Paris, Occupied France · July 16, 1942

On June 22, 1940, repre­sen­tatives of Marshal Philippe Pétain, premier of the French Third Republic, signed a cease­fire with Germany, 44 days after the Wehr­macht had invaded France. Early that October Pétain’s collab­o­ra­tionist Vichy govern­ment—named after the resort com­mu­ni­ty in which his admin­is­tration had settled—approved the first French anti-Semi­tic law, Statut des Juifs. Arrests of Jews in the French capital began in May 1941. That sum­mer, not long after the estab­lish­ment of a General Com­mis­sariat for Jewish Ques­tions, the chasse aux Juifs, or hunt for Jews, began with a zeal that was said to im­press the most rabid Nazi. Many victims were whisked to the newly opened intern­ment camp of Drancy on the out­skirts of Paris. A year later, 1942, on this date and the next, French police, working from a regis­try of people required to wear the yellow Star of David as well as from a Jewish cen­sus, rounded up 3,031 men, 5,802 women, and 4,051 chil­dren. The two-day “Vel d’Hiv” rafle, named for the Velo­drome d’Hiver (Win­ter Velo­drome), fed its victims into a Paris cycling sta­dium just a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower, where little food or water was provided to those waiting transpor­ta­tion to Drancy. The roughly 13,000 “Vel d’Hiv” Jews were 7,000 fewer than the autho­ri­ties had wanted to en­snare but enough to fill many trains to the death camps in the east. Up till then Vichy had omit­ted women and child­ren from these round­ups—the fran­tic scenes of sepa­rating fami­lies allegedly upset the sen­si­bili­ties of French police. Some of the 350,000 Jews living in France had an in­kling of what depor­ta­tion meant. The British Broad­casting Co­rpora­tion had described Polish death camps, and on July 1 it had reported on the 700,000 Polish Jews killed since the Nazi inva­sion of Poland. Flyers describing the gas­sing of chil­dren and the elderly had appeared in Paris. But most French­men remained un­moved by these reports. Millions of French­men became major and minor actors during these dark days. In a minor role, thou­sands of French rail­way (SNCF) workers con­veyed depor­tees to the Franco-German border, earning their em­ployer a tidy sum for every Jew they trans­ported: SNCF billed Vichy for third-class railway tickets, although deportees were transported in cattle cars.

Few accounts of wartime France and the Holo­caust have affected me more deeply than Caroline Moore­head’s harrowing true story of 230 women of the French Resis­tance, ages 17 to 67, who were sent by their govern­ment to death camps in the east. Only forty-nine returned to a liber­ated France. Drawing from inter­views with these women and their fami­lies, and from chilling records she accessed in French, German, and Polish archives, Moore­head traces the grim 27-month odys­sey of these women in A Train in Winter. It is a remark­able testa­ment to extra­ordinary courage, sur­vival, and the en­during power of friend­ship in a savage, depraved world scarcely imag­i­nable to us today. Moore­head’s book is on my short list of books to read twice.—Norm Haskett

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Photographs of the Vichy French “Hunt for Jews” (Chasse aux Juifs)

Parisians queuing at control pointA French gendarme guarding Jews, Drancy internment camp, Paris, August 1941

Left: Shortly after the German occupation of France in June 1940, the reac­tion­ary, collab­o­ra­tionist Vichy admin­is­tra­tion of Marshal Philippe Pétain, en­couraged by occu­pa­tion author­i­ties, began a pro­gram of regis­tering all 330,000 Jews in France; only half were French nationals. This photo shows offi­cials examining the iden­tity cards of Pari­sians stopped at a sidewalk table.

Right: The Drancy internment camp northeast of Paris was an inter­ro­ga­tion, deten­tion, and assem­bly camp, mainly for Jews, but also for com­mu­nists, Free­masons, human smug­glers (passeurs), and other ene­mies of the Vichy govern­ment. During the two-day “Vel d’Hiv” roundup on July 16–17, 1942, French police, working under the direc­tion of Ger­man occu­pa­tion author­i­ties, brought 13,000 of their victims to the Velo­drome d’Hiver, or Win­ter Velo­drome, a Paris cycling stadium, before busing them to Drancy.

Parisians queue at French police checkpointBuses deposit French Jews at Drancy, 1941

Left: French police arrest Jews in Paris and place them on a bus for trans­port to one of Vichy’s in­tern­ment camps for regis­tra­tion and inter­ro­ga­tion. The largest camp, Drancy, together with its five sub­camps, first fell under French police administration. In 1943 the camps became the respon­si­bility of the Gestapo Office of Jewish Affairs in France.

Right: Busloads of Jews arrive at Drancy internment camp in this August 1941 photograph.

French police process JewsJews rounded up in France await an unknown fate

Left: French police process their Jewish hos­tages. The Ger­man Army set up in­tern­ment camps to hold Allied civil­ians cap­tured in areas it occu­pied in France. Civil­ians in­cluded U.S. citi­zens caught in Europe by sur­prise when Hitler declared war on Amer­ica in December 1941, as well as British Com­mon­wealth citi­zens caught in areas en­gulfed by the Blitzkrieg in the West.

Right: Traumatized Jews await an un­known fate. (Could any of them have pre­dicted what Hitler had in store for them?) Between June 22, 1942, and the end of July 1944, 67,400 French, Polish, and Ger­man Jews were de­ported from France in 64 rail trans­ports, mainly to Au­schwitz but some to Sobi­bór, both exter­mi­na­tion camps in Nazi-occu­pied Poland. Among them were 11,000 chil­dren, some less than two years old. At the Drancy camp just 1,542 inter­nees remained alive when Allied forces liberated it on August 17, 1944.

Vichy French Newsreels from the Early 1940s. Includes Marshal Pétain Addressing Nation