Emmanuel Macron: "Pétain was a great soldier during World War I"
Macron plan to pay WW1 tribute to Nazi collaborator Petain stirs anger
CHARLEVILLE-MEZIERES, France — French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said it was "legitimate" to pay tribute to Marshal Philippe Pétain, who led the French army to victory in World War I's Battle of Verdun but decades later collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II.
Macron's plan to honor Pétain alongside seven other French marshals who directed military campaigns during World War I, which next Monday will have ended 100 years ago, has unleashed criticism from Jewish groups and political opponents and on social media.
"I consider it entirely legitimate that we pay homage to the marshals who led our army to victory," Macron said in the eastern town of Charleville-Mézières that once lay on the front line between French and German troops.
"Marshal Pétain was a great soldier in World War I."
Renowned as a "soldier's soldier," Pétain was promoted to commander in chief of the French armies in mid-1917, after victory at Verdun, rebuilding troop morale after a series of mutinies and other setbacks.
French troops under shellfire during the Battle of Verdun. General Photographic Agency/Getty Images
Verdun was the longest battle of World War II, killing more than 300,000 French and German soldiers during 10 months of trench battles. Pétain emerged from the Great War as a national hero with streets in towns and cities across France named after him.
Two decades later, with France poised to fall to Nazi German forces in World War II, Pétain was appointed prime minister of France. His administration, based in the unoccupied part of the country known as Vichy France, collaborated with Nazi Germany and its deportation and extermination of the Jews.
After the war, Pétain was sentenced to death for treason, though France's president at the time, Gen. Charles de Gaulle, a longtime admirer of Pétain, reduced the punishment to life in prison.
"It is shocking that France can pay tribute to a man deemed unworthy of being French in a trial held in the name of the people," said Francis Kalifat, the president of Crif, the body that represents France's 400,000-strong Jewish community.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, the head of the hard-left France Unbowed party, wrote on Twitter: "Marshal Joffre was the military victor of the 1914-18 war. Pétain was a traitor and an anti-Semite. His crimes and his betrayal cannot be erased from history. Macron, this time, you've gone to far."
Pétain died in prison in 1951 at 95.
Video: Macron steers WWI centenary towards 'celebration of peace' | ITV News
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