Balladur recalls 'shame' of Vichy

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The Independent Online
PARIS - France officially commemorated the round-up and deportation of Jews by the collaborationist Vichy regime for the first time yesterday. But the tribute by the Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur, failed to satisfy some Jewish activists.

Mr Balladur spoke at a ceremony on the site of an indoor cycling stadium where French police rounded up some 12,884 Jews, including many refugees and more than 4,000 children, on 16 July 1942.

The captives were transferred to camps around Paris where they were guarded by French gendarmes until they were handed to the occupying German forces who sent them in cattle trains to death camps in Poland, where all but a handful perished.

After years of charges that France minimised the extent of collaboration by its officials in the deportation of 76,000 Jews, President Francois Mitterrand last year declared 16 July an annual memorial day. It is officially entitled a 'national day of commemoration of the racist and anti-Semitic persecution under the authority of the so-called 'government of the French State'.'

Mr Balladur paid a moving tribute to the Jews' suffering and pledged to fight racism and anti-Semitism. But he made only passing reference to 'the horrible complicity of the (French) regime installed under the occupation'. He did not mention the name of collaborationist leader Philippe Petain, and referred to the 'shame of the instigators' without specifying that the Vichy regime passed its first anti-Jewish laws without any request from the Nazis.

Mr Balladur's speech was applauded, whereas Mr Mitterrand had been jeered by some Jews at a memorial ceremony last year because of his tradition of having a wreath placed each year on Petain's grave in tribute to his First World War service.

But after yesterday's ceremony, some angry Jews sought explanations from a former chief rabbi, Rene-Samuel Sirat, who sought to calm them and said the fact the tribute took place at all was what counted. The Nazi- hunting lawyer Serge Klarsfeld, a major force in pressing the government to establish the annual memorial, voiced regret but not surprise.

'I am sorry that Mr Balladur did not devote a few lines to establishing Vichy's responsibility . . . and I do hope that in the future, the government will use fewer cliches and not try to fudge the issue,' he said.

Mr Klarsfeld's father was arrested by French police and murdered at Auschwitz. He says France's ruling class still cannot come to terms with the role of its elders during the war when many senior officials collaborated with the Nazis on grounds that the country had to be administered.