|Far-right candidate for the presidential election Marine Le Pen speaks during a campaign meeting in Monswiller near Strasbourg, eastern France, April 5, 2017. (Jean-Francois Badias / AP)|
PARIS – Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has touched a raw nerve in France by denying the French state's responsibility for a mass arrest of Jews in Paris during World War Two.
I think that, in general, if there are people responsible, it is those who were in power at the time. It is not FranceMarine Le Pen, French presidential candidate
Le Pen, a frontrunner in the election being held this month and next, triggered an outcry with her comments on one of the darkest episodes of French history when the country was occupied by the Nazis during the war.
"I think France isn't responsible for the Vel d'Hiv," Le Pens aid in a French media interview on Sunday, referring to the July 16, 1942 German-ordered roundup by French police of 13,000Jews in Paris.
Most of the Jews were crammed in appalling conditions into the Velodrome d'Hiver or Winter Velodrome cycling stadium, colloquially known as the Vel d'Hiv, before being deported to the Auschwitz extermination camp.
"I think that, in general, if there are people responsible, it is those who were in power at the time. It is not France," Le Pen said in comments that were condemned by other presidential candidates, a Jewish group and Israel's Foreign Ministry.
"We have taught our children that they had every reason to criticize France, to see only the darkest historical aspects perhaps. I want them to be proud of being French once more," she said in the interview with media organizations Le Figaro, RTL and LCI.
France has long struggled to come to terms with its role under the collaborationist Vichy regime during World War Two.
Altogether 76,000 Jews deported from France were killed.
In 1995, then President Jacques Chirac recognized that the French state shared responsibility for deporting Jews to Nazi death camps during the war, the first time a post-war French head of state had fully acknowledged France's role.
Socialist President Francois Hollande in 2012 described the1942 mass arrest as "a crime committed in France, by France."
Le Pen’s comments, just as campaigning officially opened in the election, could set back her attempts to clean up the image of her anti-immigration National Front and distance it from the anti-Semitic views of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party's founder.
Le Pen issued a statement late on Sunday saying she considered that the French state was in exile in London during the occupation and that her stance "in no way exonerates the effective and personal responsibility of the French people who took part in the horrible Vel d'Hiv roundup and in all the atrocities committed during this period."
The Israeli foreign ministry condemned Le Pen's comments.
"This contradicts the historical truth as expressed in statements by French presidents who recognized the country’s responsibility for the fate of the French Jews who perished in the Holocaust," a spokesman said.
Rival election candidates also criticized Le Pen.