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The July 16 and 17, 1942, when Vel d'Hiv roundup, the French police proceeded to the massive arrest of thousands of Jews, on order of the government of Vichy. Men, women and children were soon brought back to the Winter Velodrome, in Paris, place of the beginning. Not the beginning of a life, but rather the beginning of a death. It was not until 1995 and a speech by President Jacques Chirac that the taint represented by these dark hours in the history of France was recognized.
Changing the balance of power and the return of Laval
If the Axis still suffers only limited and few setbacks, the balance of power nevertheless tends to evolve. Since June 1941, Hitler had been de facto bogged down, as part of the operation Barbarossa, in the USSR where he encountered strong resistance from the people practicing in particular the scorched earth policy. In addition, the United States had entered the war against the Axis forces after the attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) and at the same time, resistance continued to grow around the person of General de Gaulle and knew his first successes (Bir Hakeim).
This is why Hitler, since December 1941, had convinced himself of the importance of the establishment of a final solution, aimed at annihilate the "Jewish race" (Mein Kampf), for whom he harbored an immeasurable hatred. So the collaboration grew considerably after the return of Pierre Laval (1) who received the title of "head of government" and employed all his zeal for State collaboration. Judging Xavier Vallat, Commissioner General for Jewish Questions, too inactive, he had him replaced by an even more anti-Semitic man, Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, whose inclination for the Nazis was no doubt at the time.
The Vel 'd'Hiv roundup (July 16-17, 1942)
In July, Philippe Pétain's Vichy collaborationism manifested itself in a repression against foreigners. The secretary general of the Vichy police, René Bousquet, agreed to hand over the foreign Jews in the occupied zone to the Germans. On July 16, therefore, the mass arrest of these Jews began in Paris. This operation, known as the “spring wind”, concerns the districts of Paris where a large Jewish community lives (3rd, 10th, 11th, 12th arrondissements). It was prepared by the newly appointed Commissioner for Jewish Affairs, Darquier de Pellepoix. 900 teams are formed to make the arrests.12 884 people, men and women (including 4,115 children), out of a total of 28,000 planned, were thus arrested by nearly 9,000 French police officers and taken to the Vélodrome d'Hiver, in the 15th arrondissement, while waiting to be interned in the Drancy camp for the majority, in the Paris region or in Beaune-la-Rolande.
Those who had been parked there lived here for five days in deplorable conditions. Parents were forced to leave first, leaving children distraught, left to fend for themselves, who soon left in turn: in total, a third of the people who set foot on the Vél d'Hiv found themselves in fine in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Silesia (2).
The aftermath of the Vel d'Hiv roundup
This was only the prelude to the deportation of several other tens of thousands of Jews. The culmination of the collaboration, the Vel'd’Hiv roundup is just one episode: there have been roundups since 1941, much desired by Dannecker (representing the SS in Paris) and other Nazi leaders. Transit camps were organized everywhere in France (Drancy, Pithiviers, Beaune-la-Rolande for example) from which, from the spring of 1942, death trains left for the concentration camps. The French authorities handed over to the Nazis the Jewish elites (Léon Blum, Georges Mandel) by the hundreds from 1941, the anti-Jewish laws of Vichy having preceded the Nazi wishes. After the Vel’d’Hiv raid, other interventions took place all over France, with Pierre Laval offering to help with operations in the free zone.
In total, it is estimated that around 80,000 Jews in France were killed in Nazi extermination camps, or 20% of the Jewish population living in France in 1939 (3). Faced with this racist and collaborationist policy of the French State, some were quick to protest and defend against State anti-Semitism, like the Archbishop of Toulouse, Mgr Saliège, first a marshal, who deplored than "Children, women, men, fathers and mothers are treated like a vile flock, that the members of the same family are separated from each other and embarked for an unknown destination" (And clamor Jerusalem ascended) or even Cardinal Gerlier in Lyon and Mgr Théas in Montauban. The raids, which were quantitatively less important, continued nonetheless: in 1942 alone, 42,600 Jews left France for the camps in Central Europe.
Since 1993, July 16 has become a national day in tribute to the victims of anti-Semitic persecutions committed under the responsibility of Vichy. On July 16, 1995, President Jacques Chirac recognized in a speech the responsibility of the French state in the policy of persecution of Jews carried out in collaboration with Nazi Germany during World War II.
(1): Laval had been ousted from power on December 13, 1940, not only because his power was rising and it could lessen that of the marshal but also because Weygand was opposed to this state collaboration that Laval wanted to put in place .
(2): A very large majority of those rounded up died at Auschwitz.
(3): It is generally considered that between 300,000 and 350,000 Jews lived in France at that date.
- La Grande Rafle du Vel d'Hiv: July 16, 1942 by Claude Lévy. Text, 2004.
- La France de Vichy, 1940-1944 by Robert O. Paxton. Points Histoire, 1999.
- The Roundup. Fiction by Rose Bosch, 2010. On DVD and BR.