Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup.
During the so-called “Vel d’Hiv” raid, which took place on July 16 and 17, 1942, the victims were held at the Vélodrome d’Hiver, a cycling stadium in Paris’s 15th arrondissement.
8,160 Jews, including more than 4,000 children, were locked up in the stadium in terrible sanitary conditions before being transported by train in cattle wagons to transit camps and deported. None of the children – who were all deported to Auschwitz – survived.
The Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup , was a Nazi directed raid and mass arrest of Jews in Paris by the French police, code named Opération Vent printanier (“Operation Spring Breeze”), on 16 and 17 July 1942. The name “Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup” is derived from the nickname of the Vélodrome d’Hiver (“Winter Velodrome”), a bicycle velodrome and stadium where a majority of the victims were temporarily confined.
The roundup was one of several aimed at eradicating the Jewish population in France, both in the occupied zone and in the free zone. According to records of the Préfecture de Police, eventually 13,152 Jews were arrested including more than 4,000 children. They were held at the Vélodrome d’Hiver in extremely crowded conditions, almost without water, food and no sanitary facilities, as well as at the Drancy, Pithiviers, and Beaune-la-Rolande internment camps,then shipped in rail cattle cars to Auschwitz for their mass murder.
French President Jacques Chirac apologized in 1995 for the complicit role that French policemen and civil servants served in the raid.
The Vel’ d’Hiv was available for hire to whoever wanted it. Among those who had booked it was Jacques Doriot, a stocky, round-faced man who led France’s largest fascist party, the PPF.
It was at the Vel’ d’Hiv among other venues that Doriot, with his Hitler-like salute, roused crowds to join his cause. Among those who helped in the Rafle du Vel’ d’hiv were 3,400 young members of Doriot’s PPF.
The Germans demanded the keys of the Vel’ d’Hiv from its owner, Jacques Goddet,
who had taken over from his father Victor and from Henri Desgrange. The circumstances in which Goddet surrendered the keys remain a mystery and the episode is given only a few lines in his autobiography.
The Vel’ d’Hiv had a glass roof, which had been painted dark blue to avoid attracting bomber navigators.
The glass raised the heat when combined with windows screwed shut for security. The numbers held there vary according to accounts but one established figure is 7,500 of a final figure of 13,152. They had no lavatories: of the 10 available, five were sealed because their windows offered a way out and the others were blocked.The arrested Jews were kept there with only water and food brought by Quakers, the Red Cross and a few doctors and nurses allowed to enter. There was only one water tap. Those who tried to escape were shot on the spot. Some took their own lives.
Although French police had already begun arresting both foreign and French Jews in 1941, the raids in July 1942 were the first ones in which women, children and the elderly were also taken.Intelligence from the time shows that the population found the roundup shocking.
The position of the French police was complicated by the sovereignty of the Vichy government, which nominally administered France while accepting occupation of the north. Although in practice the Germans ran the north and had a strong and later total domination in the south, the formal position was that France and the Germans were separate. The position of Vichy and its leader, Philippe Pétain, was recognised throughout the war by many foreign governments.
The independence, however fictional, had to be preserved.
On 2 July 1942, René Bousquet attended a planning meeting in which he raised no objection to the arrests and worried only about the “embarrassing [gênant]” fact that the French police would carry them out. Bousquet succeeded in a compromise that the police would round up only foreign Jews. Vichy ratified that agreement the following day.
Thee police were acused for rounding up children of less than 16 years of age, the order was given by Pétain’s minister, Pierre Laval, supposedly as a “humanitarian” measure to keep families together.
This was fiction, given that the parents of these children had already been deported, and documents of the period have revealed that the anti-semitic Laval’s principal concern was what to do with Jewish children once their parents had been deported. The youngest child sent to Auschwitz under Laval’s orders was 18 months old.
Three former SS officers testified in 1980 that Vichy officials had been enthusiastic about deportation of Jews from France. The investigator Serge Klarsfeld found minutes in German archives of meetings with senior Vichy officials and Bousquet’s proposal that the roundup should cover non-French Jews throughout the country.
Many policemen had leaked the information the day before the rai ; the Germans were furious. They had hoped to arrest 27,427 Jews in and around Paris, but eventually they ‘only’ arrested 13,152.This figure includes the arrests from a simultaneous round-up, during which nearly 5,000 adults were sent to the Drancy transit camp and deported.
In the two months that followed the Vel’ d’Hiv arrests some 1,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz every two or three days. By the end of September 1942 almost 38,000 Jews had been deported to Auschwitz from France. In 1945 only some 780 of them remained alive.
The French reactions to the arrest and deportation of Jews varied between active collaboration with the Germans, indifference, and empathy toward the persecuted Jews. Most of the civil administration and the French policemen who had been allocated to conduct the arrest collaborated with the authorities. A minority, however, tried to aid Jews in escaping, either by turning a blind eye toward escapees, or by actively aiding such escapes and providing Jews with hiding places. Many elements within French society – leading figures in the Church, the press and the underground – expressed revulsion at the events and protested against them. Public condemnation of the arrest and deportation of Jews was primarily sparked by the difficult sight of women arrested along with their babies. This negative public sentiment found its way into the official reports of governmental authorities and even the police.
The internment camp at Drancy – which is now the subsidised housing that it was intended to be – was easily defended because it was built of tower blocks in the shape of a horseshoe. It was guarded by French gendarmes.
The camp’s operation was under the Gestapo’s section of Jewish affairs. T
Heinz Röthke was in charge of the camp. It was under his direction from August 1942 to June 1943 that almost two-thirds of those deported in SNCF box car transports requisitioned by the Nazis from Drancy were sent to Auschwitz. Drancy is also the location where Klaus Barbie transported Jewish children that he captured in a raid of a children’s home,
before shipping them to Auschwitz where they were killed. Most of the initial victims, including those of the Vel’ d’Hiv, were crammed in sealed wagons and died en route due to lack of food and water. Those who survived the passage died in the gas chambers.
After the liberation in 1944, the camp was run by the Resistance ,who used it to house those .they considered collaborators with the Germans. When a pastor was allowed in on 15 September, he discovered cells 3.5m by 1.75m that had held six Jewish internees with two mattresses between them.The prison returned to the conventional prison service on 20 September.
Pierre Laval’s trial opened on 3 October 1945, his first defence being that he had been obliged to sacrifice foreign Jews to save the French. Uproar broke out in the court, with supposedly neutral jurors shouting abuse at Laval, threatening “a dozen bullets in his hide”.It was, said the historians Antony Beevor and Artemis Cooper, “a cross between an auto-de-fé and a tribunal during the Paris Terror. From 6 October, Laval refused to take part in the proceedings, hoping that the jurors’ interventions would lead to a new trial. Laval was sentenced to death, and tried to commit suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule. Revived by doctors, he was executed by firing squad at Fresnes on 15 October.
René Bousquet was acquitted of “compromising the interests of the national defence”, but declared guilty of Indignité nationale(national indignity) for involvement in the Vichy government.
He was given five years of Dégradation nationale(national degradation), a measure immediately lifted for “having actively and sustainably participated in the resistance against the occupier”. Bousquet’s position was always ambiguous; there were times he worked with the Germans and others when he worked against them. After the war he worked at the Banque d’Indochine and in newspapers. In 1957, the Conseil d’État gave back his Legion of Honour, and he was given an amnesty on 17 January 1958, after which he stood for election that same year as a candidate for the Marne.
On 16 July 1995, the President, Jacques Chirac, ruled it was time that France faced up to its past and he acknowledged the role that the state had played in the persecution of Jews and other victims of the German occupation. He said:
- “These black hours will stain our history for ever and are an injury to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal madness of the occupant was assisted (‘secondée’) by the French, by the French state. Fifty-three years ago, on 16 July 1942, 4500 policemen and gendarmes, French, under the authority of their leaders, obeyed the demands of the Nazis. That day, in the capital and the Paris region, nearly 10,000 Jewish men, women and children were arrested at home, in the early hours of the morning, and assembled at police stations… France, home of the Enlightenment and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, land of welcome and asylum, France committed that day the irreparable. Breaking its word, it delivered those it protected to their executioners”
A fire destroyed part of the Vélodrome d’Hiver in 1959 and the rest was demolished. A block of flats and a building belonging to the Ministry of the Interior now stand on the site. A plaque marking the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup was placed on the track building and moved to 8 boulevard de Grenelle in 1959. On 3 February 1993, the President, François Mitterrand, commissioned a monument to be erected on the site.
It stands on a curved base, to represent the cycle track, on the edge of the quai de Grenelle. It is the work of the Polish sculptor Walter Spitzer and the architect Mario Azagury. Spitzer’s family were survivors of deportation to Auschwitz. The statue represents all deportees but especially those of the Vel’ d’Hiv. The sculpture includes children, a pregnant woman and a sick man. The words on the monument are: “The French Republic in homage to victims of racist and antisemitic persecutions and of crimes against humanity committed under the authority of the so-called ‘Government of the State of France.'”
A memorial plaque in memory of victims of the Vel’ d’Hiv raid was placed at the Bir-Hakeim station of the Paris Métro on 20 July 2008.
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