PERIGUEUX, France - President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday defended a plan to require 10-year-olds to honor child victims of the Holocaust
, saying adults should not hide terrible truths from children.
The idea, floated by the president earlier this week, rankled psychologists worried about traumatizing youth and has teachers reviving debates about how France remembers World War II. But Sarkozy stood firmly by the plan in meetings with teachers over proposed reforms of France's school system.
"We must tell a child the truth," he said. "We do not traumatize children by giving them the gift of the memory of the country."
The president wants each child in the last year of French primary school, at about 10 years old, to "adopt" the memory of one of the 11,000 Jewish children in France killed in the Holocaust, learning about the selected child's background and fate.
"If you do not talk to them of this tragedy, then you should not be surprised if it repeats itself," Sarkozy said. "It is ignorance that prompts the repetition of abominable situations, not knowledge. Make our children into children with open eyes."
Sarkozy outlined no details of the plan, which does not have to be submitted to a vote in parliament. Education Minister Xavier Darcos said the practice may not be obligatory, but the goal is to have children start adopting Holocaust victims in the next school year.
Respected former Health Minister Simone Veil, herself a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, said she found the plan chilling.
"It's unimaginable, unbearable, tragic, and above all, unfair," Veil was quoted as saying on the Web site of the magazine L'Express. "We can't inflict this on 10-year-old children. We can't ask a child to identify with a dead child. The weight of this memory is much too heavy to bear."
Supporters of the plan include renowned Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld. Much of the existing information about France's Holocaust victims came out of research led by Klarsfeld.
Psychiatrist Serge Hefez was among those who voiced reservations about Sarkozy's idea, saying on LCI television that adults should not "impose ghosts" on children.
Teachers unions complained that they were not consulted ahead of time.