Learning more about the Vel d’Hiv

Learning more about the Vel’ d’Hiv

For those that would like to learn more of the facts of the Vel d’Hiv round up in 1942 Paris, please see some interesting articles below.

Key facts about the Round Up:

  • Largest mass arrest on wartime France
  • 12,884 Jews rounded up in the Paris region, over 4,000 of them children
  • 7,000 were put into the Velodrome d’Hiver
  • The goal of 24,000 Jews was not achieved
  • Operation planned and executed by over 9,000 French police and civil servants
  • No food or working lavatories
  • On 16 July 1995 President Jacques Chirac issued a complete and fulsome apology for the actions of the Vichy government in executing the Vél d’Hiv roundup
  • 76,000 Jews were deported during World War two, only 3,000 ultimately returned
  • Drancy main stopover on the way to camps
  • It was from Drancy that 62 of the 74 convoys left France between March 27, 1942, and August 17, 1944.  All but six of these trains arrived at Auschwitz, carrying 73,853 Jews
  • Drancy’s administration was run entirely by the French

Vél d’Hiv, Paris 1942: ‘These black hours will stain our history forever’


In June 1942, 12,000 Jewish adults and children were removed from their homes in Paris and sent to Nazi death camps. It was the largest mass arrest in wartime France. The film Sarah’s Key follows one woman’s fight against French society’s post-war attitude of silence and denial over its role in the roundup. Here, writer Adrian Gilbert describes the terrible events that cast a shadow of guilt over the country for more than half a century


The Vél d’Hiv roundup began in the early hours of 16 July 1942 and, over the next two days, 12,884 Jews from the Paris region, including over 4,000 children, were taken into custody. It was biggest such mass arrest in France during the second world war. Of these, 7,000 victims were packed into the Vélodrome d’Hiver, an indoor sports stadium. In increasingly desperate conditions they awaited shipment to the death camps in eastern Europe.

What made the event so especially shocking was not just the number of children involved, but that the operation was planned and executed by French police and civil servants. After the war, the Vél d’Hiv roundup would become a symbol of French guilt and complicity in the Holocaust.

The Vichy French government that emerged from the catastrophic defeat of 1940 was very much in thrall to its German overlord and in order to maintain even nominal sovereignty it was forced to co-operate closely with the dictates issued from Berlin. During 1942, growing pressure from Germany to deport Jews from France received an enthusiastic response from the Vichy government.

The original German directive had called for a substantial deportation of adult Jews, including both French citizens and the many foreign residents from central and eastern Europe. René Bousquet, secretary general of the national French police, suggested that it would be less “embarrassing” if his policemen confined their arrests to foreign Jews. The Germans accepted this view and also agreed to a proposal put forward by the Vichy premier Pierre Laval that Jewish children should be included in the deportation. In part, this was to prevent ugly public scenes of the forcible separation of children from their parents. But it was also simply to avoid the financial responsibility for the soon-to-become orphans.

Paulette Stokfisz-Bronstein was one of the Jews arrested and held in the Vel d’Hiv. She wrote a series of increasingly despairing letters to her sister Nana to look after her children, Jacques and Raymonde: “I beg you, Nana, to accept them. Jacques can look after himself … They won’t bother you. Dear Nana, go to my flat and take everything. I give it all to you … There is some money and jewels … keep them. I beg, you, have pity on my children. I think this is my last letter.”

The roundup was prepared in great secrecy and involved a massive force of 9,000 police and auxiliaries. But given the scale of the operation it was almost inevitable that news of the impending action leaked to the French resistance and various Jewish organizations. As a result, some were able to escape. But most tamely accepted the police’s orders to gather up a few possessions before being bused to the Vélodrome d’Hiver.

Parisian reaction to the roundup was mixed. Some unscrupulous concierges plundered the apartments of the arrested Jews; bystanders were seen to applaud as the victims were led away. A few, however, actively helped the Jews. Sympathetic police officers encouraged their charges to flee into the city and French families hid those on the run from the authorities.

But for the thousands incarcerated in the Vél d’Hiv conditions became progressively worse. No food was provided and the only source of water was a single fire hydrant pumping filthy water from the Seine. There were no working lavatories: the stench from the piles of excrement was overwhelming, made worse by the summer heat and the absence of any ventilation. One eyewitness recalled frightened women and children crouching on the stadium benches, the floor below them awash with urine. After five terrible days the victims were taken to nearby transit camps before the first trains left for the further horrors of Auschwitz.

In the war’s aftermath, the French reaction to the deportation of its Jewish population was initially one of silence and denial, the profound humiliation of military defeat compounded by the Vichy administration’s abject co-operation with Nazi Germany. It would take five decades before the government accepted responsibility for its actions. This in turn reflected a change of mood within France itself, now prepared to look more honestly at its past.

This was confirmed on 16 July 1995 when President Jacques Chirac issued a complete and fulsome apology for the actions of the Vichy government in executing the Vél d’Hiv roundup: “These black hours will stain our history forever,” he said, “and are an affront to our past and traditions … the criminal insanity of the occupiers was assisted by the French, by the French state.”

If nothing else, Chirac’s act of contrition provided some posthumous justice to those sacrificed to ideological hatred and base political expediency.

Adrian Gilbert has written extensively on the second world war. His most recent book is POW: Allied Prisoners of War 1939-1945.


Behind the French Ruling on WWII Deportations of Jews


Following decades of debate over the nation’s wartime history, France’s highest judicial body has formally ruled that the French state bears moral and legal responsibility for the deportation of nearly 76,000 Jews during the nation’s WWII occupation. In doing so, the court officially recognized the willful participation of France’s collaborationist Vichy government in anti-Semitic persecution that had long been attributed to Nazi occupying powers.

The ruling Monday, by the Conseil d’Etat, or State Council, was cheered by organizations representing French Jews and families of Jews who were deported during the war — a mere 3,000 of whom ultimately returned. The judgment involved the case of a 76 year-old woman seeking damages for the 1941 deportation of her father by Vichy forces to Auschwitz, where he was killed. In its decision, the Conseil d’Etat held the French state, as then represented by Vichy, “responsible for damages caused by actions which did not result from the occupiers’ direct orders, but facilitated deportation from France of people who were victims of anti-Semitic persecution.”

That ruling definitively buries historical interpretations rooted in the post-war reconciliation period. The common view, which has endured for decades, held that it was the Nazis who mistreated and deported France’s Jews, or forced their French collaborators to. “This is a very satisfying ruling for me, in that it legally refutes the notion that the Vichy regime and the acts it committed were entirely the responsibility of German occupiers,” says Serge Klarsfeld, France’s leading Holocaust historian and Nazi hunter, whose own father perished in German camps. “What this says in legal terms is that as much as France may detest what the Vichy state did, it is responsible for the acts it committed in the name of France.”

In 1995, as Klarsfeld notes, then-President Jacques Chirac gave a historical speech that sought to atone for the nation’s dark past. Chirac broke with the traditional French depiction of wartime events by accepting, in the name of France, responsibility for the July 15-16, 1942 arrests of 13,000 Jews by French police. Known as the “Vel d’Hiv roundup” — after the name of the winter cycling stadium in Paris the deportees were held in — the infamous case was cited by Chirac as an example of active French participation in Jewish persecution. Chirac called on his French countrymen to accept responsibility for the Vichy regime just as they celebrate the anti-Nazi efforts of General Charles de Gaulle and his Free French forces. “France, homeland of the Enlightenment and of human rights, land of welcome and asylum; France, on that very day, accomplished the irreparable,” Chirac said in his speech, using the Vel d’Hiv roundup as a metaphor for all Vichy crimes. “Failing her promise, she delivered those she was to protect to their murderers.”

Yesterday’s ruling goes further. “While [Chirac’s] speech was so important to France and her Jews by finally stating an historic truth, the ruling by the Conseil d’Etat is also crucial, because it now sets that down in stone in legal terms,” Klarsfeld explains.

Ironically, the court decision also delivered a setback to the plaintiff by rejecting over $357,000 in damages she had sought for hardship resulting from her father’s deportation. The reason: the Conseil ruled that organizations set up to pay deportees and their survivors damages, or to compensate them for belongings stolen by Nazis or their French collaborators, have proven to be capable of fairly settling damages without court involvement.

Klarsfeld says nearly $702 million in damages have been paid out to applicants since 2001, while $501 million in endowments to the Shoah Memorial Foundation have generated additional funding to those who suffered deportation. “It closes the door to further court cases in such affairs, but that only shows the system put in place to hear them is working,” he says. What the Conseil decision doesn’t do, Klarsfeld stresses, is force French society into a reckoning with its war-time past that foreigners often think it denies. That has already happened, according to Klarsfeld and others, often in a deeper way than in other countries.

“Many nations, especially here in the U.S., tend to view France with the out-dated, 40 year-old perception that it hasn’t faced its past and learned hard lessons from it,” says Robert Paxton, professor emeritus at Columbia University and an acclaimed expert on fascism and Vichy France. “It has done deep research, held trials, updated text books, and even uncovered troubling wartime information on public figures — late President François Mitterrand for one. I’d like school teachers around the U.S. to be able to teach American responsibility for slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans the way French educators do their own war-time history. Alas, if they did that here, most would get fired.”

How the French contributed to the overall consequences of the Final Solution and French initiatives towards to the Jews: the Vel d’Hiv roundup and Drancy


The initial establishment of concentration camps in France was a result of the French government, not because of pressure of the Germans.  At first intended for foreign Jews, people were held in insufferable conditions under which they perished before the first convoys were even sent to Auschwitz.  These foreign Jews in internment camps “were the first casualties of the Holocaust in France, and they died because of French, not German, persecution.  In fact, it was even said that after the Germans took over control of Drancy, conditions at the camp improved.

Europe in 1942 sent a context in which the greatest roundups, deportations, and implementation of the Final Solution could be carried out.  After German invaded the Soviet Union, the war took on an even deeper anti-communist tone, thereby placing more blame on the Jews under the image of Jewish communists.  In 1942 Germany assumed the total occupation of France.

The effects of the Holocaust in France could not have been felt in the way that they were had it not been for the collaboration of the French police with the German authorities in the roundups of Jews.  The Germans did not have the resources in France to carry out extensive manhunts that resulted in the vast number of Jews being sent to the East.

The Vel d’Hiv roundup was the greatest example of this collaboration.  On July 16, 1942, some 13,152 men, women, and children were forced out of their homes.  While the Vel d’Hiv roundup succeeded in sweeping the streets of Paris and surrounding areas of a majority of their Jewish populations, French and Nazi forces failed to reach their goal of 24,000 Jews.  Single persons and those without children were sent directly to Drancy while families were held in a stadium in Paris, the Vélodrome d’Hiver, that was not equipped to house numerous people over a long stay.

The police intended for this roundup to be done quietly so as not to attract attention from the French populace.  This intent was doomed from the start because word leaked out and underground networks frantically tried to warn Jews to flee or hide.  However, especially French Jews could not imagine what awaited them.  They dutifully followed the law by registering for the “census” and thereby made themselves available to deportation.  The concept of the Final Solution was unfathomable to them, especially at the hands of the French authorities who had so long protected them, in a country to which they were loyal.

For 70,00 Jews from France, their stopover to their unknown destination in the East was at Drancy.  Drancy was to become a critical link to Auschwitz and the German Final Solution; for it was from Drancy that 62 of the 74 convoys left France between March 27, 1942, and August 17, 1944.  All but six of these trains arrived at Auschwitz, carrying 73,853 Jews, a majority of whom were gassed upon arrival.

Drancy opened as an internment camp for Jews expected from Paris in August 1941.  From its opening until July 1943, Drancy’s administration was run entirely by the French.  There was much debate between who should be responsibility for the running of the camp: no one wanted the job.  As Renée Poznanski describes it, Drancy was “first a synonym of terror, and later became an almost obligatory stop on the way to a sinister unknown destination”.


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