MAUBEUGE, France (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that he had always condemned Marshal Philippe Petain, who had collaborated with Nazi Germany to put thousands of Jews to death, but reiterated his claims. praise for his military record of the First World War.
Stamps and a portrait of the French general Philippe Pétain, published in the French newspaper "L'Illustration" of August 4, 1917 (R), are visible in this illustration taken on November 8, 2018. REUTERS / Charles Platiau / Illustration
Macron angered Jewish groups and some political opponents on Wednesday by declaring that it was "legitimate" to honor Petain alongside the seven other French war marshals at commemorations marking the end of the Great War. this week.
Petain was considered a war hero after taking command of the French armies in mid-1917, following his victory at Verdun, a battle that killed more than 300,000 French and Germans.
But his reputation was undermined when he set up the Vichy government collaborator of unoccupied France who deported more than 70,000 Jews to Nazi death camps.
As criticism mounted on Wednesday, Macron's aides said only the five marshals buried at the Invalides monument in Paris would receive an official tribute. On Thursday, the president said that it had never been planned to honor Petain personally.
"We are celebrating the centenary of the conflict of a nation (…) and it is normal for our army to remember its soldiers, and especially its marshals," Macron told reporters in Maubeuge, near the Franco-Belgian border.
"I firmly condemned the 1940's Pétain and I did it unambiguously. I also said yesterday that Marshal Petain was one of the greatest soldiers of 1914-1918 and that history can not scratch him. "
Francois Hollande, Macron's predecessor to the presidency, said: "History does not isolate a single period, not even a glorious military career."
The body representing the 400,000-strong French Jewish community, the Crif, called the idea of paying homage to "shocking" Petain. Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the left-wing party France Insoumise (France Unbowed), described Petain as a "traitor and anti-Semite" whose "crimes and betrayal can not be erased from history".
After the Second World War, Petain was sentenced to death for treason, although then-president Charles de Gaulle, a long-time admirer of Petain's military exploits, reduced his sentence to life imprisonment, where he died. 95 years old in 1951.
Macron spends the week on the battlefields in the north and east of France to honor the dead of the Great War. 1.4 million French soldiers perished, an opportunity for a criticized leader to be disconnected from the citizens.
Reportage of Marine Pennetier in Maubeuge, additional report and drafting of Richard Lough; Edited by Robin Pomeroy