I love France, especially Paris. Yet it’s fair to say that France has a complex history, sometimes incredibly complex. I was reminded of that on a walk yesterday. I often read the plaques and signs around the city. They tell me of the history of the people who have lived here. This one stood out for me because of the Hebrew at the top and bottom.
The sign says:
Here in this school
The 24th July 1944
One month before the liberation of Paris
71 children and 11 teachers
Were arrested and deported by the German police
They died, killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau
The children were aged 4-20. The teachers 19-62.
Wrapped up in the complexity of France is the truth that is left out, distorted in fact, we can even say part of it is a lie. Yes, it was the Germans, the Nazis who ordered the arrests, but it was the French who carried out the orders. The French performed the arrests, not the Germans.
We need to step back a bit and look at France at the time. There were two parts, occupied France and “free” France, also known as Vichy. The reality is that the Germans controlled both, but the French, under Petain, could act like they ran the unoccupied territory. At first the French protected Jews in France, well at least some of them. There was a line drawn between “our Jews”, meaning those born in France and others who emigrated to France, mostly from Germany and Eastern Europe to escape Nazi tyranny. The French born Jews were protected. The others were not. The distinction between the two Frances only matters in this respect: in occupied France there could be a claim that the horrors were done under German orders. No such case could be made in Vichy France. And yes, there were those who hid Jews, much like Miep Gies and others did for the Frank family. Others aided in escapes, often to Switzerland. Yet by and large there was cooperation, albeit often forced. There have been questions for years in France about what it meant to be a collaborator. It’s clear that someone who aided the Nazis, who profited from the cooperation, would be called collaborators. But what about the mayor of a small community who reluctantly worked with the Nazis to ensure that his citizens were fed? There is a great French TV series, Un village Français, the deals with the complexities of this history. But let’s go back to July 1944.
Here is the true story. The French police handled the arrests in July 1944. Yes, the German military ordered it, but the French police executed the plans. It was one last attempt by the Nazis to remove all of the Jews from Paris. And the French helped. The movie Sarah’s Key is a fictional account of the history of the round-up and imprisonment in the Velodrome d’Hiver. 13,152 Jews were arrested, more than 4,000 of them were children. It was ugly beyond imagination in that building, worse even than for those who lived in the death camps. Still, that plaque above only touches on the whole story, so much is left out. I also came across this sign:
The sign says:
Square of 260 children
Students of the school of the Hospitalières Saint-Gervais
Deported and killed
Because they were born Jewish
This sign is in the Marais. Before the war the Marais was the center of Jewish life in Paris. There is still a Jewish presence in the neighborhood, but not anything close to what it was. What the sign doesn’t say is when the arrests happened and who handled them. It’s likely it was done by the French gendarmes and was part of the July 1944 round-up.
Like I said, complex. The French admit what happened but seem to leave out who helped perpetrate the murders of the Holocaust. Here is another image that supports this narrative:
This is a memorial on the site of the Velodrome d’Hiver. Yet there is something different here. The inscription:
The French Republic
In tribute the the victims of the persecutions
Racist and antisemitic and the crimes
Against humanity committed under the de facto authority
of the government of the French state 1940-1944
We will never forget
And hence the complexity of France. Here is an admission of complicity.
My last trip to France I visited the Holocaust museum in Paris. I have to admit that I didn’t know the museum existed. I heard of it because Doug Emhof was there just before my trip. Part of the museum includes stones engraved with the Jews from France who were killed. This one stood out:
It may be hard to read in the image. In the center is the name “Albert Valadji” with the date 1903 (I assume this was his birth year). I wondered if my name, Valade, would have been spelled like this had I been Jewish and from the same region. And my dad? His name was Albert.