**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE**
PRESS RELEASE FOR: January 27, 2022
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New York, NY – Friday, during a press conference marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine called on New York City leaders to remove the names of former French Nazi collaborators from commemorative plaques embedded in the sidewalks in the hallowed “Canyon of Heroes” in lower Manhattan.
Borough President Levine was joined at the press conference by members of the City Council’s Jewish Caucus, descendants of Holocaust survivors, and advocates from the World Jewish Congress and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY) to announce a joint letter to the City’s Public Design Commission calling for the names of Henri Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval to be removed immediately.
Pétain and Laval headed the infamous Nazi-controlled Vichy Government during the occupation of France during the Second World War. After the war, both were convicted of treason and sentenced to death for betraying France and its Jewish citizens – 75,000 of whom they deported to concentration camps.
The Canyon of Heroes is a stretch of lower Broadway that in 2004 became home to granite inscriptions installed in the sidewalks to honor the participants of past ticker-tape parades. Both Laval and Pétain were hosted for ticker-tape parades in 1931, before their association with the Nazi Party.
The Borough President and other opponents of the plaques stressed that the removal of these plaques was not an effort to ignore the past but rather to reserve the Canyon of Heroes for just that – real heroes.
“Removing the plaques is not a whitewashing of history. Rather, it is a refusal to continue to honor two people who made the choice to embody the worst of humanity. Pétain and Laval’s World War I contributions and ticker-tape parades will continue to exist in historical records, but their names do not need to remain on Broadway alongside true heroes like Nelson Mandela and Covid-19 pandemic essential workers. France itself convicted both of treason and has renamed streets that once honored these villains,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine.
This coupled with a recent rise in antisemitic attacks makes the removal of plaques honoring known Holocaust enablers especially urgent.
“We must act swiftly to remove commemorations of people who allied with the Third Reich and perpetuated genocide against Jews and other marginalized groups in Europe,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “In a city home to more than one million Jews – many of whose ancestors fled countries ruled by Nazi collaborators – it is painful and shameful for these plaques to exist.”
“The Holocaust remains one of the darkest periods in history, and we must not honor those who enabled and participated in that atrocity,” said Council Member Eric Dinowitz, Chair of the City Council’s Jewish Caucus. “To leave these names on the Canyon of Heroes is to honor those who committed unspeakable horrors less than 100 years ago. New Yorkers must lead by example, and that means reserving honorifics for true heroes. Survivors, and their families, and every decent person deserve dignity and the safety in knowing New York will no longer honor Nazi sympathizers by keeping emblazoned on the streets of our city.”
Menachem Rosensaft, the General Counsel and Associate Executive Vice President of the World Jewish Congress, who has spearheaded the efforts to remove the plaques, said: “We cannot allow the memory of the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during World War II to be tarnished by the glorification of those who were responsible for such heinous acts. Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval are war criminals responsible for arresting Jews in France and deporting them to their death at Auschwitz and elsewhere. Both men were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by French courts in 1945. The plaques honoring them have no place in our city, and we will do everything in our power to have them removed from the Canyon of Heroes. This is the least we can do in remembering and honoring the victims of the Holocaust and ensuring that no perpetrator of this evil is ever glorified here.”
“As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, a Jewish student in college, a former Lauder fellow at the World Jewish Congress, and a proud New Yorker, I am extremely dismayed by the very idea that these convicted war criminals continue to be honored in New York City. Plaques honoring Philippe Petain and Pierre Laval have been on prominent display here for far too long,” said Alison Comite, descendant of Holocaust survivor.
“In a world where young people often know little about the Holocaust and antisemitism is on the rise, plaques honoring Nazi sympathizers have no place. Removing them would not only honor Holocaust survivors, it would be a teaching moment for our youth as part of our common struggle to combat hate in New York city,” said Gideon Taylor, Executive Vice President and CEO of Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY).