French leader Emmanuel Macron visited the seat of the French collaborationist government during World War II on Wednesday, becoming the first president to set foot in the city of Vichy for more than 60 years.
The Head of State observed a minute of silence in front of a memorial dedicated to the victims of a notorious roundup of 6,500 Jews in 1942 in the company of famous French Nazi hunters Beate and Serge Klarsfeld.
“It is a moment of emotion and a relief to see a president come to Vichy”, declared Serge Klarsfeld afterwards.
Macron’s visit comes at a time of national debate over the legacy of collaborationist leader Philippe Pétain, as well as calls from local Vichy officials for the picturesque town to be freed from its association with one of the darkest periods. from the country.
Far-right expert and presidential candidate Eric Zemmour recently echoed his previous statements that Pétain had saved French Jews by instead deporting foreign Jews to Nazi concentration camps, angering historians and activists from the Holocaust.
Aides Macron insisted his trip was not meant to meet Zemmour, but the president said in an interview on Wednesday that “Vichy is taking us back to history. This story has been lived and has been written by historians. Let’s not handle it, shake it or overhaul it. “
The 43-year-old, who is set to run for re-election in April, has also heard complaints from Vichy residents about their struggles with the legacy of Pétain’s decision to set up his government in the city and collaborate with the Nazis after the French army. defeated in 1940.
Local mayor Frédéric Aguilera of the right-wing Republicans party has said he wants the widely used expression “Vichy regime” to disappear.
“We feel the weight of words every day, the weight of an unfair stigma. Vichy remains associated with the shame of France, Vichy is the shame of France, ”he said during a ceremony with Macron.
The city in central France, north of Clermont Ferrand, is also home to popular natural spas and seeks to market itself as a destination for wellness and beauty.
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