Pétain stain will remain

Photos by Milo Hess
The sidewalk plaques commemorating parades down the Canyon of Heroes in 1931 for later Nazi collaborators Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval — which flank Broadway just north of Morris Street — are the first targets of Mayor de Blasio’s campaign to rid city property of hate-tainted monuments.


Mayor de Blasio will preserve plaques commemorating parades honoring French Nazi collaborators currently displayed in Downtown’s “Canyon of Heroes,” despite tweeting last year that the markers would be among “the first to go” amid his inquisition of public art.

De Blasio explained the about-face as a misstep perpetrated by an erstwhile staffer, who is being blamed for putting tweets into Hizzoner’s mouth, the mayor said on the Brian Lehrer show.

“That tweet was one of the rare instances where staff putting my words into a public statement didn’t do it accurately,” said the mayor. “What was supposed to [be said was] it would be one of the first things that we address.”

The sidewalk plaques in question bear the monikers of two Parisian officials, Phillipe Pétain and Pierre Laval, who were both honored with ticker-tape parades down Broadway in 1931, but went on to become notorious Nazi collaborators during WWII, running the rump state of Vichy France on Hitler’s behalf.

AP Photo / Vichy Censor
Marshal Philippe Pétain as Chief of State, at right, and Pierre Laval as Minister of Foreign Affairs, interior and propaganda, led the rump puppet state of Vichy France, and collaborated with the Nazis in deporting French Jews to death camps.

Pétain and Laval collaborated in the murder of more than 100,000 Jewish men, women, and children in France, helping Nazi death squads to round up and exterminate their own countrymen in an effort to maintain the French puppet state’s cozy friendship with Berlin.

The mayor’s 2017 tweet condemning the plaques followed riots in Charlottesville, VA, where neo-Nazis clashed with anti-fascist protestors over the removal of a statue honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee, leaving one girl dead. In the aftermath, our progressive mayor launched a review of controversial works of public art throughout the five boroughs, citing the Nazi collaborators’ Downtown plaques in the tweet announcing the inquisition.

The markers’ removal was championed by Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who last year applauded the mayor’s tweet, and insisted that even France forbids any monument honoring of the two reviled fascists.

“Responsible for the murder of 100,000 men, women and children, Pétain and Laval are reviled in their native France, where no one would think to erect a monument to any Nazi collaborator,” Hikind said.

But the mayor, along with honchos at the Downtown Alliance — which commissioned the plaques, along with 162 others, to memorialize each parade down the Canyon of Heroes — argued that the markers aren’t monuments to men and women, but commemorations of the city’s iconic ticker-tape parades that have traditionally cut through Broadway amid a shower of Wall Street paper clippings from the Battery to City Hall.

The mayor’s plan, in lieu of prying up the sidewalk plaques, is to add context to the Parisian pariahs’ place in city lore through new materials including signs along the parade route, and online resources.

Key to that is the city’s partnership with the Downtown Alliance and the Museum of the City of New York, which will collaborate to create a new “digital teaching guide” with the goal of telling the full stories of the various ticker-tape honorees — warts and all, according to a spokeswoman for the Alliance.

“These materials should tell a fuller story of all the markers,” said Elizabeth Lutz, “those who may have been honored at one point, but now are rightly viewed as villainous, or those whose life stories reveal compromises and contradictions that make for complicated history.”

Hikind, meanwhile, remains unimpressed by the mayor’s efforts to provide context to the lives of Hitler’s pals, and said that — when it comes to Nazi history — eradication is the better part of education.

“We have a moral obligation to educate the public, and especially young people, by removing markers that commemorate individuals who willingly participated in the systematic murder of innocent men, women and children,” Hikind said. “Does anyone disagree with this? I don’t think so.”

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