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Mitterrand Reconsiders Wreath for Tomb of Vichy Leader Petain

French President Francois Mitterrand appears to have had second thoughts about his having ordered a wreath laid at the grave of a leader of Vichy France.

In an interview with a Paris Jewish radio station, he said that in the future he would have to “deal differently” with the contradiction between Marshal Philippe Petain as a hero of World War I and Petain, the Vichy leader and “shame of World War II.”

Mitterrand’s gesture was loudly protested by Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld and about 40 members of the Union of French Jewish Students, who made the trip to the Vichy leader’s burial site to protest the French president’s gesture, made on the 74th anniversary of the armistice of World War I.

Klarsfeld, who is president of the Sons and Daughters of Jews Deported from France, said angrily, “We cannot understand how the president, who came this summer to pay his respects to the memory of those who were arrested and deported, can also lay a wreath on the tomb of their persecutor.”

In an interview to be broadcast Nov. 22 as he leaves for a state visit to Israel, Mitterrand responded to the criticism. But the French president insisted that present-day France could not be held responsible for the crimes of the Vichy regime toward the Jews.

That view was contradicted by a leader of his own Socialist Party.

Henri Emmanuelli, president of the National Assembly, said France should take as its model the actions of the late German leader Willy Brandt.

“I note that Germany didn’t say the Third Reich had nothing to do with the German Federal Republic. Willy Brandt asked for forgiveness. I think France should also ask for forgiveness, and settle this issue once and forever,” he said.

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