Based on Tatiana de Rosnay’s bestselling novel, the story follows an American woman (Kristin Scott Thomas) living in Paris investigating the arrest of Jewish families that was known as the Vél’ d’hiv’ Round-up in 1942 in Paris. The arrest of Jewish families was carried out by the French, not the Germans.
French newspaper reported in 1942: “The Vél d’hiv looked like a scene from hell. Eight thousand Jews were camping there, living literally in their excrement, with nothing to eat or drink for three days. Men died. Women gave birth. The clamor raised prevented the neighborhood’s residents from sleeping for three nights.”
13 000 victims
The greatest mass-arrest of Jews ever carried out on French soil is known as the Vél’ d’hiv’ Round-up. It involved 13 000 victims from Paris and its suburbs. Over slightly more than two days, the Round-up involved nearly a third of the 42,000 Jews deported to the nazi death camps in Poland in 1942. The statistics for this terrible year account for over half of the total 76,000 Jewish deportations from France. Compared to the mass-arrests that had previously taken place in Paris on May 14, August 20-23 and December 12, this event is particular for a number of reasons, foremost being its scale. Because they had not developed the reflex of hiding, women and children were this time involved. The action was part of the vast deportation plan of European Jews, devised by the Nazis at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942.
The Vél’ d’hiv’ Round-up was a concrete case of execution of the Final Solution. The event also gave the government of Pierre Laval the opportunity to implement French sovereignty. The Vichy Armistice Convention of June 22, 1940, had provided for French sovereignty over its entire territory, but this principle was subsequently violated. René Bousquet, Vichy Secretary General of Police, then led new negotiations with General Carl-Albrecht Oberg. The nomination of these two individuals to their positions represents a landmark event. Bousquet had occupied his position since Laval’s return to power in April. On March 9, 1942, Hitler had nominated Oberg for the position as Supreme Chief of the SS and of the German Police Military Command in France, a position that he occupied from May. The arrival in Paris of Reinhard Heydrich, Head of the Reich’s Central Security Office (RSHA), and his meeting with Bousquet on May 6, 1942, are cited by Klarsfeld as the beginning of the German demands (Klarsfeld, 2001). One month before the Round-up, effective from June 16, it was envisioned that in addition to the 16 to 55 year-old Jews to be arrested in the Paris region, a further 10,000 were to be taken from the so-called free area. The age limit for men was then lowered to 2 years of age and raised to 60 years of age. It was raised further later on.
In the course of two days, 12,884 Jews were arrested
3,031 were adult men, meaning that the majority were either women or children (5,802 and 4,051 respectively). On July 20, the figures increased to 3,118 men, 5,919 women and 4,115 children, totaling 13,152 people. This could satisfy neither German forecasts (for a total of 27,361 German, Austrian, Czech, Polish, Russian or stateless Jews), nor Vichy engagements (Poznanski, 1997). The majority of victims were arrested at home, a process facilitated by André Tulard’s January 1941 Jewish list. This list was based on the October 1940 census, which was paid for by Jewish communities themselves following Dannecker’s orders (Laffitte, 2006). However, the yellow star patch that had been obligatory to wear since June 7 in accordance with a German regulation issued on May 29 seemed to have played a secondary role in the identification process.
In addition to those having a provisionally protected nationality, the foreign Jews who were spared were either holders of UGIF legitimating cards (issued from July 6), the families of ironworkers employed by Germans and beneficiaries of an Ausweis (the German term for identity card), the spouses and widows of non-Jews, expectant mothers, women with children under two years of age and spouses of prisoners of war. In reality, these exemptions were not perfectly respected. With regards to children, Theodor Dannecker, Judenreferent SS, informed Adolf Eichmann (his superior in Berlin) on July 6: “President Laval proposed that those children of less than 16 years of age belonging to families removed from the non-occupied zone should be taken as well. Regarding children remaining in the occupied zone, the issue does not interest him.”
From the beginning of the month of July 1942, the Germans and the Vichy French had foreseen that UGIF centers would house isolated children. However, the UGIF had capacity for only 400-500 children, i.e. less than 10% of the 4,051 children (one-third of the total 12,884) arrested on July 16 and 17. At the time of the order from Berlin to deport the children, on July 30, the UGIF had only received around 150 children. Most were never interned, but had been abandoned after their parents’ arrest (Laffitte, 2003).
Single adults and childless couples were taken to the Drancy Camp, while families (8,160 men, women and children) were assembled in the Vélodrome d’hiver. From July 19 to 22, they were transferred to camps in the Loiret, where the children were forcibly removed from their mothers by the French gendarmerie. In August, the children were deported unaccompanied via Drancy to the Auschwitz gas chambers.
On July 16, 2002, upon the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Vél’ d’hiv Round-up, Annette Wieviorka noted in an interview with the daily newspaper Libération:
“Apart from an indirect mention in Mauriac’s Cahiers noirs (who was not an eye-witness), there is no known written personal account by a non-Jew. The press of the Résistance, particularly Jewish communists, reported the event. But people didn’t see it. They weren’t aware of what was happening. There’s not a single photo. No amateur films. Nothing. It’s an event that took place without leaving a visible trace today. For a long time, there was one photo of the Vél’ d’hiv’ that was shown everywhere. One day, Serge Klarsfeld took a close look at it and realized that it was actually a picture of collaborators interned after the war. Finally, he found one single photo showing some buses at the Vél’ d’hiv’. That’s it.”
From July 5, the clandestine newspaper L’Université libre began raising public awareness, reporting information doubtlessly leaked from the Prefecture of Police. “The files of 30,000 Jews were delivered to boche (a French pejorative term for German) authorities by the French Police.” UGIF employees and management disobeyed secrecy rules. André Baur and his secretary Marcel Stora personally informed David Rapoport, a Zionist resistant and member of the Poale Zion (Workers of Zion) leftist party, offering his rue Amelot committee workers protection through the UGIF legitimating card and enabling a wider spread of information, from at least two days before the beginning of the arrests (Laffitte, 2003).
Women auxiliaries distributing ration cards at town halls were particularly responsible for leaks, having been recruited to sort Jewish files. Another leak, but so limited and late that it could not have reached many militants or their families, came through a communist tract of the Solidarité movement. Written in Yiddish and distributed doubtlessly the day before the Round-up, it called upon the “Jewish masses” to hide, “to hide first and fore mostly the children”, and to “resist [arrest] by all possible means” (Pozanski, 2008). Even Adam Rayski, a communist who supervised the activities of the National Movement Against Racism (Mouvement national contre le racisme – MNCR) set up in summer 1942, did not take the initiative to hide his own family, who had left their home of their own accord in light of persisting rumors (Rayski, 1985).
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