Tue 17 Feb, 2009
Tags: Apologies, Historical amnesia, Holocaust, Reparations
The Associated Press is reporting that the French Conseil d’État (Council of State) has formally acknowledged France’s role in deporting Jews to Nazi death camps during the Holocaust in World War II.
This is a case which is strongly reminiscent of how the U.S. continues to struggle with its own responsibility for American slavery and the slave trade.
France has historically denied responsibility for the participation of the Vichy government in the Holocaust, with many French people suggesting that Nazi-occupied France had no choice but to cooperate with German authorities. In 1995, President Jacques Chirac personally said that France bears responsibility for the deportations. This ruling, however, marks the first formal recognition of France’s responsibility for the deportation of 76,000 people, few of whom survived the war.
The decision of the Conseil d’État demonstrates a clear awareness of the significance of the ruling, as well as the importance of the acknowledgment and remembrance of these historic events. In one passage, the court wrote that it was offering 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.”
In a statement indicating the importance of the public acknowledgment of historic injustices, Estee Yaari, spokeswoman for Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, said:
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.
As I mentioned, there are strong parallels in the public remembrance of American slavery and French participation in the Holocaust. In both cases, the injustice was widespread and began with other nations. To this day, in part because of these facts, many people in both countries exhibit historical amnesia or believe in powerful myths about their country’s role, either of which downplay their society’s responsibility by altering historical truth.
In 1998, three years after Chirac’s statement on the Holocaust, U.S. President Bill Clinton made similar remarks at Gorée Island, in which he personally expressed regret for American participation in the slave trade. However, like France, the U.S. has been reluctant to make any formal acknowledgment of responsibility for its role in slavery and the slave trade.
The Conseil d’État is the supreme administrative law court in France and is charged with providing legal advice to the executive branch. The opinion was issued at the request of a Paris court considering a request for reparations by Madeleine Hoffman-Glemane, the 75-year-old daughter of a victim who died at Auschwitz.
Since 2000, France has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in reparations to deportees and their families, in the form of state pensions and other compensation. In its decision, the Conseil d’État indicated that enough reparations have already been paid for France’s role in the Holocaust.