France's Role In Holocaust Legally Recognized

By: By VERENA VON DERSCHAU
By: By VERENA VON DERSCHAU

PARIS (AP) - France's top judicial body on Monday formally
recognized the nation's role in deporting Jews to Nazi death camps
during the Holocaust - but effectively ruled out any more
reparations for the deportees or their families.

Jewish groups welcomed the ruling by the Council of State, the
clearest legal acknowledgment to date of France's role in the
Holocaust.

Nearly 70 years ago, the Vichy government helped deport some
76,000 people - including 11,000 children - from Nazi-occupied
France to concentration camps during the war. Fewer than 3,000
returned alive.

The council said that the French government of the time
"allowed or facilitated the deportation from France of victims of
anti-Semitic persecution."

"In an absolute rupture with the values and principles notably
of the dignity of the human person ... these anti-Semitic
persecutions provoked exceptional damage of extreme gravity," it
said.

The statement legally formalized a historic gesture by
then-President Jacques Chirac in 1995, when he became the first
French leader to say the nation bore responsibility for the
deportation of Jews in wartime France. Chirac broke with the
official position that France's Vichy regime was not synonymous
with the French state.

"For us, it was France. The uniforms were French. The Germans
did not always ask the Vichy government to do what it did," said
Serge Klarsfeld, a renowned French Nazi hunter and Holocaust
historian.

Since Chirac's speech, deportees and their families have won
special state pensions and other compensation for their suffering.
Some euro500 million has been paid out by a state commission
established in 2000, according to Klarsfeld.

Monday's decision could put an end to the quest for such
reparations.

A Paris court had sought the Council of State's opinion on a
request by the daughter of a deportee who died at Auschwitz for
reparations from the French state. She also was asking for material
and moral damages for her own personal suffering during and after
the occupation.

The council left it up to the Paris court to rule on her
request.

But the council said in its decision that it "considers that
because the acts and actions by the state led to the deportation of
people considered Jews by the Vichy regime, (they) constituted
errors and became its responsibility."

The council used the opportunity of the ruling to make a
"solemn recognition of the collective prejudice suffered (by the
deportees), of the role played by the state in their deportation as
well as the memory that should remain forever ... of their
suffering and that of their families."

Today, France has western Europe's largest Jewish community of
approximately 500,000.

"We need to study the decision more in depth, to really be able
to assess its meaning," said Estee Yaari, spokeswoman for Yad
Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial authority. "However, initial
press reports indicate this is an important and courageous decision
that unambiguously confronts French actions during the Holocaust."

"This has moral significance that will hopefully serve to
deepen awareness about the Holocaust in French society, something
that is important both for grappling with the events of the past,
and their repercussions today," she said.

France today sees scattered anti-Semitic incidents such as
attacks on synagogues, often linked to tensions in the Middle East.
Anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents in France rose sharply
during the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza. France's Muslim
minority is the largest in western Europe.


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