It always amazes me how easy it was for some Europeans to give up their Jewish neighbours. I know it is easy for me to say that in retrospect, because I don’t know how I would have reacted if I was put in that situation. But I have a feeling I would have least spoken out about it.
In the Netherlands 75% of all Dutch Jews, or Jews residing in the Netherlands were murdered during the Holocaust. It wasn’t so much that all Dutch were complicit in this crime. A big factor was the very efficient Dutch civil administration which enabled the occupiers to carry out their plans for the final solution. As I stated before only relatively few Dutch were complicit, but there were a great number that were complacent and hid for the facts that were so plain to see.
In France however, it was the French Vichy government that were complicit and were quite happy and eager to help the Nazi occupiers.
I remember a scene in the movie “Mr. Klein” about a man profiting off the misfortune of French Jews during World War II. In the scene it was the French police knocking at the door of the Jews and not the Gestapo. Although the film is fictional, it does give a good indication of the French attitude towards their Jewish neighbours. This 1976 film directed by Joseph Losey. Alain Delon plays the immoral art dealer, Robert Klein, leads a life of luxury, until a copy of a Jewish newspaper brings him to the attention of the police, linking him with a mysterious doppelgänger.
On July 16th 1942, French police acting on orders of the Nazi occupiers began rounding up thousands of Jews living in Paris. They were assembled at the city’s indoor velodrome the victims were held at the Vélodrome d’Hiver, cycling stadium in Paris’s 15th arrondissement. From there they were being deported to Auschwitz. Many died at the velodrome itself, left in searing heat with almost no food, water or sanitation. This shameful chapter in France’s history is known as “la rafle du Vel d’Hiv'”. The French police, code named the round up Opération Vent printanier (“Operation Spring Breeze”)
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 all put in rail cattle cars to be deported to Auschwitz for their mass murder.
Over 3,000 children remained interned orphaned, until they were deported to Auschwitz as well.
Many wartime French authorities and police played an active role in the deportations, but one Paris policeman, Théophile Larue, took a stand. He warned his Jewish neighbors, the Lictensztajns, of the upcoming “Vél d’Hiv” roundup. He arranged for the family to escape to southern France and obtain false papers. The Lictensztajns were saved by one man who made a choice to uphold his position to protect all citizens, but unfortunately, not all French Policemen took that position.
Théophile Larue didn’t save only the Lictensztajn.
In March 1941, the Larue and his wife Madeleine offered their hospitality to Léon Osman, who thus managed to avoid being sent to the Pithiviers camp. He remained under their care until July 1942, when he was able to escape to the south of France. Osman was on the Gestapo’s list of wanted people; giving shelter to such a person was a grave offense and carried a heavy punishment.
On July 15 1942, Larue gave advanced warning of the planned large-scale roundup of Jews that was to start the next day to eight Jewish families who lived in his building, thus allowing them a chance to flee and find refuge.
The Larue couple sheltered Chuma Brand, and her daughter Fanny in their apartment for a week, in July 1942. Then Théophile accompanied them to the train station in his uniform so as to facilitate their flight to the unoccupied zone. In November 1942, Simon Glicensztajn, also on the Gestapo’s list, found refuge in the Larues’ home for a few days. Moreover, one night, Larue broke in to the police-sealed apartment of Glicensztajn’s sister, Laja Tobjasz, to help remove a stock of merchandise that would provide the family with a livelihood.
Once, when Mrs. Tobjasz returned to Paris from southern France, she was arrested and taken to the prefecture. When Larue heard this, he donned his uniform, went to the prefecture and asked to speak to the prefect.
He said that Mrs. Tobjasz was Catholic and his daughter’s godmother. Although skeptical, the prefect must have had a change of heart, because he released her into Larue’s custody. Théophile Larue believed that it was his duty as a man of honor, and one who had respect for human values to help people in need, even at the risk of putting his family in harm’s way. As a member of the French Resistance, Officer Larue took part in the battle for theliberation of Paris. After the liberation, the Larues continued to be in touch with the families of those they rescued. On September 23, 2007, Yad Vashem recognized Théophile and Madeleine Larue as Righteous Among the Nations.
German authorities continued the deportations of Jews from French soil until August 1944. In all, some 77,000 Jews living on French territory were murdered in concentration camps and killing centers—the overwhelming majority of them at Auschwitz.
For his pivotal part in the deportation of Jews from France, Pierre Laval, formerly the French Prime Minister, was arrested and tried after the liberation of France. He was shot by firing squad on 15 October 1945.
The fate of two German officials most involved in the Vél d’Hiv mirrored the common fates of high-ranking SS administrators. Theodor Dannecker was arrested by American officials in Bad Tölz, Bavaria, in December 1945, and committed suicide while in custody. Helmut Knochen, sentenced by a British court to 21 years in prison for a separate offense, was sentenced to death by a French court in 1954. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and Knochen was released on orders of French President Charles de Gaulle in November 1962.
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