NEW YORK — Leaders of New York City’s Jewish community have called for the removal of plaques honoring Nazi collaborators from Manhattan’s famous section of Broadway.
Henri-Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval were leaders of the Vichy government, a puppet government installed by the Nazis in France during World War II.
Both were convicted of treason and executed after the war for collaborating with the Nazis, including deporting 75,000 French Jews to concentration camps.
At Friday’s Holocaust Remembrance Day event, Manhattan Mayor Mark Levine called on the city to remove plaques from the sidewalks of Lower Manhattan’s “Canyon of Heroes.”
Members of the City Council’s Jewish caucus, descendants of Holocaust survivors, representatives of the World Jewish Congress, and representatives of the New York Council on Jewish Community Relations joined Levine at the event.
They released a joint letter to be sent to the city’s public design commission, demanding that the names of the Nazi collaborators be removed from the site immediately.
Levine said that Pétain and Laval “embodied the worst of human nature.”
“We must act swiftly to remove the memorial to those who allied with the Third Reich and perpetuated the genocide against Jews and other marginalized groups in Europe.” Levine, a Jew, said, “In a city of more than a million Jews, many of their Jewish ancestors fled from countries controlled by Nazi collaborators. These plaques exist.” It is painful and shameful.”
“The Holocaust was one of the darkest times in history, and those who enabled and participated in its atrocities should not be honored,” said Eric Dinowitz, chairman of the city council’s Jewish caucuses.
Gideon Taylor, CEO of New York’s Council on Jewish Community Relations, said removing the plaque “will be a teaching moment as well as honoring Holocaust survivors.”
Research shows widespread ignorance about the Holocaust in the United States, including New York, home to the largest Jewish community outside of Israel.
A 2020 survey by the Council on Claims Representing Jews for Holocaust Reparations found that 60% of New Yorkers were unaware that 6 million Jews were murdered. 58% could not name any concentration camps. 19% believed Jews caused the Holocaust. And 43% did not know what Auschwitz was.
Jews have also been targeted in far more hate crimes in New York City than any other group, with anti-Semitic incidents reported to police on an almost daily basis over the past year.
The Pétain and Laval plaques were installed at this location in 2004, New York’s answer to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
A 13-block section of the sidewalk commemorates those honored in New York City’s Ticker Tape Parade, which Pétain and Laval participated in in 1931, before they cooperated with the Nazis.
Pétain was invited to the parade because of his status as a hero who led the French to victory at the Battle of Verdun in World War I.
Just nine years later, Pétain was responsible for arresting over 10,000 Jews and turning them over to the Nazis as head of state for the Vichy regime.
His name stands alongside figures such as Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and former U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
In France, all streets named after Pétain have been renamed, and no monument to the Marshal remains in the country.
Former mayor Bill de Blasio promised to remove the plaque in 2017. Instead, the committee suggested adding historical context, but that never materialized.
Last year, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City removed a prominent statue of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt from land owned by the city, citing racist overtones.
In 2021, New York City Hall will remove a statue of former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson because he owned slaves.
AFP contributed to this report.
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