Marine Le Pen truly is her father’s daughter. Despite spending years working to take her far-right political party into the French mainstream, the National Front leader sparked outrage this week after she asserted publicly that France didn’t participate in the rounding up of Jews during the Second World War. Either Le Pen is ignorant or she’s attempting to galvanize ethno-centric far-right voters and reassert nationalist pride by whitewashing French history.
Marine Le Pen is daughter of longtime National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a fiery far-right politician known for his off-color, Neo-Nazi dogwhistle remarks about Jews and other minorities. In fact, the elder Le Pen was kicked out of the party after quipping that the Holocaust was merely a minor “detail in the history of World War II.”
Now, Ms. Le Pen has followed in her father’s footsteps, propagating an objectively false claim about the tragic events of the Holocaust.
“I think France isn’t responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” Le Pen said in an interview Sunday, alluding to to the Nazi-ordered roundup of over 13,000 Jews at the Vélodrome d’Hiver (known informally as Vel d’Hiv) cycling stadium in Paris.
“I think that, in general, if there are people responsible, it is those who were in power at the time. It is not France,” she said. “We have taught our children that they had every reason to criticise France, to see only the darkest historical episodes perhaps. I want them to be proud of being French once more.”
The date July 16, 1942, is seared into the collective memory of French Jewry. It was on that summer night that French police – not the Nazi occupiers – French police speaking French, pledging an oath of allegiance to the French principles of liberty and egalitarianism, rounded up the country’s Jews and handed them over to the Third Reich. Most of the Jews detained at Vel d’Hiv were ultimately shipped off to Auschwitz to suffer its horrors.
For those with a moral conscience, Vel d’Hiv will live on as a moment of national shame. For Le Pen, a woman who has pledged to restore the French Republic’s founding ethos, France’s role in the Holocaust is an inconvenient truth that must be obscured for the sake of national pride.
Le Pen’s comments come just two weeks before the multi-stage French presidential election officially kicks off. Once a dark horse with the slim potential to win, Le Pen is now a non-contender.
According to The Telegraph, centrist Emmanuel Macron, though currently "neck-and-neck" with Le Pen in opinion polls for the April 23 first-round vote, "will easily beat Ms Le Pen in the May 7 runoff between the two leaders from the first round, the polls suggest."
Unsurprisingly, Macron used Le Pen’s recent remarks about Holocaust victims to highlight the sheer radicalism of the National Front.
“Some people had forgotten that Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen,” he said. "They haven’t changed and we must have no indulgence or minimise what the Front National [French transliteration of National Front] is today in our country.”
Foreign leaders also joined the chorus of condemnation against the far-right French politician.
Anti-Semitism “is raising its head again today, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said in reference to Le Pen’s Holocaust revisionism. Her statement “contradicts the historical truth as expressed in statements by French presidents who recognised the country’s responsibility for the fate of the French Jews who perished in the Holocaust."
The fact that Le Pen has gotten this up the political totem pole speaks volumes about the cultural shift seen in French civil society in post-Brexit era Europe. Ten or twenty years ago, the National Front was a fringe party. Nobody took the far-right party seriously. It was a time when no respectable politician, let alone presidential candidate, would dare question extensively documented historical accounts of the Holocaust. But in post-modern Europe (and America for that matter), truth is relative; facts are but suggestions. In post-modern Europe, the National Front has made its way into the French mainstream.
Here’s what then-President Jacques Chirac said in 1995, just twenty years ago, about France’s role in the Vel d’Hiv roundup:
France, the homeland of the Enlightenment and of the rights of man, a land of welcome and asylum — France, on that day, committed the irreparable. Breaking its word, it handed those who were under its protection over to their executioners.
Today, a woman who denies these facts is running for president. But that’s not the shocking part. Despite the high-likelihood that Le Pen will lose the presidential election, the National Front enjoys immense support across France.
For decades, the far-right party was relegated to sidelines, operating as a fringe xenophobic group attractive to only the most hardened ethno-nationalists. But Le Pen has made major strides in softening the party’s image and expanding its appeal beyond its core constituency. While its core constituency is still largely comprised of xenophobic and sometimes even racist elements, the party has successfully expanded the tent to include Euroskeptics, labor unions, and working class constituents.
In an effort to expedite the “de-demonization of the Front National," Marine Le Pen once voiced her strong opposition to her father’s Holocaust denial, arguing that the genocide marked “the height of barbarism.” At one point, she even led the party into accepting more progressive stances on social issues, including the toleration of civil unions for same-sex couples.
Who would have thought it be Le Pen herself who would re-demonize her own party by propagating a diluted version of her father’s Holocaust denialism?