Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has denied France was responsible for rounding up more than 13,000 Jews at a Paris cycle track to be sent to Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.
France’s responsibility for the Vel’ d’Hiv Round-up has been admitted by both former President Jacques Chirac and current leader Francois Hollande, after decades of the state denying it was at fault.
Ms Le Pen told French broadcaster LCI on Sunday: “I don’t think France is responsible for the Vel d’Hiv.”
She added: “I think that generally speaking if there are people responsible, it’s those who were in power at the time. It’s not France.”
The leader of the National Front said children in France had been taught “reasons to criticise (the country), and to only see, perhaps, the darkest aspects of our history”.
She continued: “So, I want them to be proud of being French again.”
The Vel’ d’Hiv Round-up refers to the mass arrest of Jews in Paris by the French police on 16 and 17 July 1942.
During the crackdown – one of several aimed at eradicating the Jewish population in France – people were temporarily confined in the velodrome before being deported to concentration camps, where the vast majority of them were murdered.
The French government refused to apologise for the role of French policemen, or any other state complicity, in the round-up for more than half a century. But in 1995, then-President Mr Chirac announced that it was time to acknowledge the responsibility of the French state, saying: “These black hours will stain our history forever.”
On the 70th anniversary of the mass arrest, Mr Hollande gave a speech at a memorial where he recognised the crime was committed “in France, by France”.
Ms Le Pen’s centre-left opponent in France’s unpredictable Presidential election, Emmanuel Macron, described Ms Le Pen’s comments as “a serious mistake.”
“Some had forgotten that Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen,” Mr Macron told French news channel, BFMTV, adding: “We must not be complacent or minimise what the National Front is today.”
Ms Le Pen’s father, who founded the far-right National Front party in 1972 and is estranged from his daughter, has been convicted for making racist and anti-Semitic comments such as describing the Holocaust a “detail of history”.
The CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish organisations and the Jewish student’s union (UEJF) swiftly condemned Ms Le Pen’s comments.
“These remarks are an insult to France, which honoured itself in 1995 by recognising its responsibility in the deportation of France’s Jews and facing its history without a selective memory,” the CRIF said.
Jitters about the French election hit financial markets on Monday after polls tightened, with support growing for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon – who, like Le Pen, wants a referendum on the country’s membership of the European Union.
France’s borrowing costs hit their highest level compared with Germany’s for six weeks while the euro edged lower against the dollar.
Polls have for weeks shown Le Pen and Macron topping first-round voting and qualifying for the May 7 run-off that Macron is predicted to win easily.
But there has been a recent surge by the Communist-backed Melenchon, who would take France out of NATO, and support for conservative Francois Fillon, whose campaign has struggled as he fights nepotism allegations, has stabilized.
An Opinionway survey on Monday showed Le Pen winning 24 percent in the first round, ahead of Macron on 23 percent, Fillon on 19 and Melenchon on 18.
“Two weeks ago, investors were starting to get comfortable with the idea of a Macron victory, but with the rise of Melenchon this is on the verge of becoming a four-horse race,” said Rabobank strategist Lyn Graham-Taylor.
France has long struggled to come to terms with its role under the collaborationist Vichy regime during World War Two.