Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval—who led the Vichy government during the Nazi occupation of France, and under whom 75,000 French Jews were deported to concentration camps—were convicted of treason after the war and sentenced to death. Some 80 years later, New York still has not gotten that memo.
Granite inscriptions bear both men’s names on Broadway in Manhattan, in the so-called Canyon of Heroes, the site of ticker-tape parades in which confetti rained down upon honorees. Parades hosted both Laval and Pétain in 1931, prior to their alignment with the Nazis, and they are honored on the pavement along with Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and others.
At a press conference on Friday, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine called for being better late than never.
“We must act swiftly to remove commemorations of people who allied with the Third Reich and perpetuated genocide against Jews and other marginalized groups in Europe,” he said, alongside members of the city council’s Jewish Caucus, descendants of Holocaust survivors and Jewish advocates.
“In a city home to more than 1 million Jews–many of whose ancestors fled countries ruled by Nazi collaborators–it is painful and shameful for these plaques to exist,” Levine said. His announcement came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Levine and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York penned a joint letter to the city’s public design commission in which they called for the immediate removal of the offensive sidewalk plaques.
Naming the two French Nazi collaborators on Manhattan sidewalks honors those who committed unspeakable horrors, said Eric Dinowitz, chair of the council’s Jewish Caucus. “The Holocaust remains one of the darkest periods in history. We must not honor those who enabled and participated in that atrocity.
“New Yorkers must lead by example, and that means reserving honorifics for true heroes,” Dinowitz added. “Survivors and their families and every decent person deserve dignity and the safety in knowing New York will no longer honor Nazi sympathizers by keeping them emblazoned on the streets of our city.”
Menachem Rosensaft, general counsel and associate executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress, has led efforts to remove the plaques. He attended the event.
“We cannot allow the memory of the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during World War II to be tarnished by the glorification of those who were responsible for such heinous acts,” Rosensaft said. “The plaques honoring them have no place in our city, and we will do everything in our power to have them removed from the Canyon of Heroes.”
The least New York can do to honor and remember victims of the Holocaust is to ensure that the city does not glorify any perpetrator of evil, Rosensaft added.
Alison Comite, a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, was also present at the press conference. She is “extremely dismayed by the very idea that these convicted war criminals continue to be honored in New York City,” she said.
Gideon Taylor, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council-NY (JCRC-NY), said the removal of the plaques would have a twofold impact. It would both honor Holocaust survivors, and it “would be a teaching moment for our youth, as part of our common struggle to combat hate in New York City,” he said.