Holocaust survivors celebrate 80 years since mass arrests in Paris
family from family to house, from house to house, French On two terrible days in July 1942, the police rounded up 13,000 people and sent them to prison Nazi- Death camps simply because they were Jewish. Eighty years later, France honors the victims and tries to keep their memory alive.
Sunday’s commemorations are particularly important for the dwindling number of war crimes survivors in France. At a time of rising anti-Semitism and far-right discourse glossing over France’s role in the Holocaust, they fear the lessons of history are being forgotten.
A week of celebrations to mark the 80th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv police raid of July 16-17, 1942 will conclude on Sunday with a President-led event Emmanuel Macron.
The raids were among France’s most shameful acts of World War II and one of the darkest moments in its history.
In those two days, police herded 13,152 people – including 4,115 children – into the Paris winter velodrome, known as the Vel d’Hiv, before sending them to Nazi camps. It was the largest such raid in Western Europe. The children were separated from their families; very few survived.
In public testimony last week, survivor Rachel Jedinak described being knocked on the door in the middle of the night and being marched through the streets of Paris and herded into the velodrome in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
She recalled her distraught mother yelling at the police. Some neighbors informed about Jews, others wept when they saw them penned up like cattle.
Chantal Blaszka’s aunts and uncles were among the herded children: 6-year-old Simon, 9-year-old Berthe, 15-year-old Suzanne. Their names are now engraved on a memorial in a garden where the Velodrome once stood, along with about 4,000 other children who were targeted by the raids. Photos of the children hang from tree trunks, the result of years of painstaking research to identify and honor the long-unknown victims.
Of the children deported from the Vel d’Hiv 80 years ago, only six survived.
“Can you imagine?” asked Blaszka, pointing to the names and shaking his head. “Can you imagine?”
Serge Klarsfeld, a well-known Nazi hunter whose father was deported to Auschwitz, spoke in the garden on Saturday, calling it an “earth-shattering testimony of the horrors experienced by Jewish families.”
He stressed the urgency of passing on living memory. “The youngest of us are in our 80s,” he said of the children of deportees.
Micheline Tinader’s father was among the 76,000 Jews deported from France under the collaborationist Vichy government. Tinader himself had to hide from Nazis as a child.
She attended a memorial service at the Shoah memorial in the Paris suburb of Drancy this week and is part of a local association that organizes educational trips to Auschwitz.
Drancy possessed a transit center central to the deadly journey of French Jews to Nazi camps. About 63,000 people were detained during the course of the war.
The Drancy Shoah Memorial actively documents the Holocaust, especially for younger generations. This work is particularly important at a time when Jewish communities are increasingly concerned about rising anti-Semitism in Europe. The French Interior Ministry has reported an increase in anti-Semitic acts in France in recent years, saying that racist and anti-religious acts are on the rise overall, but that Jews are being disproportionately targeted.
Concerns have intensified for some since the far-right National Rally party made a surprise electoral breakthrough last month, winning a record 89 seats in France’s National Assembly. The party’s co-founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was convicted of racism and trivializing the Holocaust. His daughter Marine, who now heads the party, has distanced herself from her father’s positions, but the party’s past still causes concern for many Jews.
During the campaign for this year’s French presidential election, far-right candidate and pundit Eric Zemmour made the false claim that Adolf Hitler’s Vichy collaborators were protecting France’s Jews.
It was 50 years after World War II before the French leadership officially acknowledged the state’s involvement in the Holocaust, when then-President Jacques Chirac apologized for the French authorities’ role in the Vel d’Hiv raids.
On Sunday, Macron visited a site in Pithiviers, south of Paris, where police were sending families after the Vel d’Hiv raid before sending them to camps.
“The policy from 1942 was to organize the murder of the Jews of Europe and thus the deportation of the Jews of France,” said Jacques Fredj, director of the Paris Shoah Memorial.
“Mostly the decisions were made by the Nazis and implemented by the French administration,” he said. “But the management was French. (French) gendarmes or policemen directed and supervised.”
Le Deley reported from Drancy, France. Masha Macpherson in Paris contributed to this.