The Vélodrome d'hiver Round-up: July 16 and 17, 1942

28 December, 2008
Laffitte Michel

A. Context

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 and its suburbs. Over slightly more than two days, the Round-up involved nearly a third of the 42,000 Jews deported to 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 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 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 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.

B. Decision-Makers, Organizers and Actors

Head of Government Pierre Laval announced the night before the Vichy Council of Ministers of June 26, 1942 that Jean Leguay, Bosquet’s Deputy for the Occupied Zone, had been summoned by Theodor Dannecker, SS Councilor for Jewish Affairs (Service IV-J). Dannecker, who had been delegated to France by Adolf Eichmann, demanded the transportation of 10,000 Jews from the Southern zone, as had been promised by René Bosquet on June 16, and the arrest of a further 22,000 of which at least 40% were to be French from the Seine and Seine-et-Oise départements. On June 30, upon a fleeting visit to , Eichmann and Dannecker co-signed a declaration “to totally free France of Jews as quickly as possible” (Klarsfeld, 2001).

Disregarding a promise that he should lead a unified police force, on July 2, 1942 René Bousquet agreed to put his men at the disposal of the occupier for the purposes of arresting Jewish foreigners in the two zones. The following day, at the Council of Ministers, Laval announced a census for the Southern zone intended to distinguish French Jews from “the trash sent by the Germans themselves”. Pétain considered the initiative to be “fair” and “that it would be understood by the public at large”.

On July 4, Dannecker implemented a commission presided over by the General-Commissioner for Jewish Affairs, Louis Darquier de Pellepoix. The commission brought together the heads of various French organizations involved in round-up preparations and set-up a visit of the Southern zone camps by a German delegation. On the same day, Laval suggested to Helmut Knochen, Head of Security Policy and the SS Information Service (SiPo-SD), that children should be deported as well, in order to appease public opinion which could be shocked by the breaking up of families (Joly, 2006). He repeated his suggestion the following day (July 5) to Knochen’s Deputy, General Oberg.

The technical details of the Round-up were set on July 7 in Dannecker’s office at 31 bis avenue Foch, . The following were present:

  • his Deputy Ernst Heinrichsohn,
  • Louis Darquier de Pellepoix and his Cabinet Director Pierre Galien,
  • Jacques Schweblin, the Director of Police for Jewish Affairs in the Occupied Zone,
  • Jean François, Director of the General Police at the Prefecture of Police,
  • Garnier, Assistant-Director of the Supplies Service of the Seine Prefecture of Police,
  • André Tulard, Director of the Foreigner and Jewish Affairs Service of the Prefecture of Police,
  • Emile Hennequin, Director of the Municipal Police, accompanied by Commissioner Georges Guidot.

At the meeting, Tulard agreed to make his Jewish files available to Hennequin. The Jews were to be arrested in their homes, authorized to bring a single suitcase, and “sorted” at mustering centers. A second preparatory meeting took place on July 10 at Darquier de Pellepoix’s office, located at 1, place des Petits-Pères. It was attended by Dannecker, Heinz Röthke (who would succeed Dannecker at the end of the month), Heinrichsohn, Leguay, Galien, as well as representatives of French State Railways (SNCF), the Municipal Police, and the Public Health Service (Assistance Publique). At this second meeting, the age limits were changed to 60 years of age for men and 55 for women. Other issues at hand were the organization of toilet pans for deportee convoys (to be supplied by the Union Générale des Israélites de France – UGIF) and the fate of Jewish children.

The children were initially to be housed in UGIF centers. The UGIF was founded on Dannecker’s orders by a Vichy government law of November 1941. The intention was to consolidate Jewish activities. As of July 1, 1942, Pierre Galien ordered UGIF Vice-President André Baur to prepare a “back-up stock” of clothing and shoes sufficient for 7,000 people. This stock was to be collected from Jewish communities. In response, as if to indirectly query Galien and obtain further information, André Baur expressed his alarm at the preparation of a “new and vast deportation” and the risk of creating panic within the targeted Jewish communities. Galien became threatening and on July 15 ordered him to “abstain from communicating any biased information or any commentary whatsoever”. UGIF employees were forbidden from undertaking activities within homes, but it is likely that some did try to go door-to-door to warn at-risk families.

The evening preceding the arrests, social workers were summoned to UGIF Headquarters to make the labels that would identify 400 children to be housed in UGIF centers (Laffitte, 2003). However, a meeting attended by Röthke and Darquier de Pellepoix and presided by Herbert Hagen (Knochen’s deputy) took place on July 17. At this meeting, Jean Leguay, together with Jean François and André Tulard, demanded that the 4,000 children (of whom 800 were under 6 years of age) be taken directly to the Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande internment camps. Upon the deportation order issued in August from Berlin, they were then transported unaccompanied onwards to the death camps in Poland.

Due to its proximate coincidence with French national holiday on July 13, the “action” (to use the Nazi terminology) was postponed. It was therefore on July 15 that René Bousquet gave Prefect of Police Amédée Bussière the order to initiate the operation known as “Spring Wind”. The government services specialized against Jews, i.e. those under the General Commissariat for Jewish Affairs (Service IV-J), were relegated to a supporting role in order to make way for higher governmental policy bodies (Joly, 2006). From 1940, anti-Semitic standards and language had begun to penetrate the mechanisms of the state (Bruttmann, 2006).

Municipal Police Director Emile Hennequin had already set up 1,372 “teams” composed of two “gardiens de la paix” (peace officer). These teams were reinforced by a further 1,916 police officers based in the Eastern arrondissements of , an area with a strong Jewish presence. Cadets from Police Schools reinforced both uniformed officers and inspectors in mufti, supported by collaborationist party militants. In total, it appears that at least 7,000 civil servants were operational at 4:00 A.M. on July 16, 1942. Fifty buses provided by the CTRP (the Region Public Transport Company) and 10 motor coaches with sealed windows were requisitioned along with their personnel. Arrest guidelines were strict: there was to be no discussion, utilities were to be switched off, animals and keys given to the building concierge (or the nearest neighbor if necessary), and all children were to be taken, including French nationals who could eventually be set free at the “sorting centers”.

C. The victims

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.

D. Witnesses

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).

The conditions and the extent of the Round-up were not known immediately. The collaborationist press widely observed a silence imposed by the Germans until mid-August 1942. However, a July 17 high-level report from the General Information department of the Prefecture of Police noted:

“The actions taken against Israelites have deeply upset public opinion […] The reasons for this upheaval are largely due to current information which suggests that families are being broken up with children under 10 years of age being assigned to the Assistance publique.” (Joly, 2006).

A resolution was signed on July 22 in by the annual assembly of cardinals and archbishops. It was handed to the Marshal Pétain by their spokesperson three days later. Catholic figureheads from then used a different language regarding the political situation. Shared amongst priests without being read at the pulpit, this text condemned in the name of “imprescriptible human rights” “the en-masse arresting of Israelites” and “the harsh treatment that is being meted out to them, particularly at the Vélodrome d’hiver.” (Laffitte, 2006).

The press of the Résistance was late to react, with the exception of Franck Tenaille who composed an article on July 17 that was published July 30 in issue 20 of Défense de la France. This article went no further than questioning “the Nazis and their methods”. L’Humanité clandestine ignored the event in its July 24, July 31 and August 7 editions of 1942. A mention was finally made in a special August-September 1942 edition, which suggested that a “monstrous round-up” had spared “Jewish millionaires”. The publication of the Mouvement de libération nationale, Combat, mentioned the Round-up in a four-page edition in August:

“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.”

On July 16, two UGIF doctors received authorization to enter the Vélodrome d’hiver. Didier Hesse and Jacques Hoffmann worked along side twelve nurses and one doctor from the Red Cross, who themselves were seconding the Quakers. From the 17 July, the Secours national began offering soup to the arrested, serving it directly into the cups of their hands.

The UGIF was not able to gain authorization to offer emergency supplies. Moreover, while the Germans seemed to be ready to allow the presence of a dozen Jewish doctors, following André Baur’s request, this was refused by Pierre Galien upon his visit to the Vélodrome on July 17. Judging the sanitary conditions to be “wholly satisfactory”, he went as far as threatening the expulsion of the two UGIF doctors.

Hesse and Hoffman were relieved by Doctors Alfred Milhaud and Simone Loewe-Lyon at 7.30 PM on July 16. Doctors Benjamin Weill-Hallé and Richard Kohn began their shift at 8.00 AM on July 17. The night shift from August 17 to 18 was undertaken by Doctors Jean Goldmann and Benjamin Ginsbourg. While the doctors were able to report cases requiring hospitalization, they had no decision-making powers, with the exceptions of “life threatening hemorrhaging”, “contagious epidemic illnesses”, “amputations of at least one leg” and (from the second day) “women more than four months pregnant”.

Jean Tisné, official doctor of the Prefecture of Police, was the sole to have power to evacuate detainees. Already responsible for detainees at Drancy and off-site, he was consulted by telephone. A child with the symptoms of scarlet fever, two cases of measles, a case of tuberculosis, a case of appendicitis and a case of infarction were all deemed to not have “characteristics” sufficient to warrant evacuation. 300 children were consequently struck with a triple epidemic of diphtheria, scarlet fever and measles, many of whom later died in the Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande camps.

The Vélodrome “field” and its track were the only flat areas, and were forbidden to Jews. The track became an improvised infirmary. Didier Hesse was the author of a report describing the (by majority) women and children huddled together or crouching on the bleachers awash with urine. Supported by other reports from the Résistance, the details were rapidly transmitted to London and broadcasted the following month by the BBC through its “Les Français parlent aux Français” (The French Speak to the French) program.

The reports described how people had been abandoned, left without any real care to breath the stinking and dusty summer air, obliged to remain under intense lighting day and night, under the blued glass of the Défense passive police. People left with nothing to drink (a fire hydrant pumped Seine river water), deafened by incessant announcements by loudspeaker, exposed to contagious illnesses, promiscuity, terror, and the temptation to commit suicide (which did indeed claim 5 victims within the Vélodrome) (Laffitte, 2003). Nevertheless, anything worse was still difficult to imagine.

A convoy of deportees left France for Auschwitz for the first time on July 19, 1942, leaving Bouget-Drancy station to arrive two days later. The victims were sorted and gassed. Simultaneously, the arrest of Jews continued in the region and were extended to the non-occupied zone. This provoked increased Church and public indignation, promoting greater solidarity with victims.

E. Memories

1) Politics and Policies

The use of public buildings as assembly points for Jews before their transport to internment camps was not unique to France. The policy transformed these buildings into the anti-chambers of the death camps in Poland. In Amsterdam, the former national theatre was used as a “Dutch Vél’ d’hiv’” during the major round-ups of August 1942.

A former 1889 Universal Exposition gallery used to display machinery, the Vélodrome d’hiver was opened to cycling competitions in 1903. Following reconstruction by architect Gaston Lambert, it reopened in 1910 with the “Six Day of ” (modeled on the New York marathons) and remained a space devoted to leisure, sporting and political activities up until its demotion in May 1959. On April 26, 1942, two-and-a-half months before the major Round-up, Marcel Cerdan fought a boxing match there, and within weeks following the tragic events of July 1942, the complex regained its previous role before becoming an assembly centre for suspected collaborationists for a few days upon Liberation.

Horse races from 1947, an ice-skating show in 1948, circuses, and then military parades known as “Army Nights” (modeled on the London Royal Tournament) from 1952, the memory of the Jews that were assassinated in Summer 1942 was seemingly hidden. Moreover, the setting up of regular commemoratory activities near the Vélodrome was prevented by the festivities held there, as demonstrated by the elections of a “Queen for Six Days” which spilled-over into nearby streets.

In 1962, the twentieth anniversary of the Round-up was marked by a commemorative ceremony at the Memorial of Unknown Jewish Martyr (which had been inaugurated six years earlier in ). Georges Wellers, an Auschwitz escapee, and Irène de Lipkowski, President of the Réseau du souvenir spoke at this event at which it was difficult to tell Holocaust victims and Résistance deportees apart. In a Saint-Ouen school which had been used as an assembly and “sorting” station for the Rounded-up, a commemorative plate of the same period announced that “more than 600 Saint-Ouen women and children were arrested by German occupation troops on July 16, 1942” (Lévy, Tillard, 1992). Another plate put up in 1946 on the façade of the Vélodrome did not mention any French responsibility.It was removed in the 1960s during construction work and was finally replaced in 1986, affixed to a wall overlooking a garden between the new Territorial Security Department buildings of the Ministry of the Interior. This new commemorative plate details the number of Jews “held in inhuman conditions by the Vichy Government police upon the orders of the Nazi occupiers”, and thanks “those who attempted to aid those concerned”.

Commemorative plate on the site of the Vélodrome d’hiver

Commemorative plate on the site of the Vélodrome d’hiver

It was only in 1992, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Round-up, that a President of France attented the commemorations, held at the corner of rue Nélaton and boulevard de Grenelle. François Mitterand, accompanied by a Round-up escapee, Rosette Breski Schalit, left a wreath before the commemorative plate, but his refusal to recognize the responsibility of the French Republic in the events of July 1942 earned him widespread criticism among the audience and a strong defense by Robert Badinter, who was President of the Constitutional Council at that time.

The affair interfered with two issues. Firstly, the recognition of the guilt of René Bousquet (a friend of the president since their meeting in Vichy), acknowledged one year earlier following Serge Klarsfeld’s deposition, and then again one month before the commemoration as part of the Papon Affair. Secondly, the practice of laying a presidential wreath at the tomb of Marshal Petain, which was initiated in 1968 by General de Gaulle. François Mitterand had transformed the practice into an annual rite whereas his predecessors only did it once.

Despite being caught out by lawyer Serge Klarsfeld, President of the Association for the Sons and Daughters of Jews Deported from France, who announced on July 21, 1992 that the President had informed him of his decision to no longer decorate Pétain ’s grave with flowers, Mitterand sent the Prefect of Vendée to Yeu Island on the following 11 November anyway, for one final visit. Wary of the need to resolve the issue, he declared by way of a decree on February 3, 1993 that each Sunday that coincided with or followed July 16 would be a “National Day Commemorating Racist and Anti-Semitic Persecutions Committed under the Defacto Authority Known as the “Government of the French state (1940-1944)”. The decree also made provisions for the construction of a commemorative monument to be installed at the Place des Matyrs juifs du Vélodrome d’hiver (Place of Jewish Martyrs of the Vélodrome d’hiver), near the Bir Hakem bridge.

A work of Walter Spitzer, a camp escapee (Spitzer, 2004), and the architect Mario Azagury, it was inaugurated on July 17, 1994. Its curved base evokes the Vélodrome’s track, while the bronze group of seven civilians of all ages, surrounded by luggage, recalls the abandonment and the hopelessness of the deportees. References to the orders of the Nazi occupier disappeared on the new inscription.

Commemorative monument of the Place des Matyrs juifs du Vélodrome d’hiver:

Commemorative monument of the Place des Matyrs juifs du Vélodrome d’hiver

Elected to the French presidency the following year, Jacques Chirac marked a turning point in collective memory by organizing a significant commemoration before the monument on July 16, 1995. It was the first time that the complicity of the apparatus of the French state in the persecution of Jews would be recognized by a President in the name of the Republic. As part of a speech developed by Christine Albanel, Nicolas Sarkozy’s future Minister of Culture and Communication, Jacques Chirac declared:

“These dark hours will forever soil our history, and are injurious to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal insanity of the occupier was seconded by the French, by the French state. (…) France, home of the Enlightenment and of Human Rights, land of refuge and asylum, France, upon that day, committed an irreparable act. Breaking her word, she delivered her charges to their executioner”. Jacques Chirac replaced the 1993 decree with the decree of July 11, 2002 which defined the application of the law of July 10, 2000. This law implemented a “National Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Racist and Anti-Semitic Crimes of the French State and of Recognition to the “Justes” of France”. Previously unknown beyond the community of victims, the commemorations undertaken at the actual site of the former Vélodrome was related by the public authorities and the media to create a collective remembrance for French society as a whole.

2) The accounts

The commemoration undertaken in 1992 was preceded by the publication of Annet Muller’s book “La petite fille du Vel’ d’Hiv’” (The Little Vel d’Hiv’ Girl), to which Serge Klarsfeld contributed a preface. Daughter of a Jewish tailor from Poland, she was arrested on July 16, 1942 in her home in ’ 20th arrondissement, along with her mother and her three brothers. While two of her brothers managed to escape from the police, Annette Muller was held at the Vélodrome d’hiver before transportation to the Beaune-la-Rolande camp with her mother Rachel and her brother Michel. While Rachel was deported to Auschwitz, Annette and Michel were removed from the Drancy camp  and placed in a UGIF home and later hidden by the Sisters of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. Her account juxtaposes the coward attitude of the concierge who later plundered the family’s apartment and the spectators who applauded from their windows on the first day of the Round-up, against spontaneous acts of solidarity - the police officer who allowed her brothers Henri and Jean to escape, the female concierge by the name of Fossier who hid her father, or Sister Clothilde, met by chance on a platform at Saint-Lazare train station, who saved Annette, her three brothers, and her father (Muller, 1991). The fiftieth anniversary of the Round-up offered her the occasion to reedit the first book of accounts written by two former résistants which, twenty-five years earlier had brought the subject to the attention of the public at large (Lévy, Tillard 1967).

Upon its republication in 1992, Claude Lévy spoke of the explosive effect the accounts had by revealing the extent of French responsibility in the Great Round-ups of the summer of 1942. The UGIF was involved in a number of instances, especially with regards to social worker Berthe Libers’ account at Xavier Vallat’s trial, or the one of Alfred Cukier as one of the authors of the communist tract Solidarité which, on July 16, 1942, incited Jews to hide. These acts of foresight fly in the face of the submission and the respect of the law demonstrated by UGIF leaders (Laffitte, 2006).

This first collection of accounts included a passage from Roger Boussinot’s book “Les guichets du Louvre,” which told the story of a non-Jewish student attempting to save a Jewish girl named Jeanne, whose mother and sister had been arrested the same morning in the 4th arrondissement (Boussinot, 1960). The author, who had witnessed the Round-up, stressed the presumed passiveness of the victims and the “trap” that the UGIF had set for them. When it was adapted for the cinema in 1974, under the same title, Michel Mitrani struggled to reproduce Roger Boussinot’s arrangement, but the account nevertheless remained a catalogue of acts of presumed resignation, from the fatalism of the great uncle and cousins (worried about the lateness of the gendarmes that were to arrest them) through to Jeanne’s resignation.

Two years later, Joseph Losey recreated the Vél d’hiv’ in his film M. Klein, involving a number of actors who had experienced the tragedy. Eventually, the majority refused to face their recent past. Only a quarter of the actors in the scene, which concludes the film, wore the yellow star. This demonstrates the strength of the conception Joseph Losey had of the fate of those who opposed General Pinochet’s coup d’état and who were consequently held in Chile’s stadiums (Laffitte, 2006).

The most accurate cinematic portrayal of this dark period arrived in January 2002 with Julien l’apprenti, a telefilm co-written by Jacques Otmezguine and Jean-Claude Grumberg and broadcast on France 2. The same year, France 5 broadcasted Gilles Nadeau’s documentary La rafle du Vel’ d’hiv, 16 et 17 juillet 1942.

From the 60th anniversary of the Round-up onwards, a new wave of accounts from the remaining escapees of the Vélodrome d’hiver has appeared. Betty Frajdrach, who was three years old in 1942 and the daughter of Jewish Poles, was, along with her mother Stefanja Wajswajn, one of the 61 people (23 women, 26 children, 11 men) transferred from the Vélodrome d’hiver to the Rothschild Hospital. While her mother was transported to the Drancy Camp on September 4, 1942 before being deported to Auschwitz, Betty was removed from the Rothschild Hospital through a child rescue operation (Grumbach 2002).

Other accounts recount escape from the Vélodrome d’hiver. Born in Lepizig to a Jewish-German dentist, Anna Traube was 20 years old in 1942 when she was arrested in her family home on rue de Lancry. With the help of a Red Cross doctor and an engineer called Gaston Roques who gave her a false medical certificate and a false laissez-passer, she managed to pass through the three mobile checkpoints that sealed the Vélodrome’s exit. She took refuge with the Labattut family in Bois-Colombes (Traube, 2006). The same exploit was undertaken by Sarah Montard, who succeeded in slipping through the police checkpoints by hiding her star and mingling with the crowd of poeple hanging around in front of the Vélodrome (Lichtszein-Montard, 2009).

Gabriel Wachman, son of a Polish Jewish tailor interned at the Pithiviers camp, was 14 years old in 1942. On July 16, 1942, he witnessed the guards firing into the sky from the Vélodrome’s track, as a means of extinguishing the crowds’ demands for release. He managed to escape at night with his sister Rosette and his friend Fanny Palestran, by climbing a 3,5 meter wall which ran next to an exterior corridor where the guards had prepared provisional sanitary facilities (Goldenberg, Wachman, 2006).

As the last witnesses pass on, the Roundup of July 16 and 17, 1942 is progressively leaving the realm of historical and eyewitness accounts to contribute to literary novels, of which some handle issues relating to survivors’ guilt (Salabert, 2007).

F. The Judicial Outcomes

Those responsible for the July 1942 Round-up were never tried for their acts. While Emile Hennequin (one of the organizers of the Round-up through his role as Municipal Police Director) was sentenced to eight years of hard labor, his responsibility for the Round-ups was not taken into consideration. The Government’s Commissioner considered that the “Jewish issues are resolved” in his inquiry. Jean François, Director of the General Police of the Prefecture of Police retired in 1950 but was declared “honorary director” in 1954.

The “épuration légale” (legal purge) files of some individuals mysteriously disappeared from archives, such as that of Deputy-Director André Tulard (Berlière, 2001). While Dannecker committed suicide in an American prison in 1945, Oberg and Knochen (who had been condemned to death on October 9, 1954 by the Military Court) were pardoned in 1958 by René Coty and discreetly released from the Mulhouse Prison on November 28, 1962, two months before the signing of the Franco-German Cooperation Treaty. This is despite the previous year’s trial of Adolf Eichman in Jerusalem, which had revealed the extent of the genocide to the world (Lindeperg, Wieviorka, 2008).

Without the determination of Serge Klarsfeld, it seems that those responsible for the July 1942 Round-up would have been forgotten by the justice system. He managed to bring Hebert Hagen, Kurt Lischka (Knochen’s deputy) and Ernst Heinrichsohn to trial in Cologne in 1980, where they were sentenced to 12, 10, and 6 years of prison respectively.

Once the Germans had been sentenced, Serge Klarsfeld decided to target French citizens involved in the organization of the Round-up. René Bousquet’s reponsabilities as a ringleader were revealed to the public by the weekly newspaper L’Express on October 28, 2008 through an interview with Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, who was sentenced to death in absentia and had fled to Spain (France never sought his extradition). The former General Commissioner for Jewish Issues notably declared to the journalist Philippe Ganier-Raymond “Bousquet organised the Great Round-up, from A to Z. Bousquet was the Chief of Police. He did everything” (Joly, 2006).

The previous March, the former director of Darquier de Pellepoix’s Cabinet, Pierre Galien, died in total anonymity in Lyons, having never carried out his sentence of 20 years of hard labor issued in absentia in 1949 (Lafitte, 2006). On November 15, 1978, Serge Klarsfeld pressed charges against Jean Leguay, in the hope of indirectly implicating René Bousquet (who had already been acquitted in 1949 by the Upper Court) (Froment, 2001).

On March 12, 1979, Leguay became the first Frenchman charged with crimes against humanity, which had become imprescriptible thanks to a 1964 law. He died 10 years later, in July 1989, without ever having been tried. Upon learning of Leguay’s death, Serge Klarsfeld pressed charges against René Bousquet directly. He was charged with crimes against humanity on March 1, 1991, on the basis of a document which had not been part of his 1949 trial – Hagen’s account of July 2, 1942 conference. René Bousquet’s assassination by Christian Didier, on June 8, 1993, would terminate a trial conscientiously and deliberately delayed by the highest levels of the state hierarchy (Raczymow, 2001).

G. Bibliography

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RAJSFUS, M., 2002, La rafle du Vel d'hiv’, : Presses universitaires de France.

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Cite this item

Laffitte Michel, The Vélodrome d'hiver Round-up: July 16 and 17, 1942, Mass Violence & Résistance, [online], published on: 28 December, 2008, accessed 17/05/2021,, ISSN 1961-9898
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