PARIS – France's far-right presidential contender Marine Le Pen has prompted a major outcry by denying that the French government was responsible for the roundup of Jews in World War II.
Le Pen said Sunday on RTL radio "I don't think France is responsible for the Vel d'Hiv,"— a reference to the stadium where thousands of Jews were rounded up before being sent to Nazi death camps.
Some 13,000 Jews were deported by French police on July 16-17, 1942, many of whom were first holed up in harsh conditions at Paris' Vel d'Hiv — its Winter Velodrome stadium.
In all, about 75,000 Jews were deported from France to Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Only 2,500 survived.
Le Pen's main rival in the race, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, was among the many presidential candidates on Monday who criticized Le Pen's comments.
Le Pen made a "serious mistake," said Macron, the front-runner in France's two-round April 23-May 7 presidential election.
"On the one side, it's an historical and political mistake. And on the other side, it's the sign that Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen," Macron told a news conference.
Le Pen's father repeatedly has been convicted for anti-Semitism and racism. Marine Le Pen has even pushed him out of her far-right National Front party, which he co-founded, in an effort to appeal to more mainstream voters.
Socialist presidential contender Benoit Hamon said that when Marine Le Pen "doesn't like history, she twists it."
"If one doubted whether Marine Le Pen is far-right, there is no doubt anymore," he told RTL radio.
Small independent presidential candidate Jean Lassalle, a lawmaker with centrist views, denounced Le Pen's "disgraceful" remarks.
"It makes me throw up," he said on Franceinfo radio.
Israel's Foreign Ministry also condemned Le Pen's comments Monday.
"This declaration is contrary to historical truth, as expressed in the statements of successive French presidents who recognized France's responsibility for the fate of the French Jews who perished in the Holocaust," the ministry said in a statement.
Le Pen later specified in a written statement that she "considers that France and the Republic were in London" during the war and "the Vichy regime wasn't France."
She argued that had been the position of France's heads of state, including Charles De Gaulle, until former President Jacques Chirac "wrongly" acknowledged the state's role in Jewish persecution during World War II.
"It does not discharge the effective and personal responsibility of the French who took part into the monstrous roundup of the Vel d'Hiv," she wrote.
After decades of denial, Chirac in 1995 became the first French president to publicly acknowledge France's role in the deportations of Jews, issuing a long-awaited public apology at the start of his first term in office.
The two top vote-getters in the French presidential vote on April 23 will go into a presidential runoff on May 7. Polls suggest Marine Le Pen will advance to the second round of the election.