Le Pen denial over Holocaust round-up is ‘insult to France’

Jewish leaders express revulsion over comments by the far-right presidential candidate


The French far-right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, has denied France’s role in the round-up and transportation of French Jews to death camps during the Second World War.

Speaking to the LCI French television network, Ms Le Pen said: “I don’t think France is responsible for vel d’hiver… I think that, generally speaking, if there are people responsible, it’s those who were in power at the time. It’s not France.”

In July 1942 over 8,000 Jews in Paris were confined in the velodrome d’hiver, a cycling velodrome and stadium. They were deprived of food, water and sanitary facilities, and, together with 4,000 other Jews across France, were subsequently transported across Europe to Auschwitz, where they were gassed.

The complicity of the French police in the round-up is well documented.

Crif, the representative council of Jewish institutions in France, condemned Ms Le Pen’s comments, describing them as “an insult to France, which honoured itself in 1995 by recognising its responsibility in the deportation of France’s Jews and facing its history without a selective memory.”

In 1995, Jacques Chirac, then the French President, publicly apologised for France’s role in the round-up. Just a year beforehand, his predecessor, Francois Mitterand, refused to do so, saying “the republic had nothing to do with that. France is not responsible.”

“The vel d’hiv roundup was organized by René Bousquet, secretary-general of the Vichy police, by 4,500 French police and gendarmes who arrested more than 13,000 Jews, including 4,000 children, in Paris and in the regions around Paris on 16 and 17 July 1942,” Crif’s statement continued.

A spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry described Ms Le Pen's words "contradicting the historical truth, as expressed in statements by French presidents who recognized the country’s responsibility for the fate of the French Jews who perished in the Holocaust."

Professor James Shields, professor of French politics and modern history at Aston University, told the JC that Ms Le Pen's comments were so provocative "because of the extreme sensitivity that persists in France over the collaboration with Nazi Germany, the darkest chapter in modern French history and one with which France has never fully come to terms.

"The Vichy regime is terrain onto which politicians even today stray at their peril", he continued, saying that while such comments "may play to part of the FN’s base, it will surely not help Le Pen extend her electoral appeal among the wider French public in the way she would need to in order to have any prospect of election to the presidency".

Speaking in the wake of Ms Le Pen’s comments, Emmanuel Macron, a rival Presidential candidate, said: “Some had forgotten that Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen.”

Mr Le Pen, who founded the far-right Front National, has a history of controversial comments regarding the Holocaust, most famously describing it as “just a detail in the history of World War Two”.

Ms Le Pen later attempted to clarify her comments, saying that in her opinion, the Vichy French government which collaborated with the Nazis was “not France”, and that “this does not at all exonerate the actual personal responsibility of those French who took part in the vile vel d’hiver round-up and all the atrocities committed in that period.”

However, in her earlier comments, Ms Le Pen had also said that France had “taught our children that they have all the reasons to criticise (their country), and to only see the darkest aspects of our history”, and that she wanted such children “to be proud of being French again.”

“Crif considers that by its remarks, Marine Le Pen demonstrates to those who doubted that it inscribes the National Front outside the field of the Republic,” the statement by the Jewish organisation said.

“Crif recalls the continued presence alongside Marine Le Pen of neo-Nazi personalities like Frédéric Chatillon… and invites the French to block the National Front on April 23 and May 7".

Sacha Gozlan, the President of the French Union of Jewish students, called Ms Le Pen’s comments “revisionist”.

“The France of the founders of the National Front was not in London”, he said, in reference to Ms Le Pen’s later claims. “It was the collaboration in Vichy”


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