Gatineau, Que., is renaming two streets, Alexis Carrel and Philipp Lenard, after a resident pointed out that the two Nobel Prize-winners had Nazi sympathies.
The council for the city, across the river from Ottawa, voted on June 9 to rename them after two other Nobel winners: Alexis Carrel will become Albert Einstein Street and Philipp Lenard will become Marie Curie Street.
The change follows on an almost two-year quest by resident Benoit Beaulieu to drop the names because of the link to Nazism.
Last month, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) also called on Gatineau to get rid of the names.
CIJA is continuing to urge other Quebec municipalities, including Montreal, to change the names of streets and other public places named for Carrel, a French doctor, who, like Lenard, was an early 20th-century Nobel laureate.
Gatineau included Alexis Carrel and Philipp Lenard Streets in the neighbourhood near Gatineau Hospital where other streets bear the names of Nobel winners.
The motion, passed by a 14-5 vote, was presented by the district’s councillor, Gilles Carpentier.
The darker sides of their backgrounds apparently went unnoticed until Beaulieu began a campaign to have the names changed.
The Commission de toponymie du Québec website lists an Alexis Carrel Avenue in Montreal’s Rivière des Prairies district, and there is park of that name there, too.
Alexis Carrel streets can also be found in Chateauguay and Boisbriand. Quebec City had one, but it was changed to Maurice Bellemare Street. There are no other Phillip Lenard place names.
In a letter, CIJA Quebec vice-president Luciano Del Negro told Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin that the continued existence of the streets is “dishonourable” to the memory of the victims of Nazi ideology, as well as the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers to rid Europe of Nazism.
He wrote that it is “inconceivable that a city in a liberal democracy such as Quebec can continue, in full knowledge of the cause, to give homage to a National Socialist Party member and an exalter of Nazi eugenics.”
Carrel (1873-1944) developed groundbreaking techniques in vascular surgery, was a eugenics proponent and near the end of his life was investigated for alleged collaboration with the Vichy government, but died before his trial.
Lenard’s Nazi and anti-Semitic sentiments are not in doubt. The German physicist (1862-1947), who was a pioneer in cathode rays, was an active proponent of the Nazi ideology and an early supporter of Hitler.
Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre spokesperson Audrey Licop deplored the “apathy” of many Quebecers to the history of the Holocaust, and said the street-name issue underscores the need for more education on the subject.