Chirac Auschwitz tribute to 80,000 deported by France

27th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

AUSCHWITZ, Poland, Jan 27 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac said at the Auschwitz commemoration Thursday that his country's wartime deportation to Nazi death camps of 80,000 people, most of them Jewish, was a "more than painful" memory because France itself bore some of the responsibility for it.

AUSCHWITZ, Poland, Jan 27 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac said at the Auschwitz commemoration Thursday that his country's wartime deportation to Nazi death camps of 80,000 people, most of them Jewish, was a "more than painful" memory because France itself bore some of the responsibility for it.

Chirac became in 1995 the first president to acknowledge that the French nation shared guilt with Nazi Germany for the persecution of the Jews.

French officials and police were largely responsible for identifying and rounding up the deportees, including about 77,000 Jews.

"Your memory of the world that was, is for France more than painful," Chirac said in addressing all Jews caught up in the "criminal madness of the Nazis."

"It is (for France) a guilty conscience. It bears the weight of responsibility."

"Yes, we know and we will never forget," said Chirac, who has angrily attacked recent anti-Semitic attacks in France largely blamed on young Muslims expressing fury at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "We will never give up our idea of mankind and its dignity."

Chirac, who inaugurated an expanded Holocaust memorial in Paris earlier this week, which includes a wall of names of those deported, again urged French teachers to make school-children aware of the Holocaust "so that this memory is never erased."

Most of the Jews deported from France, including many who had sought refuge in the country from Eastern Europe, were sent to a transit camp at Drancy, just outside Paris, from where they were loaded on trains and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only about 2,500 returned.

France's official role in persecuting the Jews was detailed during the 1998 trial and condemnation of Maurice Papon, a senior official responsible for the deportation of Jews from Bordeaux.

Papon, then 87, received a 10-year jail sentence but was released in 2002 on medical grounds.

Chirac visited the railway platform where the Jews arrived and were immediately sent either to the gas chambers or to labour battalions.

The platform and rails, with two wooden wagons, have been restored by the Association of Sons and Daughters of Jewish deportees in France.

The president also inaugurated an exhibition in the "French pavilion" - once the infamous camp hospital - in memory of the about 69,000 Jews and about 3,000 members of the anti-Nazi resistance deported from France to Auschwitz.

Chirac said he wanted to voice three aims - "the desire to witness and transmit, the desire to honour and the desire to act."

The exhibition "brings across the reality of the deportation" through the stories of individuals, and "honours the memory of all the deported who died tragically in this place of suffering and extermination," he added.

The exhibition illustrates the fate of French deportees through five personal stories, among them that of a couple that had fled from pogroms in Russia to France; and an Austrian-born boy brought to France after Nazi Germany annexed Austria, and who died at the age of eight in an Auschwitz gas chamber.

Chirac won praise from Israel and Jewish organisations after his election in 1995 when he acknowledged the country's guilt in cooperating with the German extermination programme - distancing himself from his predecessor, Francois Mitterrand, who sought to make a distinction between France's pro-Nazi Vichy regime and the French nation.

A member of the French delegation, the Polish-born writer Marek Halter, said he was "torn and confused" by his first visit to the camp, and on seeing the buffet lunch set out for the delegates asked, "Can one eat zakuskis (hors d'oeuvres) at Auschwitz?"

© AFP

                                         Subject: French news

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