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Sarkozy in Holocaust memorial row

French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks in Perigueux
Mr Sarkozy said French children had to know the truth

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has defended his plan to make every 10-year-old schoolchild honour Jewish child victims of the Holocaust.

"We do not traumatise children by giving them the gift of the memory of the country," Mr Sarkozy said.

He was speaking after French teachers and historians said the plan was misconceived and could upset children.

Some 11,000 Jewish children in France were killed during the Nazi occupation during World War II.

"We must tell a child the truth," President Sarkozy said in the central French town of Perigueux.

He is foisting on 10-year-olds an emotional charge that is way beyond them
Patrick Gonthier
France's UNSA-Education union

"If you do not talk to them of this tragedy, then you should not be surprised if it repeats itself.

"It is ignorance that prompts the repetition of abominable situations, not knowledge," Mr Sarkozy said.

He was defending his proposal - made earlier this week - that French pupils in their last year of primary school should be "entrusted with the memory of a French child victim of the Holocaust".

Mr Sarkozy argued that children would find it moving to read the story of another child the same age at them who had shared the same "interests and hopes".

'Emotional gimmick'

But the proposal unleashed a storm of protests from many teachers and parents and also historians.

Jewish arrive at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in 1944
Six million Jews perished under the Nazis

They said children at such young age would suffer psychological damage by having to explore the lives of individual Jewish children, many of whom perished in Nazi concentration camps.

"He is foisting on 10-year-olds an emotional charge that is way beyond them," Patrick Gonthier, general secretary of France's UNSA-Education union was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Other critics said the proposal would unfairly burden children with the guilt of previous generations.

Jewish organisations are split over Mr Sarkozy's proposal - some believe it is an excellent way to remember the Holocaust while others feel it is an emotional gimmick, the BBC's Emma Jane Kirby in Paris says.

It is not the first time Mr Sarkozy has ruffled feathers at French schools.

Shortly after his election last year, he called for a letter from a World War II Resistance hero, the 17-year-old communist Guy Moquet, to be read out in all French high schools as an example of a young man's resistance to oppression.

The political left accused Mr Sarkozy of stealing a communist icon, our correspondent says.



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