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Memory and Forgiveness: Addressing the Legacy of the Dark Years in Contemporary French Politics

  • Author(s): Villaseñor, Leticia
  • et al.

On July 16, 1995, Jacques Chirac became the first president to publicly acknowledge the French Republic’s shared responsibility in the persecution and deportation of thousands of Jews to Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Speaking at the anniversary of the Vél d’Hiv roundup, Chirac issued a public apology for the French state’s complicit role in the deportation and extermination of Jews, while emphasizing that the errors committed during the war were a ‘faute collective’ and thus the blame for the deportations had to be shouldered collectively by the French nation.

In the years following Chirac's groundbreaking speech, France as a nation has grappled with the notion of a devoir de mémoire within the political and cultural frame of contemporary memory of French complicity during the war. However, with this heightened public interest in the French obligation to remember its wartime past, the tension between memory and history has become increasingly palpable and a growing debate on the problematic nature of the call for remembrance has ensued.

This essay will examine the ongoing debate surrounding collective memory and history in contemporary French politics as well as the underlying question of whether forgiveness of the French Republic for its actions against Jews during the Dark Years can truly be achieved. By concluding with an examination of Jacques Derrida’s discussion of the aporia of forgiveness, I hope to further explore the symbiotic relationship between political discourse and collective memory and how this affects the reconciliation process in postwar France.

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