French President Emmanuel Macron made an effort to pay homage to Nazi collaborator Philippe Pétain later this week during the centenary commemoration of the end of the First World War.
Mr Macron said Marshal Pétain was a "great soldier" even though he had made "fateful decisions" during World War II.
Pétain was praised in 1916 for the defense of Verdun, but sentenced to death after the Second World War for treason.
Some French politicians and Jewish leaders condemned Mr. Macron's remarks.
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What did Mr Macron say?
In a tour of northern France in Charleville-Mezieres, the president said: "It is right that we honor the marshals who led France to victory (in World War I)."
Regarding Pétain, Mr. Macron said, "He was a great soldier," even though he had made "fateful decisions" during the Nazi occupation of France.
Petain worked with the Nazi invaders and led a puppet government that focused on the spa town of Vichy.
Mr. Macron's office later defended his remarks.
"I forgive nothing, but I will not delete anything from our history," he said, stressing that Pétain was "complicit in serious crimes."
And when addressing reporters, he added, "They themselves create controversy."
On Saturday, a ceremony will be held in Paris to commemorate the eight marshals, including Pétain, who led the French army during World War I.
What was the reaction in France?
A number of French politicians criticized President Macron.
Leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the France Unbowed party, described Pétain as a "traitor and anti-Semite".
Mr Mélenchon added: "Macron, this time you have gone too far, the history of France is not your toy."
Meanwhile, Francis Califat of the CRIF Association of French Jewish Groups said he was "shocked" by Mr Macron's remarks in which he praised a Nazi collaborator who helped send thousands of Jews to their deaths.
"The only thing we'll remember about Petain is that he was convicted on behalf of the French people during his 1945 trial for national outrage," said Mr. Kalifat.
Who was Philippe Pétain?
He was born in 1856 and joined the French army 20 years later.
Pétain was regarded by many in France as a national hero for the restoration of military morale to Verdun – the largest and longest battle in World War I.
In 1918 he was made Marshal of France.
In 1940, when France was attacked by Germany, Pétain was named vice-premier. Later, he asked for a truce, for which he was appointed "head of state," who enjoys almost absolute powers.
The ceasefire gave the Germans control of the north and west of France, including Paris, but left the remainder as a separate regime under Pétain.
Officially neutral, in practice the regime worked closely with Germany and adopted its own anti-Semitic legislation.
After the end of World War II Pétain was sentenced to death for treason. He was then turned into life imprisonment at his old age.
Pétain died in 1951 at the age of 95 years.