PARIS — France’s best-known Nazi hunter, Serge Klarsfeld, accused his country’s government during World War II of “complicity in a crime against humanity and genocide.”
Klarsfeld, a Holocaust survivor and historian, who, in 2014, received France’s highest civil honor together with his wife, Beate, made the assertion in an interview with the French news agency Agence-Presse France, published Saturday, on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv deportations.
On July 16 and 17, 1942, French police officers rounded up more than 13,000 Jews at the Winter Stadium, or Velodrome d’Hiver. The men, women, and children were imprisoned there for days in unsanitary conditions and without sufficient water, leading to dozens of fatalities, including through suicide. Then the Jews were transported, partly on French national railway wagons, to Nazi death camps in Eastern Europe.
More than 1,000 people, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attended the commemoration of the 75th anniversary Sunday near a monument that was erected where the stadium, which was demolished decades ago, used to stand.
Earlier, Klarsfeld accompanied Macron to a new memorial space, opened near the main Vel d’Hiv monument for Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazis, with help from French authorities.
“It’s not an appeal to sentiment,” Klarsfeld, who is a prominent member of the executive board of the Memorial for the Shoah group in France, told the president, “but to historical accuracy.” Macron told him: “Thank you for the work that you do.”
French presidents rarely attend the annual commemoration for the Vel d’Hiv deportations.
Earlier this month, the Communist Party of France condemned Netanyahu’s attendance at the Vel d’Hiv commemoration. An Israeli prime minister had not yet attended the annual ceremony, which is an official day of commemoration in France. The ceremony “is about peace, whereas the Israeli prime minister is a man of war,” the party said in a statement.
But Klarsfeld defended Netanyahu’s presence there as “totally appropriate.” He disputed that the ceremony was about peace, arguing it was about remembrance. “If there was a State of Israel, a Jewish state, in 1942, Vel d’Hiv would not have happened,” Klarsfeld said.