Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, said Sunday that she believes that France was "not responsible" for the arrest of Parisian Jews and for their deportation to the death camps.
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Thirteen thousand Jews, including 4,000 children, were arrested by French police in July 1942, in Paris and its outskirts. They were crowded into the Velodrome d’Hiver arena in what was termed the Vel d’Hiv roundup, before being sent to the death camps. Fewer than one hundred returned.
The Jews were held under terrible conditions. Some were later sent to concentration camps south of Paris. At the end of July and in early August the adults were sent to Auschwitz and murdered there, after being separated from their children. Over 3,000 children remained in the camps on their own. They too were later deported and murdered.
Yad Vashem notes that most policemen and administrative staff cooperated with the regime in carrying out the arrests. The operations were organized by French authorities and carried out by French policemen. There are documents showing the preparations made for this operation, including coordination with SS representatives.
Le Pen explained in a radio interview that she was fed up with the constant criticism of France from within the country. “Our children are taught that there are many reasons to criticize France, seeing only its darker sides. If there is anyone responsible for the Vel’ d’Hiv arrests it was the people in power at the time, not France itself.”
Le Pen thereby lined up with claims made by her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front. He argued that France’s admission of responsibility for the deportation of Jews was a “chase after Jewish votes, based on a pack of lies.” He argued that the arrests and deportation were not done at the instigation of France, a claim which is refuted by multiple studies.
France’s position, from President De Gaulle’s rule up to President Mitterrand’s, was that the Vichy government bore the responsibility for the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup and that the “real France” was in London at the time. President Jacques Chirac abandoned the national hypocrisy when he declared in 1995 that “on that day the France of light and justice, of human rights and a refuge for all, did the unthinkable.” Subsequent presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande embraced his approach. In every Paris school in which Jewish children were arrested there is now a plaque noting France’s responsibility for their death.
Up to now Marine Le Pen has tried to distance herself from her father’s anti-Semitic positions, which border on Holocaust denial. In the past she even stated that the Holocaust of the Jews was the “pinnacle of human barbarity.” However, her movement still harbors internal debates around the Jewish question, and her declaration on Sunday apparently came in order to dispel any lack of clarity and to take a clear stand.