Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the far-right National Front party in France, was known for twisting and distorting historical reality. Some years ago, he airly dismissed the Holocaust as “a detail” in the annals of World War II. This cavalier comment showed Le Pen to be a fool, an antisemite or, perhaps more accurately, a foolish antisemite.
Le Pen’s successor, his daughter Marine, has now proven herself to be a chip off the old block. Although she has tried to distance herself from her father’s ugly legacy, she remains a Le Pen through and through.
In an incredible comment shockingly devoid of the truth, Le Pen claimed that the French government was not responsible for one of the most notorious actions against Jews in France during World War II. She was referring to the Vel d’Hiv roundup of 13,152 Jews by the French police in Paris on July 16 and 17 of 1942. Callously packed into the Velodrome d’Hiver cycling stadium like sardines in a tin, they were subsequently deported to Nazi extermination camps in Poland. The trains that transported them there belonged to the French railway company.
To this day, the Vel d’Hiv incident stands as a stunning example of French complicity in the Holocaust. Yet Le Pen has the gall to pretend that France had nothing to do with this crime against humanity.
“France wasn’t responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” she told the Le Figaro newspaper and the RTL television network in an interview a few days ago. “If there was responsibility, it is with those who were in power at the time, it is not with France. France has been mistreated, in people’s minds, for years.”
In a reference to the French government-in-exile in Britain, she added, “I consider that France and its republic were in London during the (German) occupation, and that the Vichy regime wasn’t France.”
What sheer, unadulterated nonsense.
The apple obviously doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Le Pen’s feeble attempt to delink the collaborationist Vichy French regime of Marshal Henri Philippe Petain from France itself is stupidity on a grand scale, an exercise in ignorance and futility. That it came on the eve of France’s presidential election on April 23 should cost her dearly.
Reputable historians ranging from Robert Paxton to Philippe Burrin have written exhaustively about this dark era in France’s history and have conclusively demonstrated that Vichy France was absolutely complicit in the mistreatment and persecution of Jews in France in the wake of Germany’s invasion and occupation in 1940.
The Vichy regime, enjoying widespread popularity, represented the will of many French people. Without the least German prodding, the Vichy bureaucracy, staffed by seasoned French civil servants, passed a series of antisemitic laws that demonized, marginalized and isolated Jews, particularly stateless foreign-born Jews. And Vichy, much to the satisfaction of Nazi Germany, took it upon itself to deport Jews. By war’s end, some 76,000 Jews had been murdered.
The Vel’ d’Hiv roundup was entirely a French operation. It was planned by Rene Bousquet, the secretary-general of the national police, and Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, who had replaced Xavier Vallat as the head of the French agency in charge of persecuting Jews. These war criminals, along with French officials like Jean Leguay, Bousquet’s deputy, and Jean François, the director of the general police, informed the Gestapo of their plans on July 4, 1942.
Absent the French police, the Germans probably would have been hard-pressed to deport Jews in France. For Le Pen, that’s an inconvenient fact.
Major French politicians, however, have had the courage of recognizing and facing up to their responsibilities.
On July 16, 1995, French President Jacques Chirac acknowledged, albeit belatedly, that France had played an integral role in the persecution of Jews.
As he said: “These black hours will stain our history forever and are an injury to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal madness of the occupant was assisted by the French, by the French state. Fifty-three years ago, 4,500 policemen and gendarmes, French, under the authority of their leaders, obeyed the demands of the Nazis … France, home of the Enlightenment and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, land of welcome and asylum, committed that day the irreparable. Breaking its word, it delivered those it protected to their executioners.”
In 2012, on the 70th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv roundup, President Francois Hollande also reflected on the tragedy. Declaring it had been a crime perpetrated “in France, by France,” he accused the police who had carried out the deportations of having committed offences against French values, principles and ideals.
Courageously and honestly, he and Chirac spoke to the unvarnished truth unflinchingly. By contrast, Le Pen lacks even the basic understanding, integrity, sensitivity or common sense to face the truth.
She surely must live in an alternative universe.