Page last updated at 19:06 GMT, Friday, 15 February 2008

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.

Print Sponsor

Holocaust Day marked in Europe
27 Jan 07 |  Europe
Snatched from the Holocaust
27 Apr 07 |  Europe
Nazi 'death trains' exhibition opens
25 Jan 08 |  Europe
Sarkozy pair win Ryanair ad case
05 Feb 08 |  Europe
Profile: Nicolas Sarkozy
26 Jul 09 |  Europe
Sarkozy's ex-wife awarded damages
29 Jan 08 |  Europe
Cecilia Sarkozy fails to ban book
11 Jan 08 |  Europe
Sarkozy romance sparks furore
07 Jan 08 |  Europe
French president and wife divorce
18 Oct 07 |  Europe

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2018 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific