PARIS, France — French President Emmanuel Macron has waded onto controversial ground by praising a World War I general who subsequently collaborated with the Nazis in World War II.
Marshal Philippe Petain led the French army to victory in Verdun in 1916, but gained infamy and a conviction for treason for his actions as leader of Vichy France in 1940 to 1944.
Macron said Wednesday in Charleville-Mezieres that Petain deserved praise for being “a great soldier” in WWI, although he took “fatal choices during the Second World War.”
The council representing the Jewish institutions of France (CRIF) called Macron’s comments “shocking” and “an insult.”
“The only thing we will remember from Petain is that he was, in the name of the French people, struck with national indignity during his trial in July 45,” said the president of CRIF, Francis Kalifat, in a statement.
Petain was complicit in the 1942 deportation of 13,000 Jews from France in the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup that was part of the Holocaust.
“I will not get into this bad polemic,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said in response to the criticism, warning against making “dubious shortcuts” before then quoting a sentence of General de Gaulle in 1966 on Petain that “his glory in Verdun cannot be contested or unknown by the Fatherland.”
“I will not get into this bad fight, not on a territory where millions of people have killed each other,” Grivaux concluded.
Several elected representatives, especially on the left, also protested Macron’s comments.
“Petain is a traitor and an anti-Semite, his crimes and treason are imprescriptible. Macron, this time, it’s too much! France is not your toy,” tweeted the leader of France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.