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France Vows Anti-Semitism Crackdown

July 22, 2002

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PARIS (AP) _ France’s prime minister pledged Sunday that anyone involved in anti-Semitic acts will be caught and punished _ a promise made on the 60th anniversary of France’s roundup of Jews sent to Nazi death camps.

``To harm the Jewish community is to harm France, harm the values of our Republic which can leave no room for anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia,″ Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said at a gathering of 1,000 people at the Square of Jewish Martyrs.

The square marks the site where a bicycle stadium was used on July 16 and 17, 1942, as a transit camp to hold 8,160 Jews _ more than half of them children _ before they were sent to Auschwitz.

A total of 13,152 Jews were rounded up in the Paris region in those two days for deportation to Nazi death camps.

In all, about 75,000 Jews were deported from France to Nazi concentration camps during World War II when France was ruled by the collaborationist Vichy government. Only 2,500 survived.

Sunday’s ceremony was France’s official commemoration, held on a day devoted each year to fight anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia. A smaller commemoration organized by noted Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld was held Tuesday on the anniversary of the roundup.

A recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks has left France fearful. The Interior Ministry counted nearly 360 anti-Semitic acts _ from graffiti to firebombings of Jewish institutions _ in April when tension peaked, coinciding with growing violence in the Middle East.

Raffarin said the government ``will take all necessary measures so that these aggressions which insult our country cease.″ Those who commit such acts will be hunted down ``relentlessly″ and punished, he said.

French ministers joined Israeli Ambassador Elie Barnavi at the ceremony to honor the memories of the deported Jews. Survivors of the roundups also attended.

``I was little. I cried,″ said Raymond Anisten, who said he escaped from the bicycle stadium with the help of adults who distracted guards. ``Sixty years later, I still hear the cries,″ he said, wiping away tears.

The prime minister said France must take responsibility for its past.

President Jacques Chirac had said in a historic 1995 speech that France bears responsibility for the deportation of Jews in wartime France. Chirac broke with the official position that France’s Vichy regime, which collaborated with occupying Nazis, was not synonymous with the French state.

``Antechambers of death″ like the bicycle velodrome ``were organized, administered, guarded by the French,″ Raffarin said Sunday. ``The first act of the Shoah (Holocaust) was played out here with the complicity of the French state.″

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