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Macron honors France’s surviving WWII heroes

BRUSSELS: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron address a press conference ahead of talks at the Chancellery in Berlin. —AFP

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron bestowed honours Friday on two of France’s last surviving World War II resistance heroes, marking the anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s historic call to defy France’s Nazi occupiers despite the country’s capitulation. The military ceremony was held at Mount Valerien, the hilltop fortress west of Paris where German forces executed more than 1,000 captured fighters and hostages.

It has become an annual pilgrimage site for French leaders recalling De Gaulle’s dramatic appeal of June 18, 1940 made from BBC studios in London after his escape from a defeated France. This year it was the occasion to honor the sole surviving member of the 1,038 fighters singled out as Heroes of the Resistance by De Gaulle after the war.

Hubert Germain, 100, was helped from his wheelchair to accept a red sash from Macron, who embraced his cheeks, and then saluted the president before putting on his military cap. Also in appearance was Leon Gautier, 98, the last surviving member of 117 French soldiers who took part in the 1944 Allied landings at Normandy, the beginning of the Nazi retreat on the war’s Western front.

The Kieffer Commando was long overlooked in French narratives of the war, its leader Philippe Kieffer getting his own sculpture near Sword Beach at the 75th anniversary of the landings only two years ago. Gautier, wearing his unit’s traditional dark green beret, was also embraced by Macron after being elevated to the rank of Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour.

“Eighty-one years on, General de Gaulle’s call still resonates. The flame of the resistance will not be extinguished,” Macron wrote on Twitter after the ceremony.  Ahead of the ceremony, Macron awarded a posthumous Medal of the Resistance to the brother of Colette Marin-Catherine, a nurse who also joined the underground fight to harass German soldiers and prepare for the Allied landings.

Marin-Catherine, 92, made headlines in April when a short documentary about her visit to the concentration camp where her brother was killed won an Oscar. Later on Friday, Macron is to travel to Berlin for a dinner with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, where further efforts at improving European integration are on the menu. —AFP

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