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Holocaust survivor slams French protesters for comparing vaccine to Nazi horrors

Speaking at memorial ceremony, Joseph Szwarc says comparison is ‘hateful’ after anti-vaccination demonstrators wear yellow stars, hold banners referencing Auschwitz

Illustrative: A yellow star that reads 'not vaccinated' is attached to the back of a protester during a rally in Paris, July 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)
Illustrative: A yellow star that reads 'not vaccinated' is attached to the back of a protester during a rally in Paris, July 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

PARIS — A French Holocaust survivor has denounced anti-vaccination protesters comparing themselves to Jews who were persecuted by Nazi Germany during World War II. French officials and anti-racism groups joined the 94-year-old in expressing indignation.

As more than 100,000 people marched around France against government vaccine rules on Saturday, some demonstrators wore yellow stars recalling the ones the Nazis forced Jews to wear. Other demonstrators carried signs evoking the Auschwitz death camp or South Africa’s apartheid regime, claiming the French government was unfairly mistreating them with its anti-pandemic measures.

“You can’t imagine how much that upset me. This comparison is hateful. We must all rise up against this ignominy,” Holocaust survivor Joseph Szwarc said Sunday during a ceremony commemorating victims of antisemitic and racist acts by the French state, which collaborated with Adolf Hitler’s regime.

“I wore the star, I know what that is, I still have it in my flesh,” Szwarc, who was deported from France by the Nazis, said with tears in his eyes. “It is everyone’s duty to not allow this outrageous, antisemitic, racist wave to pass over us.”

France’s secretary of state for military affairs, who also attended the ceremony, called the protesters’ actions “intolerable and a disgrace for our republic.”

The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism said the protesters were “mocking victims of the Holocaust” and minimizing crimes against humanity committed during World War II.

Holocaust survivor Joseph Szwarc expresses outrage at the use of the yellow star by anti-vaxxers while speaking at a ceremony in France to commemorate the rounding up of Jews during the Holocaust, July 19, 2021 (YouTube/Screen grab)

Saturday’s protests involved a mix of people angry at the government for various reasons, and notably supporters of the far right. Prominent French far-right figures have been convicted in the past of antisemitism, racism and denying the Holocaust.

The government is introducing a bill Monday requiring all health care workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and requiring COVID passes to enter restaurants and other venues.

At a large protest in Paris on Saturday against vaccine rules, one demonstrator pasted a star on his back reading “not vaccinated.” Bruno Auquier, a 53-year-old town councilor who lives on the outskirts of Paris, drew a yellow star on his T-shirt and handed out arm bands with the star.

“I will never get vaccinated,” Auquier said. “People need to wake up,” he said, questioning the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

Anti-vaccine protester wearing an ‘unvaccinated’ star holds a placard during a rally in Paris, July 17, 2021 (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Auquier expressed concern that the new measures would restrict his two children’s freedom and pledged to take them out of school if vaccination becomes mandatory.

Polls suggest most French people support the measures, but they have prompted anger in some quarters. Vandals targeted two vaccination centers in southwest France over the weekend. One was set on fire, and another covered in graffiti, including a reference to the Nazi occupation of France.

A protestor wearing a yellow vest holds a placard reading ‘The upcoming experimental vaccine campaign constitutes a violation of the Nuremberg code’ as she takes part in a demonstration against the new coronavirus safety measures in Marseille on July 17, 2021 (CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)

France has reported more than 111,000 deaths in the pandemic, and new confirmed cases are increasing again, raising worries about renewed pressure on hospitals and further restrictions that would damage jobs and businesses.

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