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

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