Manhattan elected officials spent part of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday renewing a call to remove the names of two French Nazi collaborators who are honored with granite markers in the Financial District’s Canyon of Heroes.
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine joined advocates and descendants of Holocaust survivors on Friday to call on the mayor to plaques commemorating Henri Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval, who led the French Vichy government that worked closely with the Nazis during World War II and participated in the deportation of Jews.
“It is unacceptable that in a city home to 1 million Jews, thousands of whom are themselves Holocaust survivors — this is the largest community of Holocaust survivors on earth outside of Israel — it is unacceptable that these two men would occupy a place of honor here,” Levine said at the press conference.
Pétain was a prominent French general during World War I, who served as head of the Vichy regime. Laval was prime minister of France during the first World War and continued to serve in leading roles under Pétain’s Vichy France.
The Canyon of Heroes stretches over Broadway in Manhattan with a plaque for every ticker tape parade that New York City has ever thrown. Pétain and Laval were honored with parades in 1930 and 1931 for their roles in World War I.
After the Vichy government was dissolved, Pétain and Laval were condemned by the French government. Pétain was tried for and convicted of treason, and died in prison. Laval was sentenced to death for plotting with the enemy, and was executed.
In spite of their roles in World War II, the city engraved their names in the Canyon of Heroes when it installed the monuments in 2004.
In 2017, Mayor de Blasio tweeted that Petain and Laval’s plaques should be removed, and convened an advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers to review monuments seen as oppressive, but ultimately did not follow through.
Levine said that with antisemitic incidents on the rise in New York City, now is the time for the administration to remove the plaques.
He sent a letter with his demands to the Public Design Commission, the entity that ultimately will decide whether the plaques would be the first ever removed from the Canyon of Heroes.
“They do have a rigorous process. We want that process to start,” he said.
Menachem Rosensaft, the associate executive vice president and general counsel of the World Jewish Congress who has vocally advocated for their removal, likened the decision to that of the removal of public symbols of the Confederate Army.
“If we remove other individuals because we deem their action to be abhorrent to us, how on earth can anyone justify keeping a marker that places on equal footing men like Pétain and Laval with Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle?” he asked.