France: The Return of Anti-Semitism

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Jewish deportees at the Drancy transit camp outside Paris, 1942

The following is a translation of a talk given by the former French minister of justice in Lyon last February.

I have come many times in the past to Lyon to commemorate the roundup of Jews on February 9, 1943, in the rue Sainte-Catherine, a place that is still so charged with painful memories. I’ve come alone and I’ve come with members of my family. I’ve watched the ceremonies. But I myself have never chosen to speak. The children of those deported, who saw their loved ones vanish into the night of the death camps, were, so to speak, amputees. Life heals the wound, scars form. But there are times when the unspeakable pain returns, when there is nothing but an empty void. I dreaded that sense of emptiness and chose instead to come among you all, in an act of filial piety and faithfulness to memory. Today, however, the time has come to break my silence.

Why did they die, those who fell into the trap set for them by Klaus Barbie on this spot? They were arrested on the third floor, in the offices of the Union générale des israélites de France (UGIF), the General Union of French Jewry, where efforts were underway to find hiding places for Jewish children. They were herded downstairs amid the clatter of SS jackboots. They were thrown into trucks that stood waiting at the end of the street and taken to Montluc prison. That was their first stop on the painful journey that took them from Lyon to Drancy, and then on to the death camp at Auschwitz, in Poland.

And so they died as martyrs because the hatred for Jews, the Nazis’ demented anti-Semitism, condemned them to death. They died because they were Jews, and for that reason alone. Men and women, children and the elderly, their fates were sealed by the decisions of Hitler and his accomplices. The rest of it, the extermination of six million Jews on the European continent, was nothing more than a matter of implementing that decision by any means necessary, however atrocious. Peace returned, but the deportees did not. Everyday life resumed without them. There seemed good reason to believe that violent anti-Semitism had been drowned in the torrents of blood spilled in the Holocaust.

It was a fool’s paradise, we know that now. The religious anti-Semitism that reigned in the time of the Inquisition and the nationalistic anti-Semitism that prevailed during the Dreyfus Affair were succeeded by the racial anti-Semitism of the twentieth century, the worst of them all. Then, in the twenty-first century, a new breed of anti-Semitism sprang up, masquerading under the name of anti-Zionism, and fomented by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, two thousand miles away from France. We believe in the principle of a just peace between the…

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