaulle, a long­time ad­mirer of Pé­tain’s mil­i­tary feats of arms, re­duced the pun­ish­ment to life in prison.

Pé­tain died in prison in 1951 aged 95.

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