A 15-year-old East Brunswick High School freshman has launched a campaign to convince Milltown to change the name of a street bearing the name of the man known as “the traitor of Vichy” for his collaboration with the Nazis during World War II.
Petain Street is named for Marshal Henri Petain and is included in a section of roadways named for World War I heroes.
Long before the Third Reich came to power, Petain defended France from the German advance on Verdun in 1916 and became a national hero, rising to become supreme commander of all French armies.
However, he was sentenced to death for treason in 1945 for his leadership of the Nazi’s Vichy puppet regime. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by President Charles de Gaulle. He died in 1951.
Evan Gottesman said he could “think of no good reason” why the municipality should continue to have a street named for someone who “worked with Adolph Hitler and assisted and supplied Germany.”
He started his Facebook page, “Change Petain Street,” on the evening of Jan. 10, gaining 40 supporters in the first 24 hours. Evan said he planned to present a petition to the mayor and council.
“It’s clear based on [Milltown’s] website that it is aware that he became affiliated with the Nazis,” Evan told NJJN. “So why, the questions remains, should Petain be immortalized in such an honorable fashion…?”
Evan noted that Petain was responsible for deporting French Jews to Germany and their ultimate deaths. He said, “Milltown does not take this as seriously as it should,” and said he would probably bring the matter to the attention of the USY chapter at his synagogue, Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick.
He was alerted to the street name by a family friend, Eli Mintz of East Brunswick.
“I was shocked” by the sign, said Mintz. “He was responsible for sending thousands of Jews to the gas chambers.”
Mintz, an Israeli native who lost family in the Holocaust, said he wrote a letter to Milltown Mayor Gloria Bradford but never heard back.
While Mintz said he had no doubt the borough had no intention of glorifying Petain’s World War II actions — he believes it simply never bothered to change the street’s name. He suggested the street be renamed to honor an American Congressional Medal of Honor winner from World War I.
However, when contacted by NJJN, Bradford said Milltown already had streets named for hometown heroes. “Any of our young men killed in any war have a street named for them in town,” she said.
The mayor said the street name was left unchanged because of the complicated process involved, but said the governing body would be “open” to considering a switch.
“We do have a very open-minded and caring council,” added Bradford.
“Change Petain Street” can be found at www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=250628626879.