LOWER MANHATTAN (WABC) -- There are growing calls urging New York City officials to remove plaques from the Canyon of Heroes which honor Nazi collaborators.
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine stood alongside other advocates and descendants of Holocaust survivors on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The Canyon of Heroes is home to granite inscriptions installed in the sidewalks to honor participants of past ticker-tape parades.
Since 2004, the names of Henri Philippe Petain and Pierre Laval have been enshrined on the stretch of Broadway for their efforts in leading allied forces to victory during World War I.
They were both each treated to a ticker tape parade in NYC in the 1930s.
However, Petain and Laval headed the infamous French Nazi-controlled Vichy government during the Second World War and have both been condemned for betraying France and its Jewish citizens, 75,000 of whom they sent to concentration camps.
"This is the largest community of Holocaust survivors on Earth outside of Israel, it is unacceptable that these two men would occupy a place of honor here," Levine said.
There has recently been a reckoning over historic figures. A statue of Teddy Roosevelt was removed for its symbolism of colonialism and discrimination. And a statue of Thomas Jefferson was removed from City Hall because he owned slaves.
"Removing these plaques, taking them from this place of tremendous honor, isn't removing or hiding history -- it is telling history," said Gideon Taylor with JCRC-NY.
And with a rise in antisemitism in NYC, many argue that history needs to be told.
"Removing the plaques is not a whitewashing of history. Rather, it is a refusal to continue to honor two people who made the choice to embody the worst of humanity," Levine said.
Levine called the commemorative plaques painful and shameful.
"These two men are honored here on our Canyon of Heroes alongside giants of history like Nelson Mandela, alongside heroes like our COVID-19 health responders," Levine said. "This is jarring, inexplicable, it is unacceptable."
After the war, both men were convicted of treason in France. Levine said France even renamed streets that once honored Petain.
The city's Public Design Commission has the final say on what to do about the plaques, but the hope is that by pressuring the mayor and the City Council, the commission will quickly respond.
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