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Carla Bruni may have become the third Madame Sarkozy but she seems to have no intention of abandoning her career as a model. She appeared in the February edition of a Spanish magazine, DT, in an extraordinarily provocative pose, lying on leather cushions wearing only black leather boots and a gold wedding ring. An opinion poll last month showed that four out of five French citizens disapprove of their new first lady but even more of President Sarkozy’s behaviour, not just his private life but his latest pronouncements on the touchiest of French subjects, the Holocaust.
In an after-dinner speech to members of France’s Jewish community, Sarkozy announced a plan to alter the curriculum for all 10-year-old children. From next autumn, each of them will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children who were victims of the Nazis.
The idea is vehemently opposed by many teachers, who have expressed fears that such personal identification with individual children could be highly traumatic for their pupils. The Jewish community is divided. Some are strongly in favour but others believe the plan might distract attention from the Vichy government’s collaboration with the Germans, still airbrushed from many texts on French war-time history.
It is not the first time that Nicolas Sarkozy has interfered in children’s education. Last year he enraged the main teachers' union when he instructed all high schools in France to read out a letter by a 17-year-old student, written on the eve of his execution by the Nazis for joining the Résistance.
Sarkozy has long identified with the Holocaust and persecution of the Jews and their desire for a homeland. “Every Jew carries within him a fear passed down through generations,” he said. “He knows that if one day he no longer feels safe in his own country, there will always be a place that would welcome him. And this is Israel.”
No fewer than 57 of Sarkozy’s relatives were murdered by the Nazis, most of them connected with the Mallahs, one of the oldest Jewish families in the Greek city of Salonica. The Mallahs were of Spanish origin but in the 15th century, persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition, they moved to Provence. A century or so later, still suffering discrimination, many went to Greece.
As zealous Zionists, the Mallahs had a prominent role in Greek society. In the 19th century Sarkozy’s great-great-uncle Moshe was publisher of El Avenir, the leading newspaper of the Zionist movement. One of Moshe’s cousins, Asher, was a Greek senator. In 1920 another cousin, Peppo, was offered the post of Greek Minister of Finance but declined because of increasing antipathy toward Jews.
When the Mallahs’ estates were seized by the Greek government, Sarkozy’s grandfather Beniko emigrated to France and converted to Catholicism in order to marry a Christian girl, Adèle Bouvier. During the Second World War, fearing deportation to Germany, the couple and their two daughters went into hiding at Marcillac-la-Croisille, a village in the département of Corrèze. After the war one of the girls, Andrée Mallah, married Pal Sarkozy, the descendant of a Hungarian aristocratic family, also with Jewish connections.
From our March 2008 e-newsletter