The president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), Francis Kalifat, reportedly said he was shocked by Macron's statement on Wednesday.
"Petain was the person who allowed the deportation of 76,000 French Jews to death camps. Petain signed the (law on) the status of Jews that meant Jews were excluded from public function, education and forced to wear the Jewish star," he added.
CRIF posted a message on Twitter, saying that the only thing the were to take away from Petain is that he's been, in the name of the French people, stricken with national indignity during his trial in July 1945.
#Communiqué — Hommage à Philippe Pétain: le Crif choqué— CRIF (@Le_CRIF) November 7, 2018
"La seule chose que nous retiendrons de Pétain, c'est qu'il a été, au nom du Peuple français, frappé d'indignité nationale lors de son procès en juillet 45" pic.twitter.com/bT7bvnrSEx
On his six-day commemorations tour to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, French president Emmanuel Macron said that Petain was a great soldier during WWI, even though he made "fatal choices during the Second World War."
"My role isn't to understand that it's shocking or to comment about people. My role is to try to explain, be firm in my convictions, face our history," he added.
VIDÉO — "Le Maréchal Pétain a été, pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, aussi un grand soldat", insiste Emmanuel Macron. "Je ne fais aucun raccourci mais je n'occulte aucune page de l'Histoire, assure-t-il, même si elle est "parfois plus complexe que ce qu'on voudrait croire" pic.twitter.com/ruhvLmn3qV— Arthur Berdah (@arthurberdah) November 7, 2018
Petain ruled the so-called Vichy France regime that collaborated with the Nazis during WWII and played a major role in the 1942 deportation of 13,000 Jews from France, a third of whom were children.
Given the history, Macron's choice of words wasn't received well online.
No wonder Macron has a popularity rating less than Coco the clown— David Coburn MEP (@DavidCoburnUKip) November 7, 2018
What is this innate desire to torpedo himself?— Nina Lamparski (@ninaism) November 7, 2018
For me, this individual speech isn't the issue. The craziness starts with this idea of honouring him at Invalides in the first place. It's disrespectful. And as far as justifications go, this is pretty insufficient.— Jonathan James (@JonathanJames30) November 7, 2018
Big row in France today after Pres. Macron described Nazi collaborator Philippe Pétain as a "great [WWI] soldier". This is the infamous handshake with Hitler at Montoire in 1940. Interpreter Paul-Otto Schmidt (who translated for Neville Chamberlain during Munich crisis) in centre pic.twitter.com/8OCDXWCd9W— Peter Allen (@peterallenparis) November 7, 2018
The spokesman for the French government responded to the comments, saying the issue was merely a "false controversy."