At the end of spring, in this high place of memory in the heart of the Parisian Marais, a heterogeneous group of a dozen people blends in among the schoolchildren and foreign tourists.
For having made remarks of a racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic nature, they must follow a course of citizenship there, under the leadership of the director of the place but also of educational managers, historians and archivists.
“We try (one by one) to convince them of the absurdity” of racism, explains to AFP the director of the Memorial, Jacques Fredj, admitting that the work “is done on a microscopic scale”.
This internship, ordered by magistrates as a condemnation or alternative to prosecution “is not a miracle cure” but as many “attempts (…) to make people think”, according to Mr. Fredj.
Initiated in 2014 by the Paris public prosecutor’s office, an agreement now links the Lyon, Aix-en-Provence, Versailles and Evry public prosecutor’s offices to the Shoah Memorial.
For “public provocation to racial hatred”, one currently incurs a year’s imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 euros, recalls the prosecutor of Evry, Caroline Nisand.
Praising “this good prevention tool” allowing to “deconstruct prejudices”, the magistrate also sends minors there, her “target heart”.
Other places in France host this type of course, such as the Camp des Milles in Aix-en-Provence or the Struthof in Alsace, she specifies.
– “Too many Arabs in the neighborhood” –
At the Memorial, all means are good to convince: guided tour of the museum, consultation of the original archives of the deportation or the Vichy regime, modules on disinformation and conspiracy, meeting with survivors of the Tutsi genocide and the Shoah. ..
And the reactions show that for some, the message hits home.
In front of photos of extermination camps, “Men are savages!” (sic), exclaims Christophe who, earlier, had admitted “not having been in school for long”. “Animals”, abounds Marie.
The latter found the story of the Tutsi “little lady” “poignant”.
“The question of generalization is fundamental”, insists Jacques Fredj to the address of the participants, whom he makes a point of honor to accompany at each session, about twice a year. “We start from our neighbors and we make a generalization of it,” he warns.
At the end of the course, the participants debrief. Some are surprised that it is focused on genocides and not “ordinary, everyday racism”.
Jérôme still does not understand what he is doing there: “I just said that there were too many Arabs in this district”, is surprised the thirty-year-old.
“There is no ordinary racism, there is only racism”, patiently repeats Jacques Fredj. “It is ordinary racism which is the breeding ground for all these historical events, (…) which contributes to climate change”.
“Ah, it’s clearer,” concedes Jérôme.
Among the many profiles, there is the “lady who has a good black friend, who just defended herself”, the “alcoholic” who no longer masters their speech and those “who have very strong convictions”, details the manager. pedagogical assistant Hubert Strouk.
And even if the internships have not completely convinced, “nothing is lost”, reassures the one who has been leading them for several years.
“When you want, you come back!” Says Jacques Fredj. And in front of the puzzled looks and the laughter, clarifies his thought: “No, not at the internship, at the Memorial”.