France's Macron launches season of WWII commemorative events


French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute on Sunday to 44 Jewish children deported from an orphanage in the southeast of France by the Nazis, and to members of the French Resistance, in the first of a string of events he is leading this year to mark 80 years since D-Day and the Liberation of Paris.

“The sole basis of anti-Semitism is hatred,” Macron said on Sunday, visiting the former orphanage in Izieu where on 6 April, 1944,  44 Jewish children were rounded up by the Gestapo with their seven instructors, also Jewish.

The raid was carried out on the orders of Klaus Barbie, the notorious Nazi known as the "Butcher of Lyon".

All the Izieu victims were deported to the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland or Reval in Estonia. Only one instructor survived.

The orphanage was founded by Sabine Zlatin, a Jewish resistance fighter of Polish origin. Between May 1943 and April 1944, she took in around 100 children whose parents had been deported.

"We went to school, we had a quiet life" even if the adults knew that "it was becoming more and more dangerous", Bernard Waysenson – one of the eight former residents attending Sunday's commemorations – told France's AFP agency.

'Hotbed of resistance'

Macron's visit was aimed at celebrating “the commitment of those who stood up against Nazism by welcoming the victims of persecution, and of those who opposed the abomination of republican values, by bringing the executioner Klaus Barbie to justice," the French presidency said.

Earlier on Sunday, the French president went to the mountain plateau of Glières, also in the Alps, which he described as a “hotbed of resistance” against Nazi rule.

From January to March 1944, 465 resistance fighters, known as maquisards, gathered at Glières to receive airdrops of weapons in the run-up to the Allied landings in Provence in August 1944.

Two thirds were taken prisoner by the German army and 124 killed during the fighting, or shot. Nine disappeared and 16 died in deportation.

One hundred and five of them are buried at the Morette military cemetery in nearby Thônes. 

Macron paid tribute to the diversity of the 465 maquisards: "Teachers, farmers, public figures, Jews and Catholics, communists, Socialists and Gaullists, anarchists, French and foreign officers united in the same fight against Nazism", he said.

Quoting the resistance fighters' motto: "Live free or die", he alluded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“This war must end", he insisted.

Uniting a divided nation

This year's WWII commemorations will reach a peak with ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings on 6 June, where a host of world leaders is expected to attend.

On 10 June, the president heads to the martyred village of Oradour-sur-Glane, where Nazi soldiers massacred 643 of its inhabitants on 10 June, 1944, before setting it ablaze.

France will mark the Allied invasion of Provence on 15 August, and the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation on 25 August.

The commemorative year closes on 23 November, when France marks the liberation of Strasbourg in the eastern province of Alsace near the German border.

Since his election in 2017, Emmanuel Macron has made much of memorialisation and his speeches often feature historical references – a way of trying to unite a divided nation.

Along with theParis Olympics, commemorations around the Liberation and D-Day are set to be a highlight of his second five-year term.

(with AFP)