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Homage to the Righteous of France

Speech by Madame Simone Veil, President of The Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah

Speech by Madame Simone Veil, President ofLadies and Gentlemen, the Righteous of France, it is to you I address these remarks; to all of you here and those who could not join us; and you too who helped saved Jews without seeking this recognition.

On behalf of the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah, and of all who owe their lives to you, I turn to you this evening to express our respect, our affection and our gratitude.

We will never know exactly how many of you there are.  Some have died, considering there was no need to call attention to what they had done. Others believed they were forgotten by those whom they had saved.

Still others even refused to be honored, considering they had merely done their duty as Frenchmen, Christians, citizens, men and women, towards those who were hunted down for the sole crime of being born Jewish.

Some French people like to discredit our country’s past.  I have never been one of them.  I have always said, and I solemnly say it again thi evening, that there was Vichy France, which was responsible for the deportation of  76,000 Jews including 11,000 children, but there were also all the men and women thanks to whom three-quarters of our country’s Jews avoided being rounded up.  Elsewhere, in the  Netherlands, in Greece, 80% of the Jews were arrested and exterminated in the camps. None of the Nazi-occupied countries, with the exception of Denmark, had such an outpouring of solidarity comparable to what happened in our country.

All of you, the Righteous of France, whom we pay tribute to today, illustrate the honor of our country which thanks to you, found a sense of fraternity, justice and courage. Over 60 years ago, you did not hesitate to endanger your loved ones’ safety, risk prison and even deportation. Why?  For whom?  For men, women and children whom in most cases you didn’t even know, who were nothing to you, only men, women and children in danger.

For the most part you were ‘ordinary’ French men and women.  Whether you lived in cities or in the country, were atheists or believers, young or old, rich or poor, you sheltered these families, offered comfort to the adults, and tenderness to the children. You followed your heart because the threats which hung over them were intolerable to you. You obeyed an unwritten law which took precedence over all others.  You did not seek honors. You are all the more worthy of them.

I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for publicly acknowledging the State’s responsibility in Vichy’s despicable laws.  And to thank you also for having unfailingly recalled so many times the exemplary, bold and fraternal action of French people, some of whom are with you this evening.  In the face of Nazism, which sought to erase the Jewish people from human history and wipe out all trace of the crimes that had been perpetrated, in the face of those who even today deny the facts, France acts to its credit in indelibly engraving in the stone of its national history this page of light in the dark of the Shoah.

The Righteous of France thought they had simply lived through history; in reality they wrote it.  Of all  the voices from the war, theirs were the ones we heard the least, barely a murmur which often had to be to solicited.  It was time we heard them.  It was time we expressed our gratitude to them.

For those of us still haunted by the memory of our loved ones who disappeared in smoke and have no gravestone, for all those who want a better world, more just and more fraternal, cleansed of the poison of anti-Semitism, racism and hate, these walls will resonate now and for ever with the echo of your voices, you, the Righteous of France, who give us reasons to hope.

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