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article imageOp-Ed: France finally faced with Pétain’s role in the WWII Holocaust

By Michael Cosgrove     Oct 6, 2010 in Politics
The recent discovery of a document which proves the direct involvement of French WWII collaborationist leader Philippe Pétain in the Holocaust is forcing the French to see the truth. But that doesn’t mean they have to accept it, and many of them don't.
Revealed on October 3 by historian and lawyer Serge Klarsfeld, the document – marked “confidential" - is a draft law called “Law Regarding the Status of Jews” which was drawn up in October 1940 and details restrictions to be placed on Jews in France. Experts have authenticated the document as well as Pétain’s handwritten corrections to it.
Those corrections prove that Pétain was not only aware of the German Reich’s hostility towards the Jews and their plans to persecute them, but that he actually worked to facilitate their task before even being instructed to by Hitler. Not only that, Pétain’s corrections actually hardened the terms of the law and his changes were included in the final draft. That document formed the basis of a legal framework which would be expanded upon when the time came to deport French Jews to the death camps.
In an article relating the discovery, Time says that “France's effort to fully examine the dark truths of its Nazi Occupation has gotten another significant boost with the unveiling of a document that exposes the activist role of the Vichy regime in persecuting Jews.”
That statement is well-meant, but it must be said that France’s “effort” has always been half-hearted to say the least. A number of French historians as well as a sizable chunk of public opinion have always clung to the belief that Pétain was duped by Hitler into persecuting the Jews and that he was not fully aware of the extent and nature of actions being taken by his own government to make Hitler’s job easier.
Many of Pétain’s defenders have always cited his advanced age and the possible onset of senility as being partially responsible for his actions, and some of them even go so far as to say that he tried to water down Hitler’s policies on the Jews.
That Pétain was anti-Semitic has always been known, but in France, where anti-Semitic sentiment is relatively widespread even today, that was not considered to be proof of his involvement despite the overwhelming evidence. But as Le Figaro points out today, much of his involvement has been known since the 1970’s thanks to a book by the American historian Robert O. Paxton. That didn’t do anything to stop negationist books and papers being published since however.
All those arguments have now been shot down in flames. Or have they?
It would be nice to be able to write that the French have finally decided to accept the truth, but large numbers of people still refuse to believe it. A look at the comment sections on any article in the French press, such as this one on Le Figaro, shows that at least half of all opinion holds that the document has been forged, or that it is suspicious that it should surface just now, that the typeface ‘proves’ that it isn’t authentic.
France’s other highbrow daily – Le Monde – contains many denial comments. People there express their opinion that this is all a plot to deflect attention from the Mideast situation, or that it is opening a can of worms for no good reason.
L’Express articles on this also contain a majority of hostile and suspicious comment in the same vein. People quite simply refuse to accept what is in front of their eyes.
And don’t even bother going to Left-wing paper Libération to see their comments. There aren’t any because the paper closed the article to comment. That's because the volatile nature of the truth would almost certainly have led to most comments being deleted on a paper which is known for its less than sympathetic treatment of the Jews and Israel.
So there we have it. No matter that the French are now obliged to see the truth head on, that doesn’t have to mean that they necessarily feel obliged to accept it. But that won’t come as a shock to many Jews here, who will surely not be surprised by the reactions, reactions which demonstrate once again that France is chronically incapable of accepting its past errors and its own history.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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