Rabbi Meir Lau.
(photo credit: Courtesy French Presidents office )
French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday awarded the Legion of Honor – the
country’s highest accolade – to Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Meir Lau for his efforts to
promote interfaith dialogue, at a ceremony at the Elysee Palace in
“The tragedy of the Holocaust should be etched onto our
consciousness, as it is onto our hearts,” Sarkozy said at the event.
Sharansky, Lau lead March of the Living
ceremony took place on the anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald
concentration camp, where the rabbi was imprisoned during the
Speaking on the phone from France, Lau said on Thursday that he was
initially surprised when he heard France had decided to bestow the award on
“At first I didn’t understand why they had decided to award me, but
then I was told my autobiography was translated to French and widely read,” he
said. “One of those who read it apparently told the president about me and my
efforts to make peace among religions and peoples, and I was
Lau was born in Poland in 1937, and was one of the few members
of his family who survived the war. He made aliya in 1945 and went on to become
Israel’s chief rabbi between 1993 and 2003. Lau is now chairman of the board of
directors of Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.
During the German
occupation, tens of thousands of French Jews were sent to their deaths with the
cooperation of the French authorities.
However, Lau said France’s ties
with Israel have gone a long way towards bridging the rift left by World War
“During the 1950s all of the Israel Defense Forces ammunition was
French,” he said. “Not for nothing did [former IDF chief, and later politician]
Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres receive the Legion of Honour before me,” he
“Peres even received it twice. Sarkozy does not bear any
resemblance to Petain, nor to De Gaulle. There are today 5 million
Muslims in France, and yet here is a president who invited me, and kisses me on
both cheeks, and that I see as a novelty.”