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February 14, 2023 11:37 am

French Prime Minister Recalls Her Father’s Deportation to Auschwitz in Address to Jewish Community

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French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne spekaing to the 2023 annual dinner of Jewish organization Crif. Photo: Screenshot

The prime minister of France delivered a deeply personal address to the country’s Jewish community on Monday night, speaking candidly about the deportation of her father to Auschwitz during the Nazi occupation.

“There are dates that mark a destiny,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told the annual dinner of Crif — the umbrella body representing French Jews — in Paris on Monday night.

“For my father, but in reality for my whole family, it was December 25, 1943,” Borne continued. “That day, with my grandfather and my uncles, he was arrested by the Gestapo. Then it was the sealed wagons, the orders, the beatings, the humiliations. Drancy [a concentration camp near Paris], Auschwitz. They were 1,250 at the start. Six came back.”

Borne’s Jewish father, Joseph, was a French resistance fighter deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland along with his father, Zelig Bornstein, who perished there, and his brother Isaac, who survived. “When we arrived, the ashes were flying up into the air. When it was windy and the chimneys were burning, it smelled foul everywhere. And the elders, the elders who were in the camp, said to us, ‘You see, that is your parents who are going to heaven. They are burning,'” Isaac Bornstein later recalled in video testimony recorded by the French Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA).

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In 1972, when Elisabeth Borne was 11 years old, Joseph, then 47, took his own life. As a result, Borne became a “Pupil of the Nation” – a status in France given to the children of victims of war, terrorist attacks, or those who have perished while serving the country, entitling them to a full scholarship to pursue their education.

Borne told the Crif dinner that her father had described his ordeal in Auschwitz in two letters. The letters were “the only testimony of his that I have,” she said. “For all those who returned, a different life was beginning. Some succeeded in maintaining hope and faith in life. Others did not. I know this only too well.”

She added that in the months after her father had returned from Auschwitz, he had recounted his experience there only to be advised that it was best to remain quiet. “There were those who wanted to place a blanket of silence over the past,” she said.

Turning to the rise of antisemitism in present-day France, Borne pledged to combat hatred of Jews “wherever it appears, wherever it strikes, wherever it hides.”

Describing the decline in the number of antisemitic incidents in 2022 compared with the previous year as “encouraging,” Borne stressed that “even today, there is more than one antisemitic act per day recorded by the police.”

The dinner also heard from Crif’s president, Yonathan Arfi, who warned that antisemitism had adopted a number of “new faces,” among them “Islamism,” “hatred of Israel” and “conspiracy theories.”

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