French mayor ordered to remove Vichy leader's portrait

25th January 2010, Comments 0 comments

Philippe Petain, a military hero in World War I and head of the rump state based at Vichy in central France, collaborated with the German Nazi occupiers in World War II.

Caen – The mayor of a town close to the Normandy landing beaches has been ordered to take down a portrait of wartime Vichy leader Philippe Petain hanging in the municipal offices, an official said Saturday.

Christian Leyrit, the Lower Normandy prefect or government representative, had written to Bernard Hoye, mayor of Gonneville-sur-Mer, telling him "in the strongest terms" to remove Petain's picture from the room where marriages are celebrated, the official said.

"This portrait cannot figure alongside the official portraits hung in a town hall, which is a highly symbolic place for the French Republic," Leyrit said.

The prefect acted on a complaint by a French-based rights group, the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA).

Hoye, elected mayor in 2008 on an independent ticket, was unavailable for comment Saturday. But he told AFP this month that he would not be removing the portrait.

"It has been there for decades," he said, adding that he was "not a historian and did not have to take sides."

Petain, a military hero in World War I, became head of the rump state based at Vichy in central France which collaborated with the German Nazi occupiers in World War II.

After Germany's defeat he was tried by the provisional French government of General Charles de Gaulle, who commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment, and he died in 1951.

"Philippe Petain, founder and head of the Vichy regime, was never President of the Republic," Leyrit told Hoye, adding that all the actions and laws of his "so-called French State" had been declared null and void by the provisional government.

Recalling that the Vichy had allowed or facilitated the deportation of victims of anti-Semitism, Leyrit said that displaying Petain's portrait infringed the neutrality of the public service with regard to political, religious or philosophical opinions.

LICRA said it was deplorable that the prefect was "obliged to give lessons of history and law to the mayor of a Norman town only a few months after ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the allied landings."

Keeping the picture on show was "an affront to the memory of the victims of Petain's anti-Semitic persecutions, of the resistance and the allied combatants," it charged.

AFP / Expatica

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