President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday defended a plan to require 10-year-olds to honor child victims of the Holocaust, saying adults should not hide terrible truths from children.
The idea, floated by the president days ago, rankled psychologists worried about traumatizing youth and has teachers reviving debates about how France remembers World War II. But Sarkozy on Friday stood firmly by the plan in meetings with teachers over proposed reforms of France's school system.
"We must tell a child the truth," he said. "We do not traumatize children by giving them the gift of the memory of the country."
The president wants each child in the last year of French primary school, at about 10 years old, to "adopt" the memory of one of the 11,000 Jewish children in France killed in the Holocaust and to learn about the selected child's background and fate.
"If you do not talk to them of this tragedy, then you should not be surprised if it repeats itself," Sarkozy said. "It is ignorance that prompts the repetition of abominable situations, not knowledge. Make our children into children with open eyes."
Sarkozy has not outlined details of the plan, which does not have to be submitted to a vote in parliament. Education Minister Xavier Darcos said that the practice might not be obligatory but that the goal was to have children start adopting Holocaust victims in the next school year.
Supporters of the plan include renowned Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld. Much information about France's Holocaust victims came out of research led by Klarsfeld.
Psychiatrist Serge Hefez was among those who voiced reservations about Sarkozy's idea, saying on LCI television that adults should not "impose ghosts" on children.
Teachers unions complained that they were not consulted ahead of time.