Sarkozy bestowing the prestigious award on Shalev
Photo: Erez Lichtfeld

France bestows Legion of Honor Award upon head of Yad Vashem

Holocaust museum director recognized for outstanding achievements at Elyse Palace; French president personally grants the award

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev received the prestigious Legion of Honor Award from the French president at the Elyse Palace Thursday, and is set to receive the Prince of Asturias Award in Spain on Friday.


Several weeks ago, Avner Shalev the head of the Yad Vashem Museum discovered that French President Nicholas Sarcozy had decided to grant him the prestigious Legion of Honor Award for his outstanding achievements at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.


"This prestigious honor is awarded to you in recognition of your outstanding work in preserving the memory of the Holocaust throughout the world. This is reward for a man of patience and peace who has turned Yad Vashem into a center of learning for the younger generations from different backgrounds," the French president wrote in a letter that was passed on to Shalev by the French ambassador to Israel Jean-Michel Casa.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Yad Vashem curator Avner Shalev (Photo: Erez Lichtfeld)


"It surprised me very much, I had no idea where this came from," Shalev told ynet in a telephone conversation from his hotel room a short while before he left for the ceremony which took place Thursday at the Elyse Palace and was attended by politicians, researchers and heads of the Jewish community.


Avner Shalev, who was appointed head of Yad Vashem in 1993 and who engineered a dramatic upheaval at the museum since then, found it difficult to contain his excitement.


"I don't usually do things in order to get something in return – I get my greatest satisfaction from Yad Vashem's developments and achievements. Therefore, when suddenly such a proposal is made, it's exciting and surprising. France is a very important country; its culture, recognition and world status, its key role throughout history, its large Jewish community and the fact that the French president himself is devoting his personal time to grant me this award – all this is very significant," Shalev said.


Yet his excitement also contained a personal aspect. "I think of my grandparents whom I never knew, of my mother's tears each time she thought of her sisters who perished in the Holocaust." All this now comes together, he said, "through the awareness that remembering the Holocaust is part of a greater culture, a global one."


"This award means that France believes that the activities of Yad Vashem headed by myself significantly contributed to the French, European and universal identity. This is very moving for me."


This was not the first time that Shalev had met with Sarcozy – the two had already met on two different occasions. Once at Yad Vashem and once in Paris.


The Yad Vashem curator had accompanied Nicholas Sarkozy on his trip through the museum when the French president visited prior to his election. Shalev said he was marked by how deeply Sarkozy was moved by the exhibitions in the museum and even remembers that Sarkozy told him that the visit "changed his life."


On Friday, Shalev is due to receive the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, which is bestowed upon the person, persons or institution whose work has made an exemplary and outstanding contribution to mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence amongst men, to the struggle against injustice or ignorance, to the defense of freedom, or whose work has widened the horizons of knowledge or has been outstanding in protecting and preserving mankind's heritage.


פרסום ראשון: 10.25.07, 16:42
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