It’s a good week for anti-Semitism in Europe.
But, ever a trend setter, Marine Le Pen made the spectacular statement this weekend that France was not responsible for the infamous Vélodrome d’Hiver roundup of 13,000 Jews, the majority of whom were sent on to their deaths at Auschwitz.
This is not run-of-the-mill Holocaust denial—Le Pen does not dispute that the Jews were gathered and deported. Rather, she refuses to allow that “France” was at fault. As translated by the Washington Post,
I don’t think that France is responsible for the Vel d’Hiv. I think that in general, more generally, if there were those responsible, it was those who were in power at the time. This is not France.
This is the magical version of French history where all the true French were valiant members of the Resistance. That myth was thoroughly propagated by Charles de Gaulle as a means of bringing the country back together post-Liberation. It was also thoroughly debunked by historians like Robert Paxton. The particular pathos that supported denials of (and, later, apologies for) Vichy’s actions was also well explored by Henry Rousso—you may remember him as the guy detained for ten hours in Houston in February and threatened with deportation.
Le Pen’s statement is a bit surprising, in that she has painstakingly distanced her National Front Party from the kinds of overt and explicit anti-Semitism her father (Jean-Marie Le Pen) had espoused. Conveniently, her support for Jews could be measured in overt anti-Muslim proposals.
Perhaps the most troubling bit of Le Pen’s revisionism is her insistence that it is necessary for France’s health:
France has been mired in people’s minds for years. In reality, our children are taught that they have every reason to criticize her, to see only the darkest historical aspects. I want them to be proud to be French again.
And here is the echo of every rising ultra-nationalist, make-the-white-world-great-again populist in today’s world. Acknowledging the historical sins of our societies and cultures (let alone actually critiquing them—or demanding that we reckon with their lingering effects) is weakness. National pride can rest only on the unsullied, imaginary foundation of whitewashed history. And in these newly proud nations, there is, of course, no room for those against whom we have sinned.