President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday it was “legitimate” to pay tribute to Marshal Philippe Petain, who led the French army to victory in World War One’s Battle of Verdun but decades later collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War Two.
Macron’s plan to honor Petain alongside seven other French marshals who directed military campaigns during World War One, which ended 100 years ago on Nov. 11, has unleashed criticism from Jewish groups, political opponents and on social media.
“I consider it entirely legitimate that we pay homage to the marshals who led our army to victory,” Macron said in the eastern town of Charleville-Mezieres that once lay on the front line between French and German troops.
“Marshal Petain was a great soldier in World War One.”
Renowned as a “soldier’s soldier”, Petain was promoted to commander-in-chief of the French armies in mid-1917, after victory at Verdun, rebuilding troop morale after a series of mutinies and other setbacks.
Verdun was the longest battle of World War One, killing more than 300,000 French and German soldiers during 10 months of trench battles. Petain emerged from the Great War as a national hero with streets in towns and cities across France named after him.