French military teaches recruits about Holocaust
PARIS – The French official choked on the words he read to a room of Defense Ministry recruits and swallowed back tears as he tried to kick off an unusual program aimed at teaching about the.
The reading, from a young girl whose parents were arrested under the Nazi occupation, went straight to the heart of Friday's seminar on French officialdom's role in the Nazi terror.
"There were only French gendarmes. There were no Germans," read Eric Lucas, director of the ministry's historical agency.
"It poses the question of; but also individual," Lucas said.
The session on genocide awareness — which also included a debate, film and tour of the Holocaust Memorial museum in Paris — is to become regular training for new Defense Ministry officials.
Participants on Friday filed past museum walls etched with the names of thousands of French Jews deported to concentration camps during.
Some 76,000 Jews, 11,000 of them children, were deported from France to . Fewer than 3,000 returned alive.
In 1995,broke with the official position that France's Vichy regime was not synonymous with the French state, and said the nation bore some responsibility for deporting Jews in wartime France.
Chirac's move, along with trials of French collaborationists in the 1990s, helped create a "wave effect" that is gradually trickling throughout French government administrations and society, said historian Marc-Olivier Baruch.
"I hope with all my heart that this situation never arrives" parallel to that of the Nazi occupation, he said. If it does, he encouraged participants to remember French Resistance members who defied their government's orders.
Speakers on Friday did not discuss more recent cases of crimes against humanity, such as Rwanda or Darfur. But the participants raised questions about ways to ward against intolerance in government today. One asked how to respond to a superior's demand to report schoolchildren whose parents are illegal immigrants. A debate arose, with no clear conclusion.
The participants visited the "crypt" beneath the museum holding a black marble monument to the 6 million Jews killed in WWII. Upstairs, they walked past two huge screens showing a railway track and the Drancy train depot northeast of Paris, from where many French deportees were sent away.
Serving as a soundtrack were audio testimonies from survivors of the deportations. "I only cried once, when they said my father had been sent to a camp," said one woman. "It didn't do any good to cry."
More than 5,000 people including French police and judges have gone through similar programs at the museum, first launched in 2005, museum director Jacques Fredj said.
For years German soldiers, officers and civilian employees of the Defense Ministry have attended sessions about the Holocaust, often at memorials or former concentration camps in the country, a ministry spokesman said.
The spokesman also said the Bundeswehr, was supporting an Israeli army program called "Witnesses In Uniform" that brings Israeli officers to Germany. Together with German officers, the Israelis visit former concentration camps and in Germany., or the
Austria's Defense Ministry leads Holocaust-related briefings and excursions. At the Interior Ministry, police cadets visit the formeras part of their training. The Education Ministry, which oversees the country's teachers, offers programs that include study trips to .
Lucas, in closing his emotional reading of deportees' stories, said: "Our goal is not to condemn or to judge. It is to provide a period of reflection for each of you."