MONACO (AP) — In an unprecedented gesture of repentance, Monaco's Prince Albert II apologized Thursday for his country's role in deporting Jews to Nazi camps — seven decades after police rounded up scores of people from the seaside principality, including those who had sought refuge from the Holocaust in what they thought was a safe and neutral land.
"To say this today is to recognize a fact. To say it today, on this day, before you, is to ask forgiveness," Albert said in a poignant speech recounting actions by Monegasque police during the war.
He spoke facing Monaco's chief rabbi and other Jewish figures including Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, renowned Nazi hunters and Holocaust researchers who encouraged Albert's father, Prince Rainier III, to examine Monaco's role during World War II.
Albert unveiled a monument at the Monaco cemetery Thursday carved with the names of deported Jews. The date was chosen to mark 73 years since Monegasque authorities, under pressure from Nazi collaborationist leaders in France, rounded up at least 66 Jews on the night of Aug. 27-28, 1942.
They were among about 90 people deported from Monaco, or Monegasque residents deported from neighboring France, during the war, according to a government report completed this year.
Only nine survived.
Monaco was officially neutral at the start of the war, and was later occupied by Italian, then German forces. The government reports detail efforts by a Jesuit priest, a surgeon and others to protect Jews in Monaco, then describes how the authorities gradually ceded to increasing pressure from French authorities under Nazi control.
"We committed the irreparable in handing over ... women, men and a child who had taken refuge with us to escape the persecutions they had suffered in France," Albert said.
"We did not protect them. It was our responsibility," he said. "In distress, they came specifically to take shelter with us, thinking they would find neutrality."
It was the first clear public acknowledgement of Monaco's responsibility for Jewish suffering during the war, according to a palace official who compared it to French President Jacques Chirac's speech in 1997 admitting for the first time the role of the French state in the Holocaust. The palace official wasn't authorized to be named publicly.
Albert's gesture comes amid his broader efforts as Monaco's reigning monarch to shed the principality's long-held reputation as a tax haven and elitist playground for the rich.
He created a commission to aid victims of spoliation, amid criticism that Monaco hadn't done enough to investigate alleged plundering of property of Jews sent to death camps. He said Thursday that nine requests for compensation have been approved so far.
European Jewish Congress president Dr. Moshe Kantor said "we welcome today's event and the desire of the principality to properly examine its role during these dark days of the Nazi occupation."
While Albert's gesture came more than seven decades late, Kantor said in a statement to The Associated Press, "There is no time limit on true introspection and regret."
Angela Charlton reported from Paris.