Monaco’s Prince Albert II apologized Thursday for his country’s role in deporting Jews to Nazi camps during World War II. This comes more than seven decades after police rounded up scores of people from the seaside principality, including those who had sought refuge from the Holocaust in what they thought was a safe and neutral land.
“To say this today is to recognize a fact. To say it today, on this day, before you, is to ask forgiveness,” Albert said in a poignant speech recounting actions by Monégasque police during the war.
He spoke facing Monaco’s Chief Rabbi and other Jewish figures including Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, renowned Nazi hunters and Holocaust researchers who encouraged Albert’s father, Prince Rainier III, to examine Monaco’s role during World War II.
Albert unveiled a monument at the Monaco cemetery Thursday carved with the names of Monaco’s deported Jews. The date was chosen to mark 73 years since Monégasque authorities, under pressure from Nazi collaborationist leaders in Vichy France, rounded up at least 66 Jews on the night of Aug. 27–28, 1942.
They were among about 90 people deported from Monaco, or Monégasque residents deported from neighboring France, during the war, according to a government report completed this year. Only nine survived. The prewar Jewish population of the small principality was estimated at 300 persons.
Monaco was officially neutral at the start of the war, and was later occupied by Italian and then German forces. The government report details efforts by a Jesuit priest, a surgeon and others to protect Jews in Monaco and then describes how the authorities gradually acceded to increasing pressure from French authorities under Nazi control.
Much of the research was carried out by the Klarsfelds. The study was released this past February.
In addition to confirming the country’s role in deportations, it also corroborated the traditional narrative that Monaco largely resisted anti-Jewish measures from collaborationist Vichy. Then-ruler Louis II did not obey orders to dismiss Jewish civil servants and refused to turn over his friend, Jewish financier Edouard de Rothschild, to Nazi authorities.
“We committed the irreparable in handing over to the neighboring authorities women, men and a child who had taken refuge with us to escape the persecutions they had suffered in France,” Albert said. “In distress, they came specifically to take shelter with us, thinking they would find neutrality.”
It was the first clear public acknowledgement of Monaco’s responsibility for Jewish suffering during the war, according to a palace official who compared it to French President Jacques Chirac’s speech in 1997 admitting for the first time the role of the French state in the Holocaust. The palace official wasn’t authorized to be named publicly.
Monaco, one of the world’s smallest nations, is located on the French Riviera and is mostly a vacation site. Some 1,000 Jews currently reside there, mostly retirees from Great Britain and France.
Prince Albert recently created a commission to aid victims of spoliation, amid criticism that Monaco hadn’t done enough to investigate alleged plundering of property of Jews sent to death camps. He said Thursday that nine requests for compensation have been approved so far.
European Jewish Congress president Dr. Moshe Kantor said, “We welcome today’s event and the desire of the principality to properly examine its role during these dark days of the Nazi occupation.”
In a statement to the Associated Press, he said, “There is no time limit on true introspection and regret.”