04 October 2010
Marshal Philippe Pétain, who presided the Vichy government that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, personally ordered to make anti-Jewish legislation harsher, a leading French Nazi hunter has said, citing a newly unveiled document. Serge Klarsfeld said Pétain penciled harsher measures into a statute on Jews issued by his Vichy regime exactly 70 years ago. World War I hero Pétain signed an armistice with the Nazis in 1940 which divided the country, leaving the northern part, including the capital Paris, in German hands. Pétain (pictured above at a meeting with Hitler in 1940) created a government to the south in unoccupied France with its capital in the town of Vichy. According to the statute, which Klarsfeld said had been handed over anonymously to the Holocaust Memorial in Paris and authenticated by experts. Pétain wrote his own notes on the draft, drastically worsening conditions for Jews in France. "We didn't know until now that Pétain had made changes to the text of 3 October1940 and that he had made it stricter," Klarsfeld told reporters.
The Vichy government helped in deporting about 80,000 Jews to concentration camps from France between 1942 and 1944. The amendments "completely redrafted" the nature of an already extremely anti-Semitic text, Klarsfeld added. "It shows this was the desire of Pétain himself," he said of the document, which went on display a few days earlier. The original text had excluded the descendants of French Jews born or naturalized before 1860, but the notes showed Petain had crossed this out, making all Jews targets for discrimination.
Pétain also widened the exclusion for Jews in society, barring them completely from jobs in education and the justice system and preventing them from standing for elected posts. The marshal’s defenders have always said his policies aimed to protect French Jews by assimilating them into the local culture and converting them into Catholics. "That argument collapses with this document," said Klarsfeld, who lost many members of his family in the Holocaust and was decorated for his work seeking prosecutions for Nazi war crimes. Pétain was tried after the war and sentenced to death for treason, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on an island off the Atlantic coast. He died in 1951.
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