Removal of Nazi-linked Nobel winner’s name moves to final stage

This street sign might soon be a thing of the past.

Whether a Nazi-linked Nobel Prize winner’s name is removed from a street and park near the eastern tip of Montreal island is now in the hands of the Commission de toponymie du Québec, the provincial body that gives final approval to changes to public place names.

On Aug. 21, Montreal city council adopted a resolution to rename Alexis Carrel Avenue and Alexis Carrel Park in the Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles borough. That move followed a decision made by the city’s executive committee two weeks earlier, fulfilling a promise made by Mayor Denis Coderre in April 2016.

Alexis Carrel (1873-1944) was a French physician who won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1912.

Last year, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), as well as MNA David Birnbaum, urged Montreal, as well as other Quebec municipalities, to remove Carrel’s name from public places. They argued that his memory did not deserve the honour, because he was a proponent of eugenics and supported the Nazi policy of sterilizing 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.


At the suggestion of Chantal Rouleau, mayor of Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles, the street is to be changed to honour Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012), an Italian-Jewish physician who was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1986, which she shared with her colleague, Stanley Cohen.

Levi-Montalcini persisted in her career, despite laws barring “non-Aryans” from academic and professional positions that were promulgated by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1936, the year she graduated from medical school.

She began her research in neurobiology in her own home and continued to work underground until the end of the war.

The park will commemorate Don Bosco, a 19th-century Italian priest who devoted his life to underprivileged youth and was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1934.

“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.

Alexis Carrel in 1912. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS PHOTO

Rabbi Reuben Poupko, the organization’s co-president, pointed out that France had expunged Carrel’s name from all public spaces by 2002.

City spokesperson Jules Chamberland-Lajoie told The CJN that place name changes come into effect six months after they’re adopted by council. That time allows for residents of the street to be informed, as well as for planning, notably with Canada Post, he said. The places in question have been there for decades.

CIJA-Quebec continues to urge the municipalities of Boisbriand and Châteauguay to rid Carrel’s name from their territories, as well.

In 2015, Gatineau, under pressure from a resident and 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, renaming it after politician Maurice Bellemare.

However, the Commission de toponymie’s website lists a street called Carrel Avenue in Quebec City, which, it says was named after the same Nobel laureate. There is also still a Carrel Street in Repentigny, which also honours him.

The commission does not know the origin of Carrel Street in Montreal’s St-Léonard borough.