PARIS (Jul. 14)
French President Francois Mitterrand, in his traditional Bastille Day interview, said those responsible for the deportation of Jews from France during World War II “have already been tried.”
Mitterrand told French television that despite the “inhumanity and the barbarism” of the treatment inflicted upon Jewish families during the war, “don’t ask this republic to account” for what was perpetrated by the wartime Vichy regime under Marshal Philippe Petain.
Mitterrand refused to publicly condemn the Vichy regime despite his having been asked to do so by 200 intellectuals, in an open letter last month.
The request follows a storm in the media and in frequent discussions here about the role of Vichy France. The heated debate followed a decision not to prosecute Paul Touvier, a former head of the Lyon collaborationist Militia responsible for the deaths of numerous Jewish hostages.
Regarding this, Mitterrand said that “judges’ decisions were not always perfect.” However, he said, “regarding the law, the republic did what it had to do.”
He said that as president, he could not comment on the decision not to try Touvier, but he made it clear that he hoped it would be reversed in the fall by the Supreme Court.
The current French government has its roots in the Resistance and the wartime government-in-exile of Gen. Charles de Gaulle, not Vichy, said Mitterrand, who was a member of the French Resistance.
In 1940, he said, the Vichy regime “was not the republic. We should bring that French state to account. I agree with that, of course,” he said.
“But the republic should not be held to account. It did its duty.”
Mitterrand said that “for nearly two centuries” the republic has “abided by the principle of equality and citizenship” for Jews.
France’s wartime amnesia and the responsibility of the Vichy regime in the Holocaust remains a highly controversial issue here just prior to the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the roundup of nearly 13,000 Jews in Paris by the French police.
Mitterrand is to lay a wreath, but not speak, at the memorial marking the location of the Velodrome d’Hiver, the cycling track where 13,152 Jews were herded July 16-17, 1942, before being sent to concentration camps in France.
All those rounded up were handed over to the Nazis and deported to the extermination camps in Eastern Europe.
Only a handful survived.