Far-right candidate bedeviled by France’s Nazi history

Anti-Semitic stigma reawakened

PARIS — The horrors of the Second World War Nazi death camps moved front and centre in France’s presidential campaign on Friday, nine days before the election, reawakening the anti-Semitic stigma that has clung to the party of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and that she has spent more than six years trying to erase.

Transforming the National Front into a voter-friendly party without compromising its anti-system essence — which is her banner — has been perhaps her toughest battle preparing for her dream job as chief of state.

Her efforts, that included showing her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, the door in 2015, took a hit after remarks questioning the Holocaust allegedly made in 2000 by the man chosen to temporarily replace her as party chief surfaced in the French press. The reports threatened to undo her work nudging the National Front from pariah status to respectability.

Le Pen — who once called Nazi death camps the “height of barbary” — firmly denied that anyone in the party leadership would cast doubt on the extermination of six million Jews and others, some deported from France.

“Let things be very clear. I abhor these theories,” she said in an interview on BFM-TV.

“There is no one in the leadership of the National Front who defends this kind of thesis,” she said.

Even without the cloud of anti-Semitism casting its shadow anew on the party, Le Pen, who took over the National Front in 2011, faces claims of racism for evoking fears that Muslims want to conquer France. A resistance was mounting with anti-Le Pen demonstrations planned.

But it was the alleged remarks 17 years ago of Jean-Francois Jalkh, a discrete party vice-president and longtime member, which raised the question of whether Le Pen risks throttling France backward to its darkest moments if she defeats centrist rival Emmanuel Macron, who is favoured, and becomes the next president.

Jalkh firmly denies French media reports that he questioned whether Zyklon B poison gas was used in death camps. Lawyer David Dassa-Le Deist said he was filing a defamation suit against Le Monde newspaper, which identified his client as a negationist, someone who denies the Holocaust.

Damage control was swift. Another party stalwart, Steeve Briois, mayor of Le Pen’s northern bastion, Henin-Beaumont, was named to replace Jalkh as temporary party chief while Le Pen campaigns in the critical final stretch ahead of the May 7 vote.

Le Pen has reversed the party’s slide into ideological darkness, after a purge of the old guard, including their master, Le Pen senior, when he repeating a statement belittling the Holocaust for which he was convicted. But she has not fully succeeded in revamping the party’s image.

In the 1990s, 70 per cent of the French said the National Front was a danger to democracy — a figure that today has fallen to 58 per cent, according to noted far-right expert Jean-Yves Camus.

Surmounting that stigma is critical for Le Pen to obtain a majority in the final-round vote and surpass her rival, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, a former economy minister and banker favoured to win — and the rival Le Pen reviles as the symbol of an elitist system she rejects.

“No, the National Front is not a party like any other,” Macron said in the town of Chatellerault. Fellow politicians who refuse to call on voters to block Le Pen “are making a deep, serious, moral and political mistake,” he said.

For Macron, the timing was perfect. He paid a visit to Oradour-Sur-Glane, the village that has stood still in time since the 1944 Nazi massacre of 642 of its inhabitants.

Oradour-Sur-Glane, with the savagery of a massacre, is a macabre, black-and-white showcase of the Nazi occupation of France.

French emotions around France’s history of collaborating with the Nazis remain complex seven decades after the war’s end. The country has never undergone a national atonement. In 1995, President Jacques Chirac boldly declared that the collaborationist Vichy regime — which helped in the deportation of 75,000 French Jews — was the French state. However, many still view the actions of Vichy as a historical anomaly. Some still salute its leader, Philippe Petain, a hero of World War I.

The scandal over alleged remarks by a party vice-president was the second time this month that Le Pen has been cornered by France’s World War II past.

The populist candidate said April 10 that France was not responsible for the roundup of Jews during World War II. She said she “considers that France and the Republic were in London” during the war, with Gen. Charles de Gaulle who oversaw the Resistance.

Famed Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld called her position a “re-alignment” with her father.

Even if she is widely thought to have erased anti-Semitic sentiment from the party, Le Pen is taken to task about her attitude toward Muslims and her anti-immigration platform which would include a moratorium on immigration, a 10,000-person lid on new arrivals and a street ban on Muslim headscarves and Jewish kippahs.

A battery of culture groups representing jazz artists, choreographers or cinema called for a rally next Monday. The leading anti-racism group, SOS Racism, and Jewish groups plan a concert two days later. Yves Jean, president of the University of Poitiers in western France, is rallying students to vote against Le Pen.

Le Pen, meanwhile, called on followers of unsuccessful far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon to back her and she gained one important backer Friday, a conservative candidate also eliminated from the race, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. However, vice-president of his party, former director of the national library, Dominique Jamet, was leaving in protest.

___

Sylvie Corbet contributed from Chatellerault, Angela Charlton contributed from Paris.

Elaine Ganley, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Accused murderer tells all to Mr. Big undercover officer

Joshua Frank tells undercover police officer he shot the Klaus family

Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre prepares to open

Non-profit will run the facility and agencies will provide staff

A slow economic recovery isn’t yet loosening Central Alberta’s tight job market

Job-seekers at Red Deer fair say there are still few openings

Rocky Mountain House man arrested for child luring

A 30-year-old Rocky Mountain House man was arrested after allegedly having explicit… Continue reading

Parkinson association will close offices but maintain services

Offices closing in Red Deer, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge

WATCH: Central Middle School students’ Christmas tree

A group of Central Middle School students are set to show off… Continue reading

Red Deerian honours her brother who died in a motorcycle collision

Houaida Haddad is encouraging Red Deer residents to donate blood

Red Deer County firefighters to be recognized for Waterton help

RCMP brass will give formal recognition Monday

Ron James tries to lighten humanity’s load through humour

The comedian returns to Red Deer for shows Dec. 1 and 2

100+ Women Red Deer donate to Christmas Bureau

About $14,000 will help with Christmas hampers and toys

Semi collides with vehicle on Highway 2 north of Ponoka

Members of the Ponoka Integrated Traffic Unit dealt with a call on Highway 2 north of Ponoka

After 70 years, Red Deer veteran still remembers his traumatic war experience

Frank Krepps feels lucky to have survived the Second World War

Merritt Mountie charged with assault

Charges are in relation to an incident in May at the detachment, B.C. Prosecution Service said

Blackfalds RCMP arrest “armed and dangerous” man

A 38-year-old man, who police identified as armed and dangerous, was arrested… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month