- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2008

PARIS (AFP) — A proposal from President Nicolas Sarkozy that French 10-year-olds should sponsor the memory of Jewish children who were killed by the Nazis prompted an outcry yesterday among psychologists, parents and the political left.

In an address to Jewish leaders Wednesday, Mr. Sarkozy said that from the start of the next academic year students in their last year of primary school should be “entrusted with the memory of one of the 11,000 French children who fell victim to the Holocaust.”

“Nothing is more moving for a child than the story of a child his own age, who had the same games, the same joys and the same hopes as him,” Mr. Sarkozy said.

Education Minister Xavier Darcos explained that every child will be given the name of a Jewish deportee and “carry out a little investigation on their family, surroundings and the circumstances in which the child disappeared.”

“This personal, emotional link will be the basis for their studies,” he said.

But an alliance of critics immediately scorned the idea, accusing Mr. Sarkozy of usurping history, failing to understand the psychological impact on children, and stirring up resentment among other sectors of society.

“I am totally against the idea that individual children should be made to carry this kind of burden. They are far too young at that age. They’re not ready,” said child psychiatrist Frederic Kochman.

“Linking a child so intimately with a partner who is dead, and whose short life they can never understand, can only have harmful effects on his or her development,” said the association Children of the World.

But Mr. Sarkozy, speaking in Perigueux in central France yesterday, brushed off the uproar.

“It is ignorance that produces abominable situations; it is not knowledge,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying in a speech. “Let us make our children, children with open eyes who are not complacent.

“Believe me, you will not traumatize children by giving them the gift of the memory of a country. … Any psychologist will tell you: You have to tell a child the truth,” he said.

But France’s most prominent Holocaust survivor, Simone Veil, who was deported to Auschwitz when she was 16, criticized the plan.

“One can’t inflict this on 10-year-olds. You cannot ask a child to identify with a dead child,” Ms. Veil, who sat next to the president at the Wednesday dinner, told L’Express magazine.

Some 75,000 Jews were deported from German-occupied France in World War II, in most cases with the active cooperation of French authorities. Nearly all died in the extermination camps at Auschwitz, Poland or elsewhere.

Even many who support greater awareness of the Jewish genocide said the president’s idea was ill thought out and could even provoke an unwanted backlash.

“Some communities already think the republic doesn’t take sufficient account of their suffering: for example, black Caribbeans who want greater recognition of the tragedy of slavery, or Armenians concerning their own genocide,” said Francosi Puppi, mayor of the Paris suburb of Sarcelles.

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