August 10, 2011

Selective memory (part 3)

If you walk around Paris, especially around the Ile de la Cité, home to Notre Dame Cathedral, you see countless light grey plaques, emblazened with the tricolore, remembering the deaths of policemen and Résistants during the Liberation. Only relatively recently–since Jacques Chirac's 1995 apology for crimes committed under the auspices of the Vichy regime–have new, dark grey plaques emerged round the city, especially in the traditional Jewish quarter of the Marais. On the wall of the École Maternelle (the infant school) opposite my flat there is one such plaque, remembering the young children from this area who were deported during the Occupation. Few tourists take notice of such plaques, nor indeed the grey slab opposite the exit to the Bir Hakeim exit commemorating the Rafle du Vél d'Hiv. It will be interesting to see how next year, 70 years since the round-ups, the event itself is commemorated. Will there be as much newspaper coverage as that given to the controversey surrounding the 14th July 'Citizens' Parade'? The 2010 film, La Rafle, pulled no punches in the treatment it gave to the French police and civil servants involved in the round-ups, which has perhaps helped to immortalize the victims of the event more than any monument could do. Let's hope that the 2012 election campaigns make much of remembering the crimes committed by the French authorities, in the alleged 'City of Light', and that whoever the next President is (it could, of course, remain Sarkozy), the memory of the innocent victims is not forgotten.

plaque ile saint louis

A plaque on the Ile St-Louis (4th Arrondissement) commemorating a group of Jewish children deported from the property during the Occupation. Image ©David Lees


Richard Burton, Blood in the City: Violence and Revelation in Paris 1789-1945 (New York: Cornell University Press, 2001)

J.G. Shields, The Extreme Right in France from Pétain to Le Pen (London: Routledge, 2007)

La Rafle (Dir: Rose Bosch, 2010)

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