NEW YORK – A plaque commemorating Nazi collaborator and Marshal of France Philippe Petain, which has caused controversy since being reported by The Jerusalem Post last week, was placed as part of New York’s “Canyon of Heroes” on Broadway about 14 years ago, long after the Holocaust, and not in the aftermath of World War I as previously thought, officials say.
According to the website of the Downtown Alliance, an organization dedicated to advancing Lower Manhattan, the plaques commemorating individuals who have been honored with ticker- tape parades in the area only began to be installed in 2003, long after Petain was convicted of treason and died in prison in 1951.
The group’s website also refers to the Canyon of Heroes as Lower Manhattan’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Much media attention has been focused on the issue since the Post brought to light the existence of the marker honoring Petain.
Jewish leaders have called on city hall to remove the sidewalk plaque, including Betty Ehrenberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress’s North America branch, and NY State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who wrote a letter to Mayor Bill De Blasio.
In France, many streets had been named in honor of Petain throughout the years, but all were renamed by 2013. The last street in his name was located in a village in the northeast of the country.
The French Consulate in New York said in response to the Post’s exposé that “the French authorities were not aware of the affixing of the plaque commemorating a parade in which Philippe Petain took part,” adding that they understood that the plaque had been placed as recently as 14 years ago.
“France has denounced the complicit actions of the Vichy regime with the criminal doings of the Nazi regime,” a consular official said.
Petain was celebrated in a parade in Lower Manhattan on October 26, 1931, for defending his country during the WWI. But nine years later, in 1940, he became the leader of France’s Nazi-collaborationist Vichy government.
In that role, Petain’s regime ordered the roundup of more than 10,000 Jews and handed them over to the Third Reich.
Petain even went further and put in place his own discriminatory measures against Jews, including property confiscation and exclusions from certain professions.
At the end of the war, the French marshal was tried for treason and sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
He died there in 1951.
Despite being an important figure in the history of antisemitism, Petain remains anchored in the walkway alongside names such as Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and even David Ben-Gurion.
The mayor’s office in New York has not responded to repeated requests for comment.