De Blasio to Review ‘Symbols of Hate’; Pétain Commemoration to Be Removed

The marker commemorating Philippe Pétain on the Canyon of Heroes. (Office of Assemblyman Dov Hikind)

New York City has joined the national movement to eradicate potentially offensive symbols following the Charlottesville attack perpetrated by neo-Nazis – beginning with a marker commemorating a French Nazi collaborator.

“After the violent events in Charlottesville, New York City will conduct a 90-day review of all symbols of hate on city property,” Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Wednesday.

In a follow-up tweet, de Blasio said, “The commemoration for Nazi collaborator Philippe Pétain in the Canyon of Heroes will be one of the first we remove.”

The commemoration referred to by de Blasio is one of many strips on the sidewalk of Lower Manhattan’s historic “Canyon of Heroes” parade route, each of which commemorates a person who was honored with a ticker-tape parade. Each strip has the name of the person, his title, and the date on which his parade was given.

Pétain was a legendary French World War I hero. Following the war, he was given the distinguished military title “Marshal of France,” and he is generally known to history as “Marshal Pétain.” Pétain later held various positions in the French government, and he received a ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes on October 26, 1931.

Pétain was prime minister of France at the time of the German occupation. He sought peace with the Germans, and became the leader – as well as the symbol – of collaborationist Vichy France. During the German occupation,  75,700 French Jews were deported to Auschwitz alone, nearly all of whom were killed. Around 80,000 French Jews perished in the Holocaust.

Among non-collaborationist French – and the free world at large – Pétain instantly went from honored hero to reviled traitor.

Following the war, Pétain was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life in prison, where he died in 1951.

Pétain is not the only Frenchman to receive a parade in the Canyon of Heroes before collaborating with the Nazis. Pierre Laval, then the prime minister of France, was honored with a parade on Oct. 22, 1931. He later served in the Vichy government under Pétain and was a brutal collaborator with the Nazi Final Solution. Following the war, he was found guilty of treason and executed.

On Wednesday morning, New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who has been urging the removal of Pétain’s and Laval’s markers for some time, publicly called on de Blasio to have them torn out. Following de Blasio’s subsequent Twitter announcement regarding the removal of Pétain’s marker, Hikind applauded the mayor “for taking quick action on this important matter.”

“We are confronted every day with bigotry and divisiveness,” Hikind said in a statement. “New Yorkers have an obligation to say, ‘Not in our city.’ It’s time to remove all of New York City’s monuments and markers that glorify bigotry and strengthen that which perpetuates these ignorant beliefs.”