Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine called on the city of New York to remove plaques honoring French Nazi collaborators on Friday as the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The plaques were installed in 2004 on Broadway's Canyon of Heroes, which commemorates individuals and groups who were celebrated with ticker-tape parades.
Philippe Pétain, who headed Vichy France and collaborated with the Nazis, and Pierre Laval, who served as prime minister of the Vichy government, were honored in ticker-tape parades in 1931 in New York before they collaborated with the Nazis, but the plaques were only installed in 2004.
Serge Klarsfeld, a French Holocaust expert, revealed to The New York Times in 2010 that Pétain had personally hardened antisemitic measures against Jews in Vichy France, expanding job restrictions and banning Jews from public office.
Laval personally oversaw and encouraged the deportation of Jewish refugees to the Nazis. “No man and nothing can sway me from my determination to rid France of alien Jews and send them back where they came from," said Laval in 1942, according to JTA.
Levine: 'Shocking that these two individuals would be honored this way'
"It's shocking that these two individuals would be honored this way, long after their notorious and disgraceful acts as Nazi collaborators,” said Levine, according to the Gothamist. “I reject the idea that this is any kind of gray area. This is a bright line. These guys are on the wrong side of it, and their names need to be removed.”
"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. France itself has renamed streets that once honored Pétain," said Levine, according to reporter Jacob Kornbluh.
Officials have tried for years to get the plaques removed
In 2017, then-mayor Bill de Blasio tried to have the plaques removed, but was unsuccessful. New York State assemblyman Dov Hikind also advocated for the removal of the plaques.
Menachem Rosensaft, associate executive vice president and general counsel of the World Jewish Congress, said that he was told at the time that removing the plaques would risk "the historical integrity of the totality of all the plaques," according to the Gothamist.
“It’s mind-boggling. It’s either insensitivity or errant stupidity – and I’m not sure which is worse,” Rosensaft said. “That's how George Santos got himself elected. Nobody did oppo research.”
Despite their failure to remove the names of the Nazi collaborators, Levine believes he can get it done.
The borough president intends to make the call for the removal of the plaques at a press conference on Friday and will detail his objections in a letter to the City Design Commission, according to the New York Post.