Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has begun fulfilling a promise he made over a year ago to remove the name of a French Nobel laureate who was a Nazi sympathizer from public places in Montreal.
The city’s executive committee announced on Aug. 9 that a street and park near the eastern tip of the island honouring Alexis Carrel (1873-1944), a physician who won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1912, will be renamed.
The changes still have to be approved by city council, which meets on Aug. 21.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), as well as MNA David Birnbaum, had urged Montreal, as well as other Quebec municipalities, to eliminate Carrel’s name. Coderre made a commitment to do so in April 2016.
They argued that his memory did not deserve the honour, because he was a proponent of eugenics and supported the forced sterilization of those considered racially inferior, or physically or mentally defective.
Carrel, a pioneer in vascular surgery, was accused of collaborating with the pro-Nazi Vichy regime in France, but died before being convicted.
CIJA applauded the city’s move.
“We are pleased to learn that these place names, which are incompatible with the universal principles of equality and human dignity, will soon become a thing of the past,” CIJA-Quebec vice-president Eta Yudin stated.
Rabbi Reuben Poupko, the organization’s co-president, pointed out that France had expunged Carrel’s name from all public spaces by 2002.
CIJA-Quebec continues to urge the municipalities of Boisbriand and Châteauguay to follow Montreal’s lead.
In 2015, Gatineau, under pressure from a resident and from CIJA, renamed streets that had paid tribute to Carrel and another Nobel laureate, German physicist Philipp Lenard (1862-1947), who was openly supportive of Hitler. That city chose two other renowned scientists, Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, in their stead.
Some years earlier, Quebec City also dropped Carrel’s name from a street.
Montreal has memorialized Carrel with several place names since 1972. Chantal Rouleau, mayor of Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles, where Avenue Alexis Carrel and Parc Alexis Carrel are located, suggests the street be changed to honour Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012), an Italian-Jewish physician who was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1986, with colleague Stanley Cohen.
Levi-Montalcini persisted in her career, despite the laws barring “non-Aryans” from academic and professional positions promulgated by Benito Mussolini in 1936, the year she graduated from medical school.
She began her research in neurobiology in her home and continued to work underground until the end of the war.