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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.yadvashem.org/

by Marc Blachère

The Righteous: Their Lesson Is Still Pertinent

Translated Sunday 11 February 2007, by Laura

Homage: during Europe’s darkest hours, they wrote one of its most beautiful pages, which is still widely unknown, of resistance to degradation, saving Jews by the thousands. On Thursday, France rendered solemn homage to the Righteous.

Their action is henceforth engraved in stone in the crypt of the Pantheon - the church which has become a secular temple dedicated to the cult of the Republic’s values and those it chooses to commemorate.

“During the Occupation years, thousands of lights refused to be extinguished beneath the blanket of hatred and darkness which had fallen on France. Our Righteous Ones, who saved Jews from antisemitic persecution and extermination camps, include men and women, among whom can be counted those who have been hailed by nations, and those who have remained anonymous, from every walk of life and from every ethnic origin. They faced risks, and embodied France’s honor, its values of justice, tolerance and humanity.”

This inscription echoes the title of “Righteous among the Nations”, created by the state of Israel, and awarded by the Yad Vashem foundation in Jerusalem. But it vastly enlarges its scope. Almost three thousand men and women in France have been awarded this title.

To be fair, will we have to multiply this number by three, four, ten, or perhaps more? How many villagers have remained anonymous, like those in Châteaumeillant (Cher), until the children who were hidden decided to pay them homage, as they approach the end of their lives? How many citizens like the Belleville woman, who, as she heard the French police climb the stairs of her building on July 16, 1942, hurried to her neighbors to grab the children who were hiding there, and pass them off as her own children whom she had confided to her neighbors while she went shopping?

In a sober statement, as she opened the ceremony that she had largely inspired, Simone Veil reminded the audience: “We will never know exactly how many of you there are. Some are already dead, without ever deeming it necessary to proclaim their actions. Others believed they have been forgotten by those they saved. Others have even refused to be honored, considering that what they did was simply their duty as Frenchmen, as Christians, as citizens, as men and women, towards those who were being pursued for the sole crime of being born Jewish.’

The President of the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah continued: “In no other country under Nazi occupation, with the exception of Denmark, was there such an outburst of solidarity as in France.” Of the 76,000 Jews who were deported from this country, only 2,500 returned, but “three quarters of the Jews in France escaped from the manhunt.”

In the presence of the entire government, and as a follow-up of his speeches given on July 16, 1995, and on July 8, 2004 in Chambon-sur-Lignon, Jacques Chirac restated the context: that of a France sullied by a government which, as early as October 3, 1940, took the initiative regarding the status of Jews. But that of a France which remained upright thanks to the determination of a group of men and women with widely ranging religious, philosophical and political motivations.

“Most of the Jews who were assassinated were delivered to the Germans by the Vichy government and its collaborators. But most of the Jews who escaped were saved by the French population.”

The values of France

Those who opposed “their refusal to be indifferent, to be blinded”, incarnate the “the very essence of mankind: his freedom of choice, and his liberty to follow his conscience”, the French President continued, illustrating history with history’s lessons.

This lesson is “more timely than ever”, because it’s that of a “never-ending struggle”. And he concluded: “At a time when individualism and the temptation of antagonisms are rampant, what we should see in the mirror of each human face, is not his difference, but rather, that which is universal. To those who question what it means to be French, and those who question what universal values France represents, you, the Righteous ones, have provided the most magnificent answer possible, right at the darkest moment of our history.”

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