Mitterrand Denounces Vichy Regime in Statement Long Awaited by Jews

In a statement long called for by French Jews and World War II Resistance fighters, French President Francois Mitterrand has denounced the “extermination of the Jews of France during the Vichy regime,” saying that “justice starts with remembrance against the forces of forgetfulness.”

Mitterrand, who had been sharply chided for refusing to say modern-day France should apologize for the evils of the wartime Vichy regime, made his remarks in a statement. It was read at a ceremony commemorating the deportation to Auschwitz of 44 Jewish children and seven adults from the village of Izieu.

“The children of Izieu are the very symbol of innocence assassinated, the very symbol of all the Jews of France who were exterminated under the Vichy regime,” Mitterrand said. “The pain of the Jewish community is shared by the republic.”

Some 250 people, mainly Jewish activists led by French Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld, gathered Sunday in the southeastern French village to commemorate the deportations, which actually took place April 6, 1944.

Klarsfeld, whose father died in Auschwitz, wrote a book, “The Children of Izieu: A Jewish Tragedy,” published in 1984, which tells the story of the children and how they had come there. The book contains photographs, letters and accounts of everyday life in the home.

The children were deported first to the French internment camp at Drancy and from there to Auschwitz.

The book was used as testimony in the war crimes trial of Klaus Barbie.

In his statement, Mitterrand said that Sunday’s commemoration “bears witness” and “recalls where is crime and where virtue.”

The president then committed himself to seeing to it that the house in Izieu would be turned into a museum, to be opened next year.

Jewish officials here expressed satisfaction with the president’s remarks.

But some voiced criticism that the highest French authority did not state that the first duty of justice is to judge those responsible for the deportation of the Jews.

Rene Bousquet and Maurice Papon, two high-ranking French officials of the Vichy regime, remain indicted but not tried for crimes against humanity. There are no signs that the two men, both 80, will be tried in the near future.

Information leaked to the media a year ago indicated that close advisers of Mitterrand — some say Mitterrand himself — are opposed to those trials because they could prove “harmful to the peace.”

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