(November 9, 2018 / JNS) After much backlash, especially from the Jewish community, French President Emmanuel Macron will not commemorate Marshal Philippe Pétain, who led Vichy France under Nazi occupation during World War II.
“We had announced that we would honor the marshals of the Great War. Some have deduced that Pétain was one of them; this is not the case. If there was confusion, it was because we were not clear enough on that point,” French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux announced in a Facebook post.
“In the words of the president, there was no question of a tribute, but of historical truth. Pétain served in 1914. He contributed to the victory of 1918,” said Griveaux. “But nothing will obscure or make us forget the Pétain who betrayed, collaborated, and infamously signed and implemented the decree on the status of the Jews.”
Seven French generals who headed military operations during World War I will be honored on Nov. 11, marking the centennial end of the war, which lasted from 1914 to 1918.
Jewish groups such as B’nai B’rith International applauded the reversal.
“We are gratified that France will not include Marshal Philippe Pétain, who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, in its Armistice commemoration this weekend,” said Charles Kaufman and Daniel Mariaschin, the organization’s president and CEO, respectively.
“For days, there seemed to be confusion within the French government about the status of an honor for Pétain,” they continued. “It is important that the choice was made not to recognize him as a war hero for his World War I service.”
They added, “While he was the prime minister of the collaborationist government Vichy France, Pétain’s government and police force deported more than 75,000 French Jews to concentration camps. More than 72,000 of them were killed.”
Macron previously said, “I consider it entirely legitimate that we pay homage to the marshals who led our army to victory. Marshal Pétain was a great soldier in World War I.”
Pétain was promoted to commander-in-chief of the French military in 1917 after winning at Verdun, enabling troop morale after a series of defeats.
However, leading the Vichy government, he collaborated with the Nazis in their mission to deport and annihilate the Jews.
Following the war, he was initially sentenced to death for treason, but President Charles de Gaulle commuted the sentence to life in prison, where Pétain died in 1951 at the age of 95.