Nationalist presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said Sunday that the French state was not responsible for the wartime round-up of Jews at Vel d'Hiv in Paris, who were then sent to Nazi slave labor camps.
Former President Jacques Chirac and current leader Francois Hollande have both apologized for the role French police played in the round-up of some 13,000 Jews at the Vel d'Hiv cycling track which was ordered by Nazi officers in July 1942.
Le Pen told the LCI television channel on Sunday: "I don't think France is responsible for the Vel d'Hiv."
She added: "I think that generally speaking if there are people responsible, it's those who were in power at the time. It's not France."
The leader of the National Front (FN) party said France had "taught our children that they have all the reasons to criticize (the country), and to only see, perhaps, the darkest aspects of our history. So, I want them to be proud of being French again," she said.
Ahead of the first round of France's highly unpredictable presidential election on April 23, Le Pen's leftist rival Emmanuel Macron said her comments were "a serious mistake".
"Some had forgotten that Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen," Macron told BFMTV.
Le Pen Senior, who founded the FN in 1972 and is estranged from his daughter, has been convicted repeatedly for anti-Semitic and racist comments such as calling the holocaust a "detail of history".
"We must not be complacent or minimize what the National Front is today," Macron said.
The CRIF umbrella grouping of French Jewish organizations and the Jewish students' union (UEJF) both blasted Le Pen for the comments, describing them as "revisionist".
"These remarks are an insult to France, which honored itself in 1995 by recognizing its responsibility in the deportation of France's Jews and facing its history without a selective memory," the CRIF said.
Chirac's Socialist predecessor Francois Mitterand had refused to acknowledge responsibility for the deportations, saying in 1994: "The republic had nothing to do with that. France is not responsible."
Le Pen defended her broadcast comments in a statement issued late Sunday.
"I consider that France and the Republic were based in London during the (Nazi) occupation," she said.
The British capital was where Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the free French forces, lived in exile during World War II while France's Vichy regime collaborated with Nazi Germany.
"The Vichy regime was not France," Le Pen said in her statement, describing the wartime authority as "illegal".
Indeed, the Vichy regime was a puppet government instituted by the Nazi occupiers to control the south of the country while directly administrated the north, including Paris, where the round-up took place.
The French police at the time was controlled, on paper, by the puppet government of Philippe Pétain; however they were de-facto under the direct control of Nazi officials.
René Bousquet, the Secretary General of the Vichy regime, attended a planning committee weeks before the roundup, directed by the SS-Verfügungstruppe (Dispositional Troops of the Security Forces, later integrated into the Waffen-SS) in which he apparently raised no objections to it being carried out by elements of the collaborationists in the then French police since the targeted Jews at that roundup specifically were non-French.