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French PM reveals trauma over Holocaust survivor father’s suicide when she was 11

Elisabeth Borne says tragic history led her to avoid showing her emotions; explains her experiences after accusations, perhaps tinged with sexism, that she lacks warmth

France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne addresses media representatives following a presentation by GRTGaz at Bois-Colombes, north-west of Paris on June 23, 2022. (Thomas Coex/Various sources/AFP)
France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne addresses media representatives following a presentation by GRTGaz at Bois-Colombes, north-west of Paris on June 23, 2022. (Thomas Coex/Various sources/AFP)

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has spoken of the shock when as an 11-year-old she learned that her father Joseph, who had survived the Nazi death camp Auschwitz in the Holocaust, died by suicide.

In accusations perhaps tinged with sexism, critics had accused Borne, named prime minister by French President Emmanuel Macron last month, of lacking the human touch in France’s parliamentary election that cost the government its majority in the legislature.

In interviews with the Paris Match weekly and LCI television, she indicated it was this tragic history that at times led people to assume she was impervious to emotion.

“It’s shocking for an 11-year-old girl to lose her father in these conditions,” Borne, 61, told LCI. “And I think I closed up and that I avoid showing my emotions too much.”

“I think… this closing up, maybe, goes a little far. Yes”, she acknowledged.

Borne’s family history has been widely known in French political and media circles but this is the first time she has chosen to speak about it in public.

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne (L) attend a ceremony in Suresnes near Paris, on June 18, 2022. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool/AFP)

But she expressed pride over how France had allowed her to study under a special program for children who have lost parents, and eventually reach high office.

“We are a country where you can be the daughter of an immigrant, where you may have lost your father at 11, but the country reaches out to you to allow you to study,” she said.

“And then you are a [senior local official], and then you are a minister and you are even prime minister,” she added.

Her father, who news reports have said was named Joseph Bornstein, was a Jewish refugee who fled to France from Poland in 1940 and then fought in the French resistance during World War II. He was captured and deported to Auschwitz in 1944, but survived.

Borne this week offered her resignation to Macron in the wake of their party’s parliamentary losses, but the president rejected it and has resisted pressure — even from some allies — for her removal.

A respected technocrat, Borne had no previous experience of election campaigning before the June elections, when she won her seat in the north of France even though critics sniped that the margin of victory was more narrow than expected.

In her interview with LCI, she indicated she was not moving for now.

“My objective is to provide the best answers to the French and my conviction is that this is done through dialogue and that is what I have done throughout my professional life,” she said.

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