Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has denied French responsibility for a major Nazi-era roundup of Jews. The statement has invited comparisons to her father's notorious 'detail of history' comment.
Le Pen told the LCI television channel on Sunday: "I don't think France is responsible for the Vel d'Hiv," referring to the role French police played in the round-up of more than 13,000 Jews at the Vel d'Hiv cycling track which was ordered by Nazi officers in 1942.
"I consider that France and the Republic were based in London during the (Nazi) occupation," she said. The British capital was where Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the free French forces, lived in exile during World War II while France's Vichy regime collaborated with Nazi Germany.
"The Vichy regime was not France," Le Pen said, describing the wartime authority as "illegal." She added that this in no way exonerated those who participated in "the vile roundup of Vel d'Hiv and all the atrocities committed during that period."
"I think that generally speaking if there are people responsible, it's those who were in power at the time. It's not France," Le Pen said.
France had "taught our children that they have all the reasons to criticize (the country) and to only see, perhaps, the darkest aspects of our history," she added. "So, I want them to be proud of being French again," she said.
France's trouble with anti-Semitism
The Vel' d'Hiv Roundup was a Nazi-directed raid and mass arrest of Jews in Paris by the French police on 16 and 17 July 1942. The bicycle velodrome was a stadium where a majority of the victims were temporarily confined. The roundup was one of several aimed at eradicating the Jewish population in France, both in the occupied zone and in the free zone.
Former President Jacques Chirac and current leader Francois Hollande have both apologized, although Chirac's Socialist predecessor Francois Mitterand refused to acknowledge responsibility for the deportations, saying in 1994: "The republic had nothing to do with that. France is not responsible."
Ahead of the first round of France's highly unpredictable presidential election on April 23, Le Pen's centrist rival Emmanuel Macron said her comments were "a serious mistake."
"Some had forgotten that Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen," Macron told BFMTV.
Le Pen senior, who founded the far-right National Front party in 1972 and is estranged from his daughter, has been convicted repeatedly for anti-Semitic and racist comments such as calling the Holocaust a "detail of history".
"We must not be complacent or minimize what the National Front is today," Macron said.
The CRIF umbrella grouping of French Jewish organisations and the Jewish students' union (UEJF) both blasted Le Pen for the comments, describing them as "revisionist."
"These remarks are an insult to France, which honored itself in 1995 by recognizing its responsibility in the deportation of France's Jews and facing its history without a selective memory," the CRIF said.
President Francois Hollande delivers a speech at the Jewish memorial during ceremonies to mark the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv roundup in 2012.
Hanging in the election race
Meanwhile, two of the outside contenders in France's presidential election, Francois Fillon and Jean-Luc Melenchon, whipped up support with mass rallies on Sunday, seeking a last-gasp boost ahead of an increasingly tight first voting round.
Polls show centrist Macron and Le Pen on track to top the first round of voting on April 23 and go through to a May 7 runoff.
But recent polls have shown the race tightening as the front-runners faltered and far-left maverick Melenchon surged after strong performances in two televised candidates' debates.
A Kantar Sofres poll for media organizations Le Figaro, LCI and RTL showed Macron and Le Pen tied on 24 percent in the first round, with Melenchon taking third place for the first time on 18 percent, up six points since mid-March.
jbh/kl (AFP, Reuters)