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France Acknowledges Responsibility for Deportation of Jews during Holocaust

On February 16, 2009, France's top judicial body, the Council of State, formally acknowledged the French government's responsibility for the deportation of thousands of Jews to Nazi death camps during World War II. The council's ruling was the most authoritative admission of the role of the collaborationist Vichy government in the treatment of Jews during the German occupation of France and the Holocaust.

The ruling came in response to a request from a lower court hearing a claim from the daughter of a deportee who died in Auschwitz and was seeking reparations from the French state for the death of her father and her own personal suffering during and after the war.

While the council left it to the Paris court to rule on the woman's claim, it declared in its decision that it "considers that because the acts and actions by the state led to the deportation of people considered Jews by the Vichy regime, (they) constituted errors and became its responsibility." The council further used the opportunity to call for a "solemn recognition of the collective prejudice suffered (by the deportees), of the role played by the state in their deportation as well as the memory that should remain forever ... of their suffering and that of their families."

Although the council's ruling was significant in its recognition of France's state actions during the Holocaust, it dismissed the woman's claim and other similar claims seeking reparations before various French courts. "The various measures taken since the end of World War II, by way of indemnities as well as symbolic, have repaired, as far as this is possible, all the wrongs suffered," the council ruled.

France's role in the Holocaust has often been treated as a sensitive subject in the country's history. In 1995, then-President Jacques Chirac became the first French leader to formally acknowledge the collective fault of the country in the betrayal of French Jews during World War II, breaking with the official position that the Vichy regime is not synonymous with the French state. In 1997, Olivier de Berranger, bishop of Drancy, asked forgiveness for the Roman Catholic hierarchy's silence as thousands of Jews were deported to Nazi camps via the railway staging area in the Paris suburbs at Drancy.

The most recent ruling said that Marshal Philippe Pétain's collaborationist government and French authorities were guilty of helping to deport 76,000 Jews, including 11,000 children, to Nazi camps. Fewer than 3,000 returned alive.

France today is home to the largest Jewish community in Western Europe, approximately 500,000 people.

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