(JTA) — French left-wing leader Jean-Luc Melenchon slammed the country’s new president for saying that the French government was responsible for the deportation and death of French Jews during World War II.
In a blog post Wednesday, Melenchon blasted Emmanuel Macron’s speech Sunday at a Holocaust commemoration event in which the president forcefully acknowledged his nation’s Holocaust-era guilt.
Melenchon charged that Macron inappropriately labeled the Vichy government, a client state of Nazi Germany, as the French government, when the legitimate French government was in exile in Britain at the time.
At the end of a long blog entry, Melenchon called it “totally unacceptable” to say that “France, as a people, as a nation, is responsible for this crime,” Haaretz reported.
Melenchon also panned the invitation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to participate in the commemoration marking the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv deportations of thousands of French Jews, calling Netanyahu “the leader of the extreme right-wing government in Israel.”
He also took issue with Macron calling anti-Zionism a form of anti-Semitism, which he said was a “very old thesis,” pointing out that “this is the first time that this argument has been made official by the president of our Republic.”
French Jews were deeply appreciative of the Macron speech at the Vel d’Hiv commemoration, which included some of the most forceful remarks on French complicity in the persecution of the country’s Jews ever heard from a French president. Macron rejected “those who wish to say that Vichy’s France wasn’t representative of the French nation,” saying that “the Nazis knew they could count on the obedience” of the puppet government and thousands of Frenchmen serving it.
Melenchon, an anti-Israel lawmaker with a record of statements deemed anti-Semitic, rejected that assessment.
“Never, at any moment, did the French choose murder and anti-Semitic criminality. Those who were not Jewish were not all, and as French people, guilty of the crime that was carried out at the time!” he wrote. “On the contrary, through its resistance, its fight against the [German] invader and through the reestablishment of the republic when the [Germans] were driven out of the territory, the French people, the French people proved which side they were actually on.”
He added: “It is not in Mr. Macron’s power to attribute an identity of executioner to all of the French that is not theirs. No, no, Vichy is not France!”
On July 16-17, 1942, French police officers rounded up more than 13,000 Jews at the Winter Stadium, or Velodrome d’Hiver. The men, women and children were imprisoned there for days in unsanitary conditions and without sufficient water, leading to dozens of fatalities, including by suicide. The Jews were then transported, partly on French national railway cars, to Nazi death camps in Eastern Europe.
French presidents rarely attend the annual commemoration for the Vel d’Hiv deportations.