Joseph Schwartz was furious. The energetic and clear-headed 94-year-old was addressing the annual ceremony organized by the CRIF Jewish umbrella organization and the French Armed Forces ministry commemorating the notorious Vel D ’ Hiv Round-up of Jews in France in July 1942.
But while attended by not more than 250 people, mostly elderly survivors, their families, CRIF and ministry officials, and the Armed Forces band, the event made national news, and kicked off the current yellow star controversy.
A number of French anti-vaxxer activists have compared the now obligatory national health pass proving anti-Covid vaccination to the yellow star French Jews were forced to wear by the collaborationist French Vichy government. In recent demonstrations throughout France, militants have actually worn a highly visible yellow star.
In a clear, emotion-wracked voice of a man much younger than 94, Joseph Schwartz told the ceremony gathering, "This comparison is disgusting. It brought tears to my eyes. I wore the yellow star. I still have it in my flesh. "
Schwartz ’ anger and hurt were picked up by French radio, television and written press outlets, and by social media, bringing the controversy, and inadvertently the ceremony, to the attention of millions of people. Even "The New York Times" quoted him in an article.
The comparison has gathered little to no support from the French public. People find it insulting, anti-Semitic, and most of all ridiculous. But Schwartz ’ comments brought him and the ceremony attention, and have created a major buzz concerning the yellow star as a twisted strategy by the anti-vaxxer movement.
" We French cannot let such statements get by with impunity, " he told Globes. "These people making this comparison are idiots. The country is falling asleep. We are too safe and protected here.
Talking to "Globes', Schwartz said, "I had not planned to make such statements about the yellow star comparison. But in front of the microphone, the emotion hit me and I started expressing my anger."
The press reaction surprised him. "I never thought I would be all over the press in France. People tried to contact me on Facebook. But I said what I had to say. I think the anti-vaxxers will never use yellow stars in their demonstrations again. They are fools, but I think they understand that very very few French people agree with their comparison. "
Prime Minister Jean Castex said the comparisons and demonstrations and related violence were infuriating and a threat to French republican values.
Economy minister Bruno Le Maire said he was " disgusted " by the sight of demonstrators wearing the yellow star.
Independent analysts are linking the yellow star incidents with anti-vaxxer activists on social networks focusing on Israel as an example where a massive vaccination campaign has failed to halt the spread of new variants of the Covid virus.
" I believe that these activists are part of a growing conspiracy network in France with strong anti-Semitic leanings, " said political analyst and conspiracy expert Rudi Reichstadt, head of Conspiracy Watch in France, speaking on Radio J, the morning Jewish radio station in Paris. "They are visibly trivializing the Shoah and the deportation of the Jews by French police. And via social media networks, they can reach millions of people. "
At least three vaccination centers have been vandalized in France since the yellow star controversy exploded last week. Several deputies who voted for the obligatory health pass have received death threats. This anti-vax violence is something new in France.
"These acts are inspired by the American model of extreme protest, " Reichstadt continued. "For now, the activists are few in number, but the violence could attract many more people who become extremists."
The Conspiracy Watch website states that Nazism and its symbols have become a favorite source of inspiration of " Covid sceptic " militants. With a straight face, they have compared the obligatory pass with the murderous politics of the Third Reich, and President Emmanuel Macron with Adolph Hitler.
One tool against this trivialization of the Shoah has been education on a very local level. Sponsored by Jewish groups and by the French education ministry, since 1995 survivors of the deportations have been active in the transmission of their personal stories in schools throughout the country.
Before 1995, nobody ever explained anything in schools, because officially the French state and police were not responsible for the Vel d ’ Hiv and other round-ups of Jews. The Germans were. That changed when President Jacques Chirac addressed this same commemoration in 1995, and stated for the first time that the French Vichy government was responsible.
" The Vel d ’ Hiv is a part of French history, " CRIF President Francis Kalifat told the gathering. " It was not an accident. But we must remember that almost three quarters of Jews in France were saved. That too was France. And comparing the Covid pass to the yellow star? Very stupid and anti-Semitic. "
The Vel d ’ Hiv Round-up has come to symbolize all the deportations of Jews from France. On July 16-17, 1942, French police arrested 13,152 Jews, mostly in immigrant districts of eastern Paris, and savagely dumped them in a popular bike-racing stadium (the Vélodrome d’Hiver) on the Seine river in the western part of the capital (long since torn down in favor of middle-class apartment blocks). Their trail of misery mostly to the Drancy internment camp north of Paris and then by cattle car train convoys to Auschwitz has been very well documented. Fewer than 100 people taken in the Vel d ’Hiv round-up returned from Auschwitz. About 2,500 of the total of 76,000 deportees from France survived the war.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on July 22, 2021
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