President Hollande has acknowledged France's "broad responsibility" for the internment of Roma under the Vichy regime. Hollande was making the first-ever presidential visit to the main camp where Roma were held.
French President Francois Hollande said it was time for France to recognize its part in the persecution of the Roma people, both at the time of the Vichy regime and in the months that followed.
"The day has come, and this truth must be told," Hollande said at a ceremony in Montreuil-Bellay, in central France, to commemorate the plight of Roma.
"The republic acknowledges the suffering of traveling people who were interned and admits that it bears broad responsibility," Hollande said, in what was the first visit to the camp by any French president.
The Roma, also known as gypsies, were brutally persecuted in the Holocaust. Vichy France, which included most of the south of the country, was not directly occupied but was under de facto Nazi control with French officials enforcing Nazi edicts.
Between 6,000 and 6,500 Roma were interned in 31 camps, the biggest of them being at Montreuil-Bellay. More than 2,000 people were confined there between November 1941 and January 1945, 100 of whom died. The camp was also used to intern people from the city of Nantes who were officially categorized as homeless.
Names of families remembered
Some Roma remained detained at Montreuil-Bellay until 1946, long after World War II was over.
"Nearly all families of traveling people have at least one relative who passed through Montreuil-Bellay," Hollande said.
More than 500 people took part in the events on Saturday, held 70 years after the last Roma to be interned at Montreuil-Bellay left. A commemorative art installation was set up, including engraved columns with the names of the 473 affected families.
"It was important to us to have this recognition, said Fernande Delage, head of the France Liberte Voyage NGO. "It affects thousands and thousands. It's late but better late than never," he added.
Moves to scrap old law
The killing of Roma across the Third Reich as a whole has parallels to the systematic murder of some 6 million Jews, with estimates placing the number of murdered Roma between 220,000 and half a million.
Hollande also said on Saturday that he would throw his weight behind moves in parliament to scrap a 1969 law that requires "nomads" to have a special identity card. The legislation traces its roots to a 1912 regulation aimed at forcing Roma to settle down.
In 1969, the rule was replaced by a requirement for "traveling people" to have a specific set of papers, and name one district as their home base.
rc/sms (AFP, Reuters, EBU)