French Prime Minister Jean Castex called on Friday to “fight everywhere and always against the unfulfilled temptations of barbarism,” during a ceremony at the Izieu memorial museum, in Ain.
Castex visited the final refuge of 44 Jewish children and their six educators, rounded up on April 6, 1944 by order of the Gestapo, commanded by Klaus Barbie. They were all deported and murdered in Nazi extermination camps.
“The throat tightens, the voice breaks at the mere idea that these children torn from their parents, hunted down and chased, these children thrown into trucks, could find the strength and the courage to sing, until the end, their love of France,” Castex said, alluding to the song “You Won’t Have Alsace and Lorraine” that the children sang in trucks after the roundup.
The prime minister paid tribute to the local population, recalling the assistance given to refugee children, and underlined the benevolent role played by the then sub-prefect, Pierre-Marcel Wiltzer.
“Between the villages of Izieu and Brégnier-Cordon, everyone knows [of the refugee] colony, everyone knows and everyone is silent.”
Castex lingered in several rooms of the memorial, in front of drawings left by the children from the class led by teacher Gabrielle Perrier.
Castex paid tribute to the “magnificent speech of Jacques Chirac,” delivered in 1995 during a commemoration of the Vel d’Hiv Roundup of July 16, 1942. The former head of state had recognized the “responsibility of our country in the deportation of the Jews.”
As early as 1946, a first ceremony was held in Izieu, as recalled by an exhibition at the memorial museum.
“Here each child has a place and a name that will not perish. They are alive, in a memorial of the French Republic,” said Thierry Philip, president of the Izieu memorial.
Inaugurated in 1994, the memorial receives 30,000 visitors a year, including 15,000 schoolchildren.