A dedication ceremony here Thursday for a new research center on the French Resistance Movement was disrupted by an outburst from a supporter of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s extremist National Front.
Portuguese President Mario Soares and Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel, the event’s keynote speaker, were among those in the hall when Bruno Gollnisch, a National Front member of the European Parliament, shouted that the speaker, Lyon Mayor Michel Noir, was maligning his party.
“You can’t use this rostrum to smear the National Front. This is not a propaganda meeting,” Gollnisch called out before being punched in the head by a reporter for a French-Jewish radio station.
The audience, composed largely of former Resistance fighters and Holocaust survivors, shouted “Out, get out.” An elderly man also got to Gollnisch and slapped him in the face. Police intervened to restore calm.
Gollnisch is understood to have entered the hall with the help of a National Front sympathizer among the Resistance members.
His accusation against the mayor follows the filing, by Le Pen himself, of a libel suit against a Jewish leader for tying him to racial violence.
Gollnisch’s interruption came as Noir, choking with tears, was speaking about his father, a Resistance member deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp. The mayor had expressed revulsion at attempts to rewrite the history of that period.
He also criticized his own friends for hesitating in condemning National Front.
Noir resumed his talk after the interruption, saying the new center would enable “the children of our children to hear the voices” of those unable to speak.
The Center for the History of Resistance and Deportation is housed in a former medical school used during the war by the Gestapo to jail and torture members of the Resistance.
The first of its kind in France, it houses a collection of over 5,000 volumes and journals and a film collection, mostly videotaped accounts of resistance members and deportees.
In a brief address, Wiesel, a survivor of two concentration camps whose own family was almost completely wiped out, said the Western world was witnessing a revival of racism, anti-Semitism and hatred.
“It is possible to resist the evil,” Wiesel maintained. “It is possible to defeat it, for mankind, for God.”
A 34-year-old French Jewish historian heads the center, established by the municipality of Lyon at a cost of $7 million. Its annual upkeep of $300,000 will also be covered by the city.
Sabine Zeitoun is the author of two books on the rescue of Jewish children during the Nazi occupation. She has also researched the role of the Christian community in saving Jewish children during World War II.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders were among those taking part in a two-day conference sponsored by the municipality on the occasion of the center’s opening.
Reserve Gen. Haim Bar-Lev of Israel, Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij and Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini were on a roster of speakers that also included Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress; Shimon Samuels of the European office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; historian Michael Marrus of the University of Toronto; French Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld; and Wiesel.