Paris: A French Holocaust survivor has denounced anti-vaccination protesters comparing themselves to Jews who were persecuted by Nazi Germany during World War II. French officials and anti-racism groups joined the 94-year-old in expressing indignation.
As more than 100,000 people marched around France against government vaccine rules on Saturday, some demonstrators wore yellow stars recalling the ones the Nazis forced Jews to wear.
Other demonstrators carried signs evoking the Auschwitz death camp or South Africa's apartheid regime, claiming the French government was unfairly mistreating them with its anti-pandemic measures.
“You can't imagine how much that upset me. This comparison is hateful. We must all rise up against this ignominy,” Holocaust survivor Joseph Szwarc said Sunday during a ceremony commemorating victims of anti-semitic and racist acts by the French state, which collaborated with Adolf Hitler's regime.
“I wore the star, I know what that is, I still have it in my flesh,” Szwarc, who was deported from France by the Nazis, said with tears in his eyes. “It is everyone's duty to not allow this outrageous, anti-semitic, racist wave to pass over us."
France's secretary of state for military affairs, who also attended the ceremony, called the protesters' actions “intolerable and a disgrace for our republic.”
The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism said the protesters were “mocking victims of the Holocaust” and minimising crimes against humanity committed during World War II.
Saturday's protests involved a mix of people angry at the government for various reasons, and notably supporters of the far right. Prominent French far-right figures have been convicted in the past of anti-semitism, racism and denying the Holocaust.
The government is introducing a Bill on Monday requiring all health care workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and requiring COVID passes to enter restaurants and other venues.
At a large protest in Paris on Saturday against vaccine rules, one demonstrator pasted a star on his back reading “not vaccinated.” Bruno Auquier, a 53-year-old town councillor who lives on the outskirts of Paris, drew a yellow star on his T-shirt and handed out arm bands with the star.
“I will never get vaccinated,” Auquier said. “People need to wake up,” he said, questioning the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.
Auquier expressed concern that the new measures would restrict his two children's freedom and pledged to take them out of school if vaccination becomes mandatory.
Polls suggest most French people support the measures, but they have prompted anger in some quarters. Vandals targeted two vaccination centres in southwest France over the weekend. One was set on fire, and another covered in graffiti, including a reference to the Nazi occupation of France.
France has reported more than 111,000 deaths in the pandemic, and new confirmed cases are increasing again, raising worries about renewed pressure on hospitals and further restrictions that would damage jobs and businesses.