Prime Minister of Israel, cher Bibi, thank you for
what you have said.
Members of the Government,
President of the Representative Council of Jewish
Institutions in France,
President of the association of the Sons and
Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France,
President of the Union of Auschwitz Deportees,
President of the Foundation for Holocaust
President of the French Committee of Yad Vashem,
Mayor of Paris,
Members of Parliament,
Representatives of the diplomatic corps,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am here with you today on this dark and solemn
occasion to perpetuate the guiding thread initiated in 1995 by
Jacques Chirac, to whom I would like to pay particular tribute
today, and maintained by Dominique de Villepin in 2005, Nicolas
Sarkozy and François Fillon in 2007 and, lastly, continued by
François Hollande in 2012.
Just recently, what we considered to be established by the
authorities of the French Republic across party lines, proven by all
historians and confirmed by the national conscience, was contested
by French political leaders prepared to trample on the truth.
Responding to these counterfeiters is to do them too much honor, but
to leave them unanswered would be worse, making us accomplices.
So yes, I will say this here: it is France that
organized the round-up, subsequent deportation and, consequently,
for almost all of them, the death of the 13,152 French Jews dragged
from their homes on July 16 and 17, 1942. More than 8,000 were taken
to the Vel d’Hiv before being deported to Auschwitz. Among them were
4,115 children aged between 2 and 16 years, whose memory we are
today honoring most particularly and for whom I would like us to
observe a minute’s silence.
(All stand and observe a minute’s silence)
I condemn all the tricks and subtleties of those
who claim today that Vichy was not France, as Vichy, of course, did
not represent all French people, as you have recalled, but it was
France’s government and administration.
The crimes of July 16 and 17, 1942 were the work of the French
police, obeying the orders of the Government of Pierre Laval, the
General Commissioner for Jewish Affairs, Louis Darquier de
Pellepoix, and of Prefect René Bousquet.
Not a single German took part.
I also condemn those who practice relativism, explaining that
exonerating France from responsibility for the Vel d’Hiv round-up
would be a good thing. And that would mean following in the
footsteps of General de Gaulle and François Mitterrand who never
said a word about this subject. But there are truths that can be
bridled by the state of society with trauma still raw for some,
while others remained in denial.
The stark tears in French society meant that appeasement and
reconciliation prevailed over the truth. Our societies thus allow
themselves respite during which the work of remembrance remains
underground, during which people recover their strength and
reconcile little by little to rebuild, before finding the words of
truth that will genuinely heal them. And before finding the
collective courage to face mistakes and crimes.
That is why we are not here to judge the decision made by these two
Heads of State, both of whom were actors of the Second World War and
its complexities. But we also need to remember that it is François
Mitterrand who established this day of remembrance, and that during
all these years the underground combat of so many people went on, to
ensure that nothing was forgotten.
And then time did its work.
Witnesses and survivors spoke, archives opened, historians worked.
Society ripens tragedies and grief. And then the truth emerges; it
is implacable, irrevocable. No-one can escape it. Hiding or
belittling it is an insult to our collective memory.
By acknowledging its faults, France has opened the way to repairing
them. That is to its honor. That is the sign of a strong nation that
can face its past. That is the courage of a people not afraid to
examine its conscience and reach out to the victims and their
children. Reaching out and reforming ties does not mean humiliating
ourselves through some sort of repentance. It is standing tall and
I know that there are those who will say that days like today, and
words like those that I just pronounced are a reminder of the
humiliations of our country, and that it is an indecent repentance.
None of that is true. This is an essential act of remembrance and
history, it is our responsibility, our responsibility to completely
reconcile our people, even in the darkest pages of our history, so
that everyone can at last find their place.
Knowing where we failed, who failed, also means remembering with
greater pride those who said ‘no’, and those who reached out to
their fellow people in humility and humanity.
So yes, today, we are also thinking of those who were already, in
1942, engaged in France’s internal and external resistance, and who
paid for their clandestine combat with their lives.
They were a great harvest of heroes that saved France and its honor.
We are also remembering all those French people who offered
persecuted Jews a welcoming refuge and a safe hiding place, enabling
three quarters of France’s Jews not to suffer the terrible end of
those seized on 16 July. We are remembering all those Righteous with
pride, that pride that has since become part of our national pride
as a whole.
But in parallel to all these heroes, there was Vichy, the French
State. For the France represented by the French State did not
replace the France of the Third Republic overnight. Ministers,
officials, civil servants, economic leaders, managers and professors
of the Third Republic provided the majority of Field Marshal
Pétain’s personnel. Then everyone set out on their path towards
active or passive obedience, or to Resistance.
That the Vichy Government could count on the country’s forces to
conduct its policy of collaboration is a fact. The idea that Vichy
was a mere parenthesis, opened in 1940 and closed in 1945 supports
the high idea that some have of France.
It is easy to view Vichy as a monstrosity that grew out of nothing
and returned to nothingness, to believe that these people came out
of nowhere and received just punishment at the liberation that
eliminated them from the national community.
It is easy, so easy... but it is wrong.
And no pride can be built on a lie.
I am going to tell you why it is important not to feed this idea,
why we must always remember that the French State of Pétain and
Laval was not just an unpredictable aberration born of exceptional
Because Vichy and its doctrine unleashed the vices that were already
a stain on the Third Republic: racism and anti-Semitism.
Today, I want these two words, that are sometimes bandied around to
resonate with all their force. I want us to hear loud and clear the
abomination and misery that they bear, for these children whose
names and ages we just saw written on the wall of the Memorial
Garden of the Vel d’Hiv Children were victims of nothing other than
racism and anti-Semitism.
Racism because their parents were foreign when they, themselves,
were mostly French.
Anti-Semitism because they were rounded up as Jews.
The suffering of these children whose faces Serge Klarsfeld – whom I
would like to once again thank most solemnly – has patiently brought
together in a book that cannot be read without tears and unspeakable
disgust, is the suffering not only of your children, my dear Serge,
but of our children.
The suffering of these children, from when they were dragged from
their families, from their arrival in this immense boiler that was
the Vel d’Hiv where, for several days, they had nothing to share but
distress, without food and without water until the fire brigade
Captain Pierret – later nominated Righteous Among the Nations –
insisted that it was provided;
From the moment when they were deported to transit camps,
distraught, from that day and that moment of total pain when they
were separated from their parents, because Pierre Laval wanted whole
families to be captured together, but not to travel together;
Until they were loaded into sealed wagons for an apocalyptic
journey, bringing them upon their arrival to cries, unanswered
calls, blows, screams, the driest, darkest solitude and a death of
obscene violence, before their lifeless bodies – children’s bodies –
were humiliated in oven and ashes;
This suffering – their suffering – beggars belief and cannot be put
into words. It began here, in the morning on July 16, 1942, because
in France, in the consciences of French citizens, French political
leaders, French officials and French journalists, anti-Semitism and
racism had insidiously, slowly sown their seed, making the
disgraceful tolerable and even evident, making it a State policy:
the policy of collaboration.
That, all that, is what made such an absolute atrocity possible.
Yet neither racism nor anti-Semitism were born with the Vichy
regime. They were there, alive and present under the Third Republic.
The Dreyfus affair showed their virulence. The 1930s gave them new
momentum through the emergence of intellectuals, parties and
newspapers that made them their doctrine.
It is the France of the weekly Je suis partout and the book
Bagatelles pour un massacre, the France where Louis Darquier de
Pellepoix – him already – could proclaim with impunity in 1937: “We
need to resolve the Jewish problem urgently, either by expulsion or
by massacre”. It is the France where anti-Semitism metastasized in
the elite and in society, insidiously preparing minds for the worst.
Because yes, my friends, barbarism does not advance in the open. It
does not wear a uniform. And when the Nazi boots marched on Paris
streets, it was already too late.
Barbarism forms first and foremost in people’s minds. Ideas and
words gradually break down barriers in our consciences, break down
civilization, and accustom us to listening to and accepting words
that we should not even hear.
Hitler was not primarily the Third Reich. He was not 1933. First and
foremost, Hitler was Mein Kampf. Vichy was not the starting point
for anything and it was France’s weakness that let the cancer
spread. But Vichy was not the end of anything either.
I know that we all make a point of fighting anything that could lead
to the same situation. But we must open our eyes and look reality in
the face. In today’s France, the corruption of minds and moral and
intellectual weakness that racism and anti-Semitism represent are
still present, and notably so. They take new shapes, new faces and
choose more surreptitious wording.
You only need to stop for a moment, however, to see, behind the new
façade, the racism of old, the entrenched vein of anti-Semitism.
Ordinary racism abounds with words and caricatures. It closes the
doors to jobs for young people stigmatized for their name or
surname. Global conflicts can be found within the borders of our
Republic, creating divides which hound young Jews from certain
schools or force immigrant families to withdraw into their own
And then one day, because we kept quiet, because we did not wish to
see, words become actions. It is then that words – which for some
were just hate articulated differently, and for others were a form
of cowardice or unwillingness to open their eyes – are transformed
into lives cut short and actions that kill.
Ilan Halimi, Jonathan Sandler and his two sons Arieh and Gabriel,
Myriam Monsonego, Yohan Cohen, Philippe Braham, François-Michel
Saada, Yoav Hattab paid with their lives. As did Brahim Bouarram.
And Father Hamel. And despite her murderer’s denials, justice must
now uphold the whole truth on the true reason for Sarah Halimi’s
Every desecrated or vandalised synagogue, mosque, church, temple,
cemetery must be a warning to us.
Worldwide conspiracy theories, delusions about global finance,
insidious iconography, identity crises bringing out the most toxic
of clichés are all spreading at great speed and are reaching
gullible or porous minds.
Racism and anti-Semitism have unprecedented means of propaganda at
their disposal to carry out their insidious work. Social networks
are the great purveyors or such propaganda and we are yet to
understand the scope of their influence. Our magistrates and law
enforcement agencies must be better trained in this matter.
So yes, we are indeed fighting, fighting thanks to your
indispensable work to uncover the bright trace of the martyrs, their
names, surnames, ages, addresses, everything that provides a link,
no matter how tenuous, between these shattered lives and our
reality, reminding us that barbarity happens here, on the street
What the Klarsfelds have achieved towards this over decades is
crucial and deserves our deep-held gratitude.
We are fighting, we are fighting by refusing to allow abject remarks
which debase people’s minds to go unpunished.
We are fighting to ensure that the perpetrators do not win. In 1978,
L’Express found Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, the same as ever,
exiled in Spain. As if still possessed by an anti-Semitic demon, he
showed now regret for his zealous work in favour of deportation. He
even maintained that lice were the only things gassed at Auschwitz.
He was, however, confronted, at a time when silence was largely
upheld, by the intransigent and unsurpassed voice of Simone Veil,
breaking the near silence that she had observed on the topic until
that moment. That same year, Serge Klarsfeld published his “Memorial
to the Jews Deported from France”.
Such actions are invaluable at a time when the vile monster is
coming out of the shadows. Simone Veil’s work, her outcries and
fundamental fights, have now come to an end. As she closed her eyes
one last time, she knew that her voice would continue to be heard
through her son, Pierre-François, who, for the last two years, has
chaired the French Committee of Yad Vashem.
But we are wrong in saying this, their voices will never die. They
will never die because we have decided to keep them alive, and we
have decided once and for all that these voices, voices which some
did not wish to hear for so many decades, will never cover up the
baseless comments nor the guilty silence. Their voices will never
These voices also belonged to Samual Pisar, who left us in 2015, and
Elie Wiesel and Jean-Raphaël Hirsch, who both passed away in 2016.
Today, my thoughts also turn to Heni Malberg who narrowly escaped
the raid and who passed away only three days ago.
In our world where religious wars are reappearing, where ethnic
conflicts are being rekindles, where intolerance and sectarianism
are joining forces, we must do all we can to ensure humankind does
not accept to fall so low.
How valuable, then, are the examples set by those deported who, in
the camps, plunged into abject misery, haunted by the shadow of
death, lifted themselves beyond the survival instincts their captors
wished to reduce them to, to treat, nourish and clothe their
unfortunate companions and sometimes even paint and draw like Léon
Delarbre or Boris Taslitzky, to keep a diary like Etty Hillesum, to
compose quartets or operas like Germaine Tillion and with them the
only documentation of their memory of conferences on Proust,
Michelangelo and natural sciences.
Some say that it was all invented to keep themselves alive, but this
was not the case. They had understood that they had been denied was
not simply life, fading little by little to a slow death, but their
humanity, our humanity. And that every day, despite their emaciated,
exhausted state, they defended our civilization, our history, our
artists, a language or philosophy, and in so doing they refused to
give an inch to this civilization, because what was at stake was not
survival, it was a full, complete life, it was the defense in each
of these places of the humanity that every one of those individuals
in that moment truly embodied. This shall never be forgotten.
We, today, have only one task: be worthy of what these people did in
the time of deepest darkness, worthy of this inner humanity that
they showed when everything was done precisely to kill their
humanity. Every day, every minute, we must be worthy, like the
Holocaust survivors whose example gives us so much. Because our
Republic is indeed this project of a humanity which is constantly
being reinvented, searching for the best of itself through
inclusion, through culture, through education.
Chasing away the shadows of racism and anti-Semitism requires us to
be unfaltering, to never settle for a Republic that is content to
merely oversee proceedings, to never have other believe that
accepting certain statements would be good for the unity of the
country, we would be tantamount to letting the wounds heal over.
Never give an inch to this humanity, give nothing because every time
it calls the humanity of each individual into question.
Because every nation runs the risk of sleepwalking and accepting the
unacceptable by habit, by apathy.
We must never allow economic constraints to let us give up on the
places which give rise to the worst abuses. We must never compromise
on education, we must never compromise on transmission, we must
never compromise on culture, we must never compromise on the fight
against obscurantism and ignorance. We must tirelessly support those
who work on the ground.
We must never compromise on what unites us, all the projects which
live up to the humanity that our time offers us: bringing democracy
to life, helping the destitute, seizing the global ambition to fight
climate change, provide the best possible welcome for refugees
forced to flee from war... because all these causes, all of them
make us better people.
This battle is also that that we are fighting, and that we will
continue to fight everywhere, together, Prime Minister, against dark
terrorism and the worst forms of fanaticism, against all those who
want us to forget what I just recalled.
So yes, we will cede no ground to messages of hate and we will cede
no ground to anti-Zionism, for it is a mere reinvention of
anti-Semitism. And we will cede no ground to all those who, on all
continents, seek to make us give up freedom, seek to recreate
division, seek to make us abandon our humanity, our democracy and
My friends, we must not lose sight of the very vocation of our
country, uniting all citizens and giving everyone their place, their
dignity and their meaning. For that is the best means we have to
oppose the powerful dissolving force of racist and anti-Semitic
hate. It is from the absence of hope and the feeling of
purposelessness and neglect that are born the fears and hatreds that
arise between us. We must combat all these hatreds based on who we
are, where we come from and what we believe.
And we must not allow ourselves to be convinced by the prophets of
woe who spend their time telling us that the horizon is dark, that
hope is vain, and that France is running out of time – and has
perhaps already disappeared, that it has become accustomed to this
violence and division, and who pick scapegoats. For they are also,
in these words and ideas, the sources of despair and discord. The
Republic stands strong because it is capable or protecting all its
children, the Republic stands strong because it can look its whole
past in the face, and the Republic stands strong because it does not
give up – and will never give up – anything of what makes it what it
is or any of its values. The Republic stands strong because we will
always prefer the “vigilant dream” of the poet Éluard.
The children of the Vel d’Hiv would have loved to go to the school
of the Republic, to obtain certificates, find a trade, found a
family, and to read and go to shows. They would have loved to learn
and travel. And their parents would have loved to see them grow up,
and grow old together. They would all have wanted to love and be
loved. We have given them back names, ages and addresses.
I want to say to these children that France has not forgotten them.
I want to say that France loves them. I want to say that France will
do everything possible so that their suffering is a constant counsel
not to give in to hatred, bitterness or despair.
My children, we will build a France where you would have wanted to
My children, we will build a France where you will always live.
Long live the Republic, long live France.