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article imageFrance tracks down last Marshall Petain street for re-naming

By Robert Myles     Apr 7, 2013 in World
In France you’re never far from a street named after a national hero, but France has been erasing the names of streets commemorating one of its former heroes — later turned collaborator villain: Nazi-allied wartime leader Marshal Philippe Pétain.
Walk around the streets of any town or city in France and the likelihood is you’ll never be far from an Avenue General de Gaulle, Rue Gambetta or Avenue Georges Clemonceau — all named after France’s heroes be they statesmen or military commanders. But despite one of France’s leading heroes of the First World War being Marshal Philippe Pétain, you’ll have great difficulty tracking down a ‘Rue Maréchal-Pétain’.
For years, villages, towns and cities across France have been vigorously rooting out Philippe Pétain street signs wherever they may be found, airbrushing from the national consciousness, the country’s World War II leader of Vichy France, who collaborated with the Nazis and who remains a part of French history most in France would rather forget.
Two years ago, the New York Times reported on a cabal of Pétain street names tracked down to small villages in the Ardennes in north east France. It was then believed that when the last of the street signs, for a street named after Marshal Pétain in the tiny village of Tremblois-lès-Carignon, was removed, that Marshal Pétain would have been finally airbrushed out of French cartography.
But Rue Marshal Pétain is nothing if not resilient. Now, France 24 has reported that another ‘Rue du Maréchal-Pétain’ is about to surrender. This time it looks like France has tracked down the final ‘Petain Street’ named after the country’s disgraced World War II leader lurking in a bolthole in the village of Belrain near Verdun, again in north east France. The Mayor of Belrain, Patrick Gondouin told France 24 that there will be consultations with villagers later this month to decide on a less controversial new name for the street. The Mayor said, "Pétain Street had existed since the 1930s, without really causing a stir. But when I was elected mayor in 2008, it bothered me - I suspected that one day or another it would be a problem."
After World War I, Pétain, who was possibly the most prominent French military commander during the First World War, was lauded throughout the country and there was barely a town in France that didn’t have a street named after him. Pétain’s disgrace came during World War II. The French military commander was leader of the collaborationist Vichy regime in France which, with the consent of Nazi-Germany, governed the southern portion of France following the country’s defeat by the Nazis in 1940.
The Vichy regime is now widely recognised as having participated in the rounding up of many Jews, Roma and others deemed ‘undesirable’ by Nazi-Germany and dispatching thousands to meet their death at Nazi concentration camps.
After France was liberated by the Allies in 1944, Pétain was sentenced to death for treason but his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment as an act of mercy by the leader of the Free French Forces General Charles de Gaulle.
More about French History, Marshall Petain, World war one, World War Two, French military history
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