For decades, many French have held on to the idea that their ancestors had been either victims or resisters of Nazis, or of the collaborationist regime that was set up in Vichy, France.
President FranÃ§ois Mitterrand, who worked as a low-level Vichy administrator before joining the Resistance, declared in 1992 that âthe French state was the Vichy regime, it was not the Republic.â He argued, as his predecessors had, that the only legitimate representatives of France were in exile with Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who ran the wartime Resistance from London.
Ending decades of equivocation, President Jacques Chirac formally admitted Franceâs collective responsibility for wartime crimes, declaring in 1995: âthe criminal folly of the occupiers was seconded by the French, by the French state.â
But the issue has not gone away. In April, Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front leader whom Mr. Macron defeated in a May runoff election, declared that âFrance was not responsible for the Vel dâHiv,â denying French responsibility and setting off a furor.
Ms. Le Pen later said that she considered the Vichy regime illegitimate, and believed that General de Gaulle had the legitimate power.
Mr. Macron condemned that argument. âAdmittedly Vichy was not all of the French,â he said, âbut it was the government and the administration of France.â
Mr. Macronâs comments came during a period of resurgent anti-Semitism in France, fueled by right-wing nationalism and by fundamentalist Islam.
Mr. Macron recited the names of victims of recent anti-Semitic and other extremist violence. Among them were Ilan Halimi, a young man who was tortured and killed in 2006; four people killed in 2012 at a Jewish school in southwestern France; and four people slain at a kosher supermarket in Paris in 2015. He also called for an investigation into the death of Sarah Halimi, a 66-year-old woman who in April…