History, Responsibility, and Justice

A French judicial committee recently declared French government responsible for deporting thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Of course, everybody already knew that French police and government officials were all too willing to collaborate with the Nazi regime after France surrendered in 1940. But now, at last, the official courts of France declare that they were in fact responsible for deporting and arresting Jews for the ‘crime’ of being Jewish in France. One of the most forgotten and troubling aspects of French History has been the degree to which French citizens complied with the Nazi occupation. The Vichy government, under Marshal Petain, was sympathetic to the Germans after their punitive experience after the WWI Treaty of Versailles. In fact, France had been overrun with anti-Semetic sentiment for years, especially following the French loss after the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. The Dreyfus Affair soon followed in which a military officer was imprisoned for being a traitor was a pivotal case in Jewish History. The birth of modern Zionism came soon after. What Dreyfus was really guilty of was not being ‘french’ enough. The fact that he was Jewish detracted from his allegiance to France. And the pattern of Jewish people getting scapegoated for social problems and was losses continued.

And now fast forward to 1940 and the French quickly lost sovereignty to German Nazi forces, the French were all to quick to comply with the deportation of Jews. In fact, often it was not even Nazi orders which sent the jews in cattle cars, it was racist Parisian cops that participated in the deportation with gusto. Between 1941 and 1944, 75,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps and were often holed up in a Parisian event center while they awaited SS trains.


I remember wondering around the Marais when I lived in Paris, sensing the gravity of these peoples murder

"165 Jewish children of this school were deported to Germany during the second World War where they were exterminated at Nazi Camps----Never Forget" (doesn't say that it was the Parisian Police who did the arresting and deporting)


 So, France now finally admits officially that they were responsible in executing French Jews. This is long overdue. However, the court also ruled that Jewish families have already been compensated enough for these crimes and no further reparations are going to be paid. I don’t know if reparations equate justice. I’m sure they help, but punishing someone with money is not equal to punishing someone with deportation and death. I am not sure that justice has to be punishment. I personally feel that admitting wrongs and recognizing the truth is more important that money. I would also even say that money trivializes what was done. It is not as if monetary reparations can make it okay what the French government did.

This brings up the idea of reparations in general. There are still groups of black americans whom wish to be compensated for the 40 acres and a mule they never got. (plus interest) I am pretty sure that their campaign efforts could be better utilized towards current problems for the black community, such as the prison system, racial profiling, and inporportionate imprisonment and execution of black men. I think history is important for truth and understanding, but I don’t think it is necessarily for righting the wrongs of the past with money. It is a pipe dream. 

Instead of individual monetary justice, I think collective truth and justice is what France needs for its healing.

Either way, it is an important step for French history to recognize their awful part in the Holocaust. And, the issue of reparations will continue because there are many groups of people who are being persecuted unjustly right now, and perhaps in the future these governments will too come clean about their involvement.


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