2010-02-18 / Front Page

Nazi link prompts call for street name change

Pétain, who was considered a hero in WWI, worked with Hitler during WWII
Milltown officials are looking into a local teenager’s request that they change the name of a borough road due to the association of its namesake with the Nazis.

Petain Avenue, the student wrote, is named for Philippe Pétain, who was chief of state in Vichy, France, during World War II and worked closely with the Third Reich.

Evan Gottesman, 15, a freshman at East Brunswick High School, sent a letter to the mayor and Borough Council of Milltown in January saying, “I strongly urge you to seek a change so that Pétain is not allowed to live on in the streets of Milltown, especially among such heroes as Pershing, Foch, Joffre and Haig.” Those four adjacent streets, along with Pétain, are named for commanders of Allied armies in World War I.

“To not change the name of Pétain Avenue would be to not do the right thing,” he wrote.

Gottesman explained in the letter that Pétain collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. He was responsible for the deportations of countless innocent civilians to Nazi death camps and, after the war, was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to life in prison.

“This individual, regardless of any service in the first world war, does not deserve the honor of having a street named for him,” the teenager wrote.

Gottesman started a Facebook page about his endeavor, “Change Pétain Street!” in January, and some 148 members have joined the group on the networking website in support of changing the street name.

Mayor Gloria Bradford said at the Feb. 8 council meeting that she researched the information detailed by Gottesman to confirm it was true, and she has asked Borough Attorney Thomas Buck to find out the process for changing a street name and how much it would cost the town. Buck said he did not know the answer, and the borough’s postmaster also was unsure. The attorney said he would research the idea and have some information at the Feb. 22 council meeting.

Bradford said she and the council would look into the matter further and contact the residents of Pétain Avenue. Only a few houses are located on the small road, which runs between Haig to West Foch avenues.

Milltown has honored many through its street names, including casualties of war such as George Moetz, William Carina, Joseph DeBonis, Gilbert Mathison, William Benhardt, Julian Desmet, Henry Potter, John Fisher, Leigh Pardun, George Renoux, Michael Starodub, Brian Clayton and George Hye.

Pétain was chosen for a Milltown street name sometime after World War I due to his outstanding military leadership in that war. However, during World War II, Petain, then in his 80s and head of the Fascist-oriented Vichy government, collaborated closely with the Nazis. Petain’s government passed anti-Semitic laws and rounded up Jews for deportation to German concentration camps. He was tried for treason and though initially sentenced to death, this was commuted to a life sentence. He died in 1951 at the age of 95.

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