Limoges – An executive of France’s national labor union, the CGT, was taken into police custody after he allegedly hurled antisemitic insults at Éric Zemmou, the Jewish far right maverick who launched a failed bid for the country’s presidency in 2022, as the two waited for a train on Wednesday afternoon to the city of Limoges in southwestern France.
Contradictory accounts of the encounter have emerged, however, with Zemmour and his associates insisting that his adversary, Frédéric Tronche, a prominent CGT activist, had repeatedly asked him whether he was taking the train to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Tronche and his colleagues in the CGT maintain that he had asked Zemmour whether he was taking the train to Vichy, the seat of France’s Nazi puppet government during the German occupation of World War II.
French media outlets reported that Tronche was arrested at 4PM, just after the exchange with Zemmour, and then released later that evening. An investigation into whether Tronche used “racial and religious insults” in a public place has meanwhile been opened by the public prosecutor in Limoges, where Zemmour had been heading for a public meeting to launch his new memoir.
According to Zemmour, Tronche asked him “are you taking the train to Auschwitz?” and joked sarcastically, “I didn’t know this was the train to Dachau”, a concentration camp operated by the Nazi regime on German soil, reportedly in front of dozens of witnesses.
The CGT angrily disputed this account, with its general secretary, Sophie Binet, posting on Twitter that as a result of his remark about Vichy, Tronche had been arrested for antisemitism. Separately, Thomas Portes, a left-wing member of parliament, protested that “while the racist Zemmour was on the same train as him, [Tronche] asked the conductor if the destination was ‘Vichy’. For this he is [in custody] and he is accused of antisemitism. Shame!”
A search of Tronche’s social media feeds suggested that his comments to Zemmour may not have been restricted to the Vichy reference, with one entry on his Facebook page reading, “Zemmour is on my train. I’m checking to see if the train is going to Limoges, I’m afraid we’ll end up in Poland.”
Despite being fancied as a frontrunner early on during the French presidential election, Zemmour’s campaign petered out, garnering just over seven percent of the national vote. The Paris-born son of Algerian Jewish immigrants, Zemmour is one of the most identifiable figures on the French far right, warning of the danger of “Francocide” caused by continued immigration.
Zemmour’s relationship with the French Jewish community has been rocky, a situation exacerbated by his assertion, against the weight of historical evidence, that the Vichy regime led by Marshal Philippe Pétain acted to save French-born Jews from the clutches of the Nazis by prioritizing Jews holding foreign citizenship for deportation. Zemmour has also denounced the prominent Jewish intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy as a “traitor” and “cosmopolitan”, terms widely considered to be antisemitic dog whistles, and described the victims of a 2012 Islamist gun attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse as “foreigners above all [who] wanted to stay that way even beyond death,” referring to their burials in the State of Israel.
In response to these and similar comments, Francis Kalifat, president of Crif, the umbrella organization representing French Jews, said that Zemmour was “not the useful idiot, but the useful Jew and the new leader of revisionism in our country.”
One of France’s leading non-governmental organizations opposing antisemitism and racism expressed skepticism regarding Zemmour’s version of Wednesday afternoon’s encounter. “One wonders if the person is targeting Éric Zemmour for his Jewish ancestry or if he is targeting the revisionist polemicist, according to whom Marshal Pétain ‘saved’ the French Jews,” the International League Against Racism and Antisemitism (Licra) said in a statement.