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Irene Toporkoff-Mayer

See more by Irene Toporkoff-Mayer

Je suis la France

From My Grand-Mè​re To Macron, For A France Against Fascism

Worldcrunch's Parisian co-founder knows from up close the challenges that France has faced. Only an open and united Europe can bring a better future.


PARIS — My France has seen a lot of history these past five years, these past 75 years. My family too.

On Nov. 7, 2015, my beloved grandmother Yvette Baumann-Farnoux died after a remarkable life. Like her husband and my grandfather, Abel Farnoux, she had been a resistance hero during World War II, and a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp.

Just six days after bidding farewell to my grandmother, our beloved Paris was hit with its second vicious terror attack in less than a year. Then last July 14, on France's annual Bastille Day celebration of liberation, the southern city of Nice was struck by yet another Islamist suicide attack.

Marine Le Pen spent the past six months campaigning that the way to fix France, to fight terrorism and improve the economy, was to close its borders. To limit freedoms and destroy the project of a united Europe.

My grandparents, after surviving the Nazis and returning to a liberated France, spent the rest of their lives working toward a unified Europe, as crucial to long-lasting peace and prosperity for us all. And my grandmother always warned me how quickly fascism could return.

As fate would have it, I am also the mother of two beautiful Franco-German kids, the fruit of love and a free Europe. Rose, who is 14, has followed the final days of this French campaign from Berlin, where she is spending six weeks on a student exchange. Joschka, 12, watched the television debate and was shocked by Le Pen's vitriol toward his father's native country, and Europe in general.

Joschka, Rose, Irène with Yvette in 2008 when she was awarded the Grand-Croix of the Legion of Honour

Meanwhile, even some of those who did not support Le Pen, hesitated as to whether they should support Macron or not show up because they don't like the idea of supporting a "banker." This kind of populist rhetoric sounds awful to my ears, too close to what my grandmother might have heard at Rose's age.

In these past years and months, for the first time in my life, I have feared extremists — in different forms — as a real and present threat. But in France, where the Enlightenment was born, we may now still see some sign of hope in Monsieur Macron. For the first time, we will have a president under the age of 40, who is not a career politician, truly committed to supporting entrepreneurs and innovation. But none of that would be worth much without his basic belief in Europe.

This campaign was a lot of things, many of them not worth remembering. But it was also a fight to maintain French democracy and a united Europe in the face of the grandchild of fascism. So as we toast Le Pen's defeat, I am remembering the sacrifice of my grandparents — and, of course, thinking about the future for Rose and Joschka.

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