Monday, 10 December, 2018

Macron praises WWI general who later collaborated with Nazis

As fighting nears city of Hodeida aid groups plead for Yemeni civilians                         Read more As fighting nears city of Hodeida aid groups plead for Yemeni civilians Read more
Jeannette Daniel | 10 November, 2018, 18:45

Petain was hailed as a national hero after WWI for leading French forces to victory, but during World War II he became head of the French government which collaborated with occupying German forces and helped deport thousands of Jews to death camps.

"I consider it entirely legitimate that we pay homage to the marshals who led our army to victory", Macron said.

Macron's plan to honour Petain alongside seven other French marshals who directed military campaigns during World War One, which ended 100 years ago on November 11, has unleashed criticism from Jewish groups, political opponents and on social media.

"He was a great soldier, it's a fact, he added, though he stressed that Petain had made "disastrous choices" during World War II".

Macron said Thursday that it was necessary to make a distinction between Petain's WWI contributions and his crimes of WWII, while criticising what he called a "useless controversy".

The White House also confirmed that the Trump-Macron meeting would be the only bilateral meeting that Trump will hold during his France trip, ruling out the possibility of meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will also attend the commemorating event.

"The only thing we will remember about Petain is that he was convicted, in the name of the French people, of national indignity during his trial in 1945", he said in a statement.

France's leading Jewish organization, known by the initials CRIF, issued a searing criticism of Macron's stance.

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Former president Jacques Chirac admitted in 1995 that Petain's Vichy government, which collaborated with the Nazis, was the French state.

For years French leaders have treaded lightly when dealing with Petain's tortuous legacy, which his critics say left an indelible stain on the country.

"I am shocked by this statement by Macron", CRIF president Francis Kalifat said. "It judges the vast and unworthy responsibility of a marshal who deliberately used his name and prestige as a cover for treason and the collaboration and deportation of thousands of Jews in France". "Petain signed the [law on] the status of Jews that meant Jews were excluded from public functions, education and forced to wear the Jewish star".

Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the hard-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, wrote on Twitter: "Marshal Joffre was the military victor of the 1914-18 war".

"Macron, this time, it's too much".

Two decades later, with France poised to fall to Nazi German forces in World War Two, Petain was appointed prime minister of France.

After the war's end he was arrested for treason and given the death sentence, which was commuted to life imprisonment given his age.

The French president will not attend Saturday's ceremony at Les Invalides in Paris, instead sending his chief military adviser.

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