Mitterrand Joins Marchers Protesting Anti-Semitism
Tens of thousands of people, including President Francois Mitterrand and survivors of the Holocaust, marched silently through Paris today, protesting the recent desecrations of Jewish cemeteries.
Many wore yellow Stars of David.
The march initially was organized in response to vandalism last week at a cemetery in the southern town of Carpentras, where tombs were smashed and a recently buried body was dug up and mutilated. Another desecration was discovered early today at a cemetery near Paris, where obscenities and swastikas were painted in red on more than 30 tombs.
Mitterrand’s presence--not announced in advance--was believed to mark the first time since World War II that a French president had joined a public demonstration.
Premier Michel Rocard, Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk and Roman Catholic Cardinal Albery Decourtray were among the throng of marchers who left from the Place de la Republique. Rocard said he wanted to help show the world that France’s “true image” was one of tolerance.
At the request of Jewish leaders, the country’s six largest TV networks agreed to broadcast “Night and Fog,” a documentary about Nazi death camps, tonight.
The coalition of Jewish groups organizing the procession asked that marchers display only authorized banners and posters with the slogan: “No to racism. No to anti-Semitism.”
Leaders of every major political party except the extreme-right National Front urged supporters to participate, as did human rights groups and many major labor unions.
Police meanwhile appealed for witnesses to assist in their investigation of the desecration in Carpentras. Five skinheads were released after being questioned about the crime.
The desecration there provoked outrage across France.
In Haifa, Israel, over the weekend, about 300 graves were spray-painted with anti-Jewish slogans, and police said a Jew from a nearby town had been arrested as a suspect. Thousands of people went to the cemetery Sunday and relatives wept at the graves of their dead.
Police sealed off the Carpentras cemetery today without explanation, and the widow of the man whose body was dug up reportedly left Carpentras after having received telephoned death threats.
Interior Minister Pierre Joxe, along with other political and human rights leaders, has accused far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen of implicit responsibility in the desecration by creating an atmosphere of racial hatred.
Le Pen, who said in an interview today the government was providing him with bodyguards, once termed the Nazi gas chambers “a detail” of history. His National Front favors the expulsion of Muslim immigrants from North Africa.