Underestimating France Before Yom HaShoah

While the Middle East is a region in undeviating alteration, Europe has experienced this dynamic for millenniums. From the conquest of the Roman Empire to World War II to the recent Brexit Referendum, the European continent, and now their Union (EU), has much more geopolitical adjustment to embrace in the coming future. In the midst of the global reassessment of the Syrian Civil War as well as with heavy hearts we commemorate Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). Though, in the wake of international conflict and uncertainty, we thought that the news out of the current 2017 French elections would be one of Russian intervention, instead we wake up to outcries of Holocaust denial from the French alt-right.

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Albert Dreyfus was a French Jewish artillery officer whose 1894 conviction sent echoes Europe’s Jewish community

This day of commemoration seems to bring out the worst of our collective Jewish memory. Both Diaspora and Israeli Jewry know that the French Republic of today is not the France we once knew. In the late 1800s, many European Jews desired to live the enlightened dream of being a true Frenchman, until the Dreyfus Affair revealed and unraveled our thought acceptance out from under us. The trial of Alfred Dreyfus was a prime example of in-your-face anti-Semitism. While high-ranking French military officials were concealing the contradicting evidence, Dreyfus was scapegoated and accused of sharing French military secrets with the Germans. This resulted in a conviction of treason, exiling Dreyfus to Devil’s Island in French Guiana.

Witnessing the trial was Viennese journalist Theodore Herzl. Herzl had moved from his birth country of Austria to escape mass anti-Semitism. Herzl had previously been lured to France with the sweet aroma of tolerance, only then did he realize at Dreyfus’ trial that Europe was vacant of refuge for the Jewish people. “If France, the bastion of emancipation, progress and universal socialism, can get caught up in a maelstrom of anti-Semitism and let the Parisian crowd chant ‘Kill the Jews!’ Where can they be safe once again, if not in their own country? Assimilation does not solve the problem because the Gentile world will not allow it as the Dreyfus affair has so clearly demonstrated…” – Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), 1896

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Leader of the National Front Party Marine Le Pen

Today, Marine Le Pen and her National Front party have become the face of the French right. At a time of new vision in France, Le Pen has taken a stance against globalism but in this rallying cry, she has taken a stance against history. The content of her denial was the arrogant proclamation that the French authorities were not involved in an event on July 17, 1942 called Vel d’Hiv. The intent of the Nazis was to eliminate French Jewry overnight and transport them via trains to Auschwitz, like they had done in prior round-ups. At the Velodrome d’Hiver (Winter Velodrome), a Parisian indoor stadium, French police and other public officials relinquished the fate of 13,000 of French Jewry to the Nazis.

After the Allies had achieved victory in Europe, France was under reconstruction. With much influence from new premier Charles de Gaulle, who had been a French soldier in the First Great War, he then lead his people through a Nazi occupation in theSecond Great War. De Gaulle was able to give the French their country back as well as a guiding ideology; one that is neither on the right or the left. The new doctrine of France was built on a philosophy of emphasized sovereignty and unity.

In a time of campaigning, the National Front has encouraged French youth to be proud of their country and to give in to nationalism. Campaigning on nationalism in Europe does not have the greatest reputation, campaigning against facts is an utter blunder. Every nation has their flaws, denying them takes one farther away from redemption. Mirroring the Dreyfus Affair, the rounding-up of French Jewry at Vel d’Hiv, and the Syrian Civil War, there has been a great lack of outrage on Marine Le Pen’s faux pas.

For Yom HaShoah, we say “never again,” with Syria, Le Pen’s faux pas, and the lack of outrage at the faux pas, we are still failing to fulfill the decree. While White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is taking heat, France is not being held accountable.

About the Author
Since 1982, Jeff Seidel has introduced thousands of Jewish college students to their first Shabbat experience as well as offered free tours and classes through his Jewish Student Centers at Hebrew U in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, and IDC in Herzliya. He has lived in Jerusalem’s Old City for over thirty years and connected tens of thousands to the Land of Israel. He has also authored “The Jewish Traveler's Resource Guide,” which lists Shabbat placement programs around the world.
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