Sarkozy's Holocaust memory plan for children hits wrong note
A proposal from President Nicolas Sarkozy that French 10-year-olds should sponsor the memory of Jewish children set off an outcry among psychologists, parents and the political left.
PARIS, February 18, 2008 - A proposal from President Nicolas Sarkozy that
French 10-year-olds should sponsor the memory of Jewish children who were
murdered by the Nazis set off an outcry Friday among psychologists, parents
and the political left.
In an address to Jewish leaders, Sarkozy said that from the start of the
next academic year pupils in their last year of primary school should be
"entrusted with the memory of one of the 11,000 French children who fell
victim to the Holocaust."
"Nothing is more moving for a child than the story of a child his own age,
who had the same games, the same joys and the same hopes as him," Sarkozy said.
Education Minister Xavier Darcos explained that every child will be given
the name of a Jewish deportee and "carry out a little investigation on their
family, surroundings and the circumstances in which the child disappeared."
"This personal, emotional link will be the basis for their studies," he
But an alliance of critics immediately poured scorn on the idea, accusing
Sarkozy of usurping history, failing to understand the psychological impact on
children, and stirring up resentment among other sectors of society.
"I am totally against the idea that individual children should be made to
carry this kind of burden. They are far too young at that age. They're not
ready," said child psychiatrist Frederic Kochman.
"Linking a child so intimately with a partner who is dead, and whose short
life they can never understand, can only have harmful effects on his or her
development," said the association Children of the World.
Some 75,000 Jews were deported from German-occupied France in World War II,
in most cases with the active cooperation of the French authorities. Nearly
all died in the extermination camps at Auschwitz and elswhere.
Even many who support greater awareness of the Jewish genocide said the
president's idea was ill-thought out and could even provoke an unwanted
"Some communities already think the Republic doesn't take sufficient
account of their suffering: for example, black Caribbeans who want greater
recognition of the tragedy of slavery, or Armenians concerning their own
genocide," said Francosi Puppi, mayor of the Paris suburb of Sarcelles.
For Pascal Bruckner, a left-wing philosopher who backed Sarkozy in last
year's election, his idea smacks of "the tyranny of repentance" and "adds
nothing except pathos."
"Young people have been given their fill of the Holocaust for years and
years, and it hasn't stopped the rise of anti-Semitism in the suburbs ... This
is a dangerous intitiative which is only going to add to the idea that there's
one rule for the Jews. Compassion can be dangerous," he said.
However the president won support from Serge Klarsfeld, the Jewish
historian who has done more than anyone to keep the names of French Holocaust
victims in the collective memory.
"It's not a question of some morbid identification with a dead child. It's
an act of vigilance ... It's important that todauy's children know that there
were children of their own age and background who were deported, and it's
important that these be named," he said.
Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande also backed the initiative, but
his colleague former minister Pierre Moscovici said it was "a false good idea
which brings with it much that is psychologically and educationally dangerous."
"It is typical Sarkozy -- a man with plenty of impulse and sometimes not
much reflexion," he said.