70 years after Vel’ d’Hiv

On several occasions in aimless walks around Paris, I’ve seen plaques like this one on schools. It’s not hard to make out the meaning.

Today, scrolling through French news sites (thinking it was time for a blog post, and I needed a subject), this is the headline that grabbed by attention:

Hollande acknowledges French role in Holocaust.

I was confused. “Acknowledges French role”? Wasn’t it completely common knowledge that this was a dark, ignoble piece in France’s history…that tens of thousands of Jews were systematically deported…that the Vichy government openly collaborated with the Nazis? But then I read the article. Until President Hollande’s speech, only former president Jacques Chirac in 1995 had publicly and explicitly spoken out about France’s culpability.

The occasion of Hollande’s speech was the 70th anniversary of of a two-day period in July 1942 when the French police rounded up more than 13,000 Jews. It was known as the “Vel’ d’Hiv” roundup, short for Velodrome d’Hiver, a cycling stadium that was mere blocks from the Eiffel Tower. It was a “holding spot”for thousands of men, women and children before they were taken to Auschwitz.

Just days before Hollande made headlines (“…this crime was committed in France, by France”), the French police archives relating to this deportation were opened to the public for the first time. Even a single photo of a few documents is painful to look at.

Names of French Jews deported by the police to Auschwitz, from the Archives of Paris Police Prefecture (photo credit: Remy de la Mauviniere/AP)

Paris’s only official “monument” to the 200,000 Jews sent to concentration camps is the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation—a tiny spot tucked behind Notre Dame, almost unnoticeable, but ironically on the site of a former morgue.

(photos of the Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation: Keith Miles)