PARIS (Jul. 26)
The 41st anniversary of the death of Marshall Philippe Petain was commemorated last week by a group of some 50 people on the Atlantic island of Yeu, off the French coast of Vendee.
The event provoked protests from those who recalled the anti-Semitic crimes of the Vichy regime that he headed during World War II.
Petain had been exiled to a small jail on Yeu after the death penalty imposed on him following the war was commuted to a life term.
The commemoration attracted more reporters than supporters of the man who led France into collaboration with the Nazis.
The group solemnly marched through the main street of Yeu before hearing a mass in memory of Petain. Afterwards, they walked to the cemetery to lay a wreath on Petain’s grave and then visited the cell where he spent the final years of his life.
The marchers belonged mainly to the Association for the Defense of Marshall Petain’s Memory, a group supportive of Petain’s policies, including his anti-Semitic laws.
Former French President Charles De Gaulle decided to honor Petain’s memory, and on Nov. 11, 1968, he sent a wreath to Yeu to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War I. All of De Gaulle’s successors — including current French President Francois Mitterrand — have done the same on various occasions.
These gestures have been strongly criticized by many French intellectuals, who have been infuriated by Mitterrand’s steadfast refusal to condemn openly the crimes of the Vichy regime, especially the part France took in the Final Solution.
French lawyer and Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld stated that a close adviser to the French president assured him that Mitterrand would stop sending flowers to Petain’s grave.
Mitterrand’s entourage was embarrassed by the subject and refused to confirm this information.
Klarsfeld said it was an “aberration” to lay wreaths on Petain’s tomb to honor the hero of World War I and at the same time to dissociate oneself from the Vichy regime. “I don’t see how one can one day mourn the victims of Dr. Jekyll and the next day honor the memory of Mr. Hyde. They were, after all, the same person,” said Klarsfeld.
French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, a close friend of Mitterrand, commented last week about the responsibility of Vichy in the Final Solution, “Let’s avoid (inflicting) new wounds to the nation.”
Asked about the campaign requesting Mitterrand to acknowledge the crimes of Vichy, Dumas called it “an operation of dirty politics” against Mitterrand.