French President François Hollande became the first French president to visit the main World War II internment camp for Roma people in Montreuil-Bellay in central France.
In a speech given at the camp recently, Hollande admitted that France bore “broad responsibility” for the internment and treatment of thousands of Roma by the Vichy regime during the war.
“The Republic acknowledges the suffering of traveling people who were interned and admits that it bears broad responsibility,” Hollande said.
Roma people were persecuted during the Holocaust. Estimates vary between 220,000 and 500,000 killed.
The Vichy regime is the name given to the government set up in France by the Nazis after Germany invaded France in 1940.
The Vichy regime ended in 1944 when the Allies retook France, and a provisional government was set up by General Charles de Gaulle.
Over 6,000 Roma were interned in 31 camps. The biggest of the camps was Montreuil-Bellay. More than 2,000 Roma were confined there between November 1941 and January 1945.
Some Roma remained detained until 1946.
Hollande also supports a bill in Parliament that will remove a 1969 law considered discriminatory by minority groups, France 24 reported.
The law originated in 1912 as an attempt to force the Roma to settle down. It assigned ID cards to nomads. It was replaced in 1969 by the law requiring “traveling people” to have a specific set of paperwork and determine which district will be their home base.
Over 500 people took part in the ceremony, including some survivors of the camp and relatives of those who had been interned there.