The Vel' d'Hiv Roundup (French: Rafle du Vélodrome d'Hiver, commonly called the Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv: "Vel' d'Hiv Police Roundup / Raid") was a Nazi-directed raid and mass arrest of Jews in Paris by the French police, code named Opération Vent printanier ("Operation Spring Breeze"), on 16 and 17 July 1942. The name "Vel' d'Hiv Roundup" is derived from the nickname of the Vélodrome d'Hiver ("Winter Velodrome"), a bicycle velodrome and stadium where a majority of the victims were temporarily confined. The roundup, assisted by French Police, was one of several aimed at eradicating the Jewish population in France, both in the occupied zone and in the free zone. According to records of the Préfecture de Police, 13,152 Jews were arrested, including more than 4,000 children. They were held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver in extremely crowded conditions, almost without food and water, and with no sanitary facilities, as well as at the Drancy, Pithiviers, and Beaune-la-Rolande internment camps, then shipped in rail cattle cars to Auschwitz for their mass murder.
French President Jacques Chirac apologized in 1995 for the complicit role that French policemen and civil servants served in the raid. In 2017, President Emmanuel Macron more specifically admitted the responsibility of the French State in the roundup and hence, in the Holocaust.
The Vélodrome d'Hiver was an indoor velodrome (cycle track) at the corner of boulevard de Grenelle and rue Nélaton in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, not far from the Eiffel Tower. It was built by Henri Desgrange, editor of L'Auto, who later organised the Tour de France, when his original track in the nearby Salle des Machines was listed for demolition in 1909 to improve the view of the Eiffel Tower. As well as track cycling, the new building was used for ice hockey, wrestling, boxing, roller-skating, circuses, spectacles and demonstrations. In the 1924 Summer Olympics, several events were held there, including foil fencing, boxing, cycling (track), weightlifting, and wrestling.
The Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, part of a continent-wide plan to intern and exterminate Europe's Jewish population, was a joint operation between the Germans and French administrators (see below for clarification).
Until the German occupation of France in 1940, no roundup would have been possible because no census listing religions had been held in France since 1874. A German ordinance on 21 September 1940, however, forced Jewish people of the occupied zone to register at a police station or sub-prefectures (sous-préfectures). Nearly 150,000 registered in the department of the Seine, encompassing Paris and its immediate suburbs. Their names and addresses were kept by the French police in the fichier Tulard, a file named after its creator, André Tulard, of Commissariat général aux questions juives (CGQJ) "General Commission to Jewish Affairs", then headed by Xavier Vallat, and housed at Place des Petits-Pères, 2nd arrondissement of Paris, in the building of the former Banque Léopold Louis Dreyfus.
Theodor Dannecker, the SS captain head of the German police in France, said: "This filing system subdivided it into files alphabetically classed, Jews with French nationality and foreign Jews having files of different colors, and the files were also classed, according to profession, nationality and street." These files were then handed to section IV J of the Gestapo, in charge of the "Jewish problem."
The "Vel' d'Hiv Roundup" was not the first such roundup in World War II. In what is known as the Rafle du billet vert ("Roundup of the green ticket"), 3,747 Jewish men were arrested on 14 May 1941, as they had gone to a convocation (delivered on a green ticket to 6,694) for examen de situation ("check of situation") as foreign Jews living in France. The convocation was a trap, and those who went were arrested and the same day taken by bus to the Gare d'Austerlitz, then shipped in four special trains to the two camps at Pithiviers and Beaune-La-Rolande in the Loiret department. Women, children, and more of the men followed in July 1942.
What became known as the "Vel' d'Hiv Roundup" was to be more important. To plan it, René Bousquet, secretary-general of the national police, and Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, who had replaced Xavier Vallat in May 1942 as head of the CGQJ, travelled on 4 July 1942 to Gestapo headquarters at 93 rue Lauriston (Paris, 16th arr) to meet Dannecker and Helmut Knochen of the SS. A further meeting took place in Dannecker's office in the avenue Foch on 7 July. Also present were Jean Leguay, Bousquet's deputy, Jean François who was director of the general police, Émile Hennequin, head of Paris police, André Tulard, and others from the French police.
Dannecker met Adolf Eichmann on 10 July 1942, and another meeting took place the same day at the General Commission for Jewish Affairs (CGQJ) attended by Dannecker, Heinz Röthke, Ernst Heinrichsohn, Jean Leguay, Gallien, deputy to Darquier de Pellepoix, several police officials and representatives of the French railway service, the SNCF. The roundup was delayed because the French asked to avoid holding it a couple of days before Bastille Day on 14 July. The national holiday was not celebrated in the occupied zone, and there was a wish to avoid the risk of civil uprisings.
Dannecker declared: "The French police, despite a few considerations of pure form, have only to carry out orders!"
The roundup was aimed at Jews from Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and the apatrides ("stateless"), whose origin couldn't be determined, all aged from 16 to 50. There were to be exceptions for women "in advanced state of pregnancy" or who were breast-feeding, but "to save time, the sorting will be made not at home but at the first assembly centre".
The Germans planned for the French police to arrest 22,000 Jews in Greater Paris. The Jews would then be taken to internment camps at Drancy, Compiègne, Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande. André Tulard "will obtain from the head of the municipal police the files of Jews to be arrested... Children of less than 15 or 16 years will be sent to the Union Générale des Israélites de France, which will place them in foundations. The sorting of children will be done in the first assembly centres."
The position of the French police was complicated by the sovereignty of the Vichy government, which nominally administered France while accepting occupation of the north. Although in practice the Germans ran the north and had a strong and later total domination in the south, the formal position was that France and the Germans were separate. The position of Vichy and its leader, Philippe Pétain, was recognised throughout the war by many foreign governments.
The independence, however fictional, had to be preserved. German interference in internal policing, says the historian Julian T. Jackson, "would further erode that sovereignty which Vichy was so committed to preserving. This could only be avoided by reassuring Germany that the French would carry out the necessary measures." Jackson adds that the decision to arrest Jews and Communists and Gaullists was "an autonomous policy, with its own indigenous roots." In other words the decision to do so was not forced on the Vichy regime by the Germans. Jackson also explains that the roundup of Jews must have been driven by the French since the Germans would not have had the necessary information or the manpower to find and arrest a full 13,000.
On 2 July 1942, René Bousquet attended a planning meeting in which he raised no objection to the arrests and worried only about the "embarrassing [gênant]" fact that the French police would carry them out. Bousquet succeeded in a compromise that the police would round up only foreign Jews. Vichy ratified that agreement the following day.
Although the police have been blamed for rounding up children of less than 16 – the age was set to preserve a fiction that workers were needed in the east – the order was given by Pétain's minister, Pierre Laval, supposedly as a "humanitarian" measure to keep families together. This too was a fiction, given that the parents of these children had already been deported, and documents of the period have revealed that the anti-semitic Laval's principal concern was what to do with Jewish children once their parents had been deported. The youngest child sent to Auschwitz under Laval's orders was 18 months old.
Three former SS officers testified in 1980 that Vichy officials had been enthusiastic about deportation of Jews from France. The investigator Serge Klarsfeld found minutes in German archives of meetings with senior Vichy officials and Bousquet's proposal that the roundup should cover non-French Jews throughout the country. In 1990, charges of crimes against humanity were laid against Bousquet in relation to his role in the Vel' d'Hiv roundup of Jews based on complaints filed by Klarsfield.
Klarsfeld also revealed the telegrams Bousquet had sent to Prefects of départements in the occupied zone, ordering them to deport not only Jewish adults but children whose deportation had not even been requested by the Nazis.
Émile Hennequin, director of the city police, ordered on 12 July 1942 that "the operations must be effected with the maximum speed, without pointless speaking and without comment."
Beginning at 4:00 a.m. on 16 July 1942, 13,152 Jews were arrested. According to records of the Préfecture de police, of which 5,802 (44%) were women and 4,051 (31%) were children. An unknown number of people, warned by the French Resistance or hidden by neighbors or benefiting from a lack of zeal, deliberate or accidental, of some policemen, escaped being rounded up. Conditions for the arrested were harsh: they could take only a blanket, a sweater, a pair of shoes and two shirts with them. Most families were split up and never reunited.
After arrest, some Jews were taken by bus to an internment camp in an unfinished complex of apartments and apartment towers in the northern suburb of Drancy. Others were taken to the Vélodrome d'Hiver in the 15th arrondissement, which had already been used as a prison in a roundup in the summer of 1941.
The Vel' d'Hiv was available for hire to whoever wanted it. Among those who had booked it was Jacques Doriot who led France's largest fascist party, the Parti Populaire Français. It was at the Vel' d'Hiv among other venues that Doriot, with his Hitler-like salute, roused crowds to join his cause. Among those who helped in the Rafle du Vel' d'hiv were 3,400 young members of Doriot's PPF.
The Germans demanded the keys of the Vel' d'Hiv from its owner, Jacques Goddet, who had taken over from his father Victor and from Henri Desgrange. The circumstances in which Goddet surrendered the keys remain a mystery and the episode is given only a few lines in his autobiography.
The Vel' d'Hiv had a glass roof, which had been painted dark blue to avoid attracting bomber navigators. The glass raised the heat when combined with windows screwed shut for security. The numbers held there vary according to accounts but one established figure is 7,500 of a final figure of 13,152. They had no lavatories: of the 10 available, five were sealed because their windows offered a way out and the others were blocked. The arrested Jews were kept there with only water and food brought by Quakers, the Red Cross and a few doctors and nurses allowed to enter. There was only one water tap. Those who tried to escape were shot on the spot. Some took their own lives.
After five days, the prisoners were taken to the internment camps of Drancy, Beaune-la-Rolande and Pithiviers, and later to extermination camps.
Roundups were conducted in both the northern and southern zones of France, but public outrage was greatest in Paris because of the numbers involved in a concentrated area. The Vel' d'Hiv was a landmark in the city centre. The Roman Catholic church was among the protesters. Public reaction obliged Laval to ask the Germans on 2 September not to demand more Jews. Handing them over, he said, was not like buying items in a discount store. Laval managed to limit deportations mainly to foreign Jews and he and his defenders argued after the war that allowing the French police to conduct the roundup had been a bargain to ensure the life of Jews of French nationality.
In reality, "Vichy shed no tears over the fate of the foreign Jews in France, who were seen as a nuisance, 'dregs (déchets)' in Laval's words. Laval told an American diplomat that he was "happy" to get rid of them.
When a Protestant leader accused Laval of murdering Jews, Laval insisted they had been sent to build an agricultural colony in the East. "I talked to him about murder, he answered me with gardening."
The internment camp at Drancy was easily defended because it was built of tower blocks in the shape of a horseshoe. It was guarded by French gendarmes. The camp's operation was under the Gestapo's section of Jewish affairs. Theodor Dannecker, a key figure both in the roundup and in the operation of Drancy, was described by Maurice Rajsfus in his history of the camp as "a violent psychopath... It was he who ordered the internees to starve, who banned them from moving about within the camp, to smoke, to play cards etc."
In December 1941, forty prisoners from Drancy were executed in retaliation for a French attack on German police officers.
Immediate control of the camp was by Heinz Röthke. It was under his direction from August 1942 to June 1943 that almost two-thirds of those deported in SNCF box car transports requisitioned by the Nazis from Drancy were sent to Auschwitz. Drancy is also the location where Klaus Barbie transported Jewish children that he captured in a raid of a children's home, before shipping them to Auschwitz where they were killed. Most of the initial victims, including those of the Vel' d'Hiv, were crammed in sealed wagons and died en route due to lack of food and water. Those who survived the passage died in the gas chambers.
At the Liberation of Paris in August 1944, the camp was run by the Resistance – "to the frustration of the authorities; the Prefect of Police had no control at all and visitors were not welcome." – which used it to house not Jews but those it considered had collaborated with the Germans. When a pastor was allowed in on 15 September, he discovered cells 3.5m by 1.75m that had held six Jewish internees with two mattresses between them. The prison returned to the conventional prison service on 20 September.
The roundup accounted for more than a quarter of the 42,000 Jews sent from France to Auschwitz in 1942, of whom only 811 returned to France at the end of the war.
Pierre Laval's trial opened on 3 October 1945, his first defence being that he had been obliged to sacrifice foreign Jews to save the French. Uproar broke out in the court, with supposedly neutral jurors shouting abuse at Laval, threatening "a dozen bullets in his hide". It was, said the historians Antony Beevor and Artemis Cooper, "a cross between an auto-de-fé and a tribunal during the Paris Terror. From 6 October, Laval refused to take part in the proceedings, hoping that the jurors' interventions would lead to a new trial. Laval was sentenced to death, and tried to commit suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule. Revived by doctors, he was executed by firing squad at Fresnes Prison on 15 October.
Jean Leguay survived the war and its aftermath and became president of Warner Lambert, Inc. from London (now merged with Pfizer), and later president of Substantia Laboratories in Paris. In 1979, he was charged for his role in the roundup.
Louis Darquier was sentenced to death in absentia in 1947 for collaboration. However, he had fled to Spain, where the Francisco Franco regime protected him. In 1978, after he gave an interview stating the gas chambers of Auschwitz were used to kill lice, the French government requested his extradition. This request was refused by Spain. He died on 29 August 1980, near Málaga, Spain.
Helmut Knochen was sentenced to death by a British Military Tribunal in 1946 for the murder of British pilots. The sentence was never carried out. He was extradited to France in 1954 and again sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. In 1962, the president, Charles de Gaulle, pardoned him and he was sent back to Germany, where he retired to Baden-Baden and died in 2003.
Émile Hennequin, head of Paris police, was condemned to eight years' penal labour in June 1947.
René Bousquet was last to be tried, in 1949. He was acquitted of "compromising the interests of the national defence", but declared guilty of Indignité nationale for involvement in the Vichy government. He was given five years of Dégradation nationale, a measure immediately lifted for "having actively and sustainably participated in the resistance against the occupier". Bousquet's position was always ambiguous; there were times he worked with the Germans and others when he worked against them. After the war he worked at the Banque d'Indochine and in newspapers. In 1957, the Conseil d'État gave back his Legion of Honour, and he was given an amnesty on 17 January 1958, after which he stood for election that same year as a candidate for the Marne. He was supported by the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance; his second was Hector Bouilly, a radical-socialist general councillor. In 1974, Bousquet helped finance François Mitterrand's presidential campaign against Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. In 1986, as accusations cast on Bousquet grew more credible, particularly after he was named by Louis Darquier, he and Mitterrand stopped seeing each other. The parquet général de Paris closed the case by sending it to a court that no longer existed. Lawyers for the International Federation of Human Rights spoke of a "political decision at the highest levels to prevent the Bousquet affair from developing". In 1989, Serge Klarsfeld and his association des Fils et Filles des déportés juifs de France, the National Federation of deportees and internees, Resistants and Patriots and the Ligue des droits de l'homme filed a complaint against Bousquet for Crime against humanity, for the deportation of 194 children. Bousquet was committed to trial but on 8 June 1993 a 55-year-old mental patient named Christian Didier entered his flat and shot him dead.
Jacques Doriot, whose French right-wing followers helped in the round-up, fled to the Sigmaringen enclave in Germany, and became a member of the exile Vichy government there. He died in February 1945 when his car was strafed by Allied fighters while he was travelling from Mainau to Sigmaringen. He was buried in Mengen.
After the Liberation, survivors of the internment camp at Drancy began legal proceedings against gendarmes accused of being accomplices of the Nazis. An investigation began into 15 gendarmes, of whom 10 were accused at the Cour de justice de la Seine of conduct threatening the safety of the state. Three fled before the trial could start. The other seven said they were only obeying orders, despite numerous witnesses and accounts by survivors of brutality.
The court ruled on 22 March 1947, that the seven were found guilty but that most had rehabilitated themselves "by active participation, useful and sustained, offered to the Resistance against the enemy." Two others were jailed for two years and condemned to Dégradation nationale for five years. A year later they were reprieved.
For decades the French government declined to apologize for the role of French policemen in the roundup or for any other state complicity. It was argued (by de Gaulle and others) that the French Republic had been dismantled when Philippe Pétain instituted a new French State during the war and that the Republic had been re-established when the war was over. It was not for the Republic, therefore, to apologise for events caused by a state which France did not recognise. President François Mitterrand reiterated this position in a September 1994 speech. "I will not apologize in the name of France. The Republic had nothing to do with this. I do not believe France is responsible."
On 16 July 1995, the next President, Jacques Chirac, reversed that position, stating that it was time that France faced up to its past. He acknowledged the role that "the French State" played in the persecution of Jews and others during the War.
These black hours will stain our history for ever and are an injury to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal madness of the occupant was assisted ('secondée') by the French, by the French state. Fifty-three years ago, on 16 July 1942, 4500 policemen and gendarmes, French, under the authority of their leaders, obeyed the demands of the Nazis. That day, in the capital and the Paris region, nearly 10,000 Jewish men, women and children were arrested at home, in the early hours of the morning, and assembled at police stations... France, home of the Enlightenment and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, land of welcome and asylum, France committed that day the irreparable. Breaking its word, it delivered those it protected to their executioners.
To mark the 70th anniversary of the Vél d'Hiv roundup, President François Hollande gave a speech at the monument on 22 July 2012. The president recognized that this event was a crime committed "in France, by France," and emphasized that the deportations in which French police participated were offenses committed against French values, principles, and ideals.
The earlier claim that the Government of France during World War II was some illegitimate group was again advanced by Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front Party, during the 2017 election campaign. In speeches, she claimed that the Vichy government was "not France".
On 16 July 2017, also in commemoration of the victims of the roundup, President Emmanuel Macron denounced his country's role in the Holocaust and the historical revisionism that denied France's responsibility for 1942 roundup and subsequent deportation of 13,000 Jews. "It was indeed France that organised this [roundup]", he said, French police collaborating with the Nazis. "Not a single German took part," he added. Chirac had already stated that the Government during the War represented the French State. Macron was even more specific in this respect. "It is convenient to see the Vichy regime as born of nothingness, returned to nothingness. Yes, it's convenient, but it is false. We cannot build pride upon a lie."
Macron made a subtle reference to Chirac's 1995 apology when he added, "I say it again here. It was indeed France that organized the roundup, the deportation, and thus, for almost all, death."
A fire destroyed part of the Vélodrome d'Hiver in 1959 and the rest of the structure was demolished. A block of flats and a building belonging to the Ministry of the Interior now stand on the site. A plaque marking the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup was placed on the track building after the War and moved to 8 boulevard de Grenelle in 1959.
On 3 February 1993, President François Mitterrand, commissioned a monument to be erected on the site. It stands now on a curved base, to represent the cycle track, on the edge of the quai de Grenelle. It is the work of the Polish sculptor Walter Spitzer and the architect Mario Azagury. Spitzer's family were survivors of deportation to Auschwitz. The statue represents all deportees but especially those of the Vel' d'Hiv. The sculptures include children, a pregnant woman and a sick man. The words on the Mitterrand-era monument still differentiate between the French Republic and the Vichy Government that ruled during WW II, so they do not accept State responsibility for the roundup of the Jews. The words are in French but are translated as follows: "The French Republic pays homage to the victims of racist and anti-Semitic persecutions and crimes against humanity committed under the so-called 'Government of the State of France' 1940-1944. Let us never forget." The monument was inaugurated on 17 July 1994. A commemorative ceremony is held here every year in July.
A memorial plaque in memory of victims of the Vel' d'Hiv raid was placed at the Bir-Hakeim station of the Paris Métro on 20 July 2008. The ceremony was led by Jean-Marie Bockel, Secretary of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and was attended by Simone Veil, a deportee and former minister, anti-Nazi activist Beate Klarsfeld, and numerous dignitaries.
A new Shoah memorial museum was opened in 2012 just opposite the sculpture memorial and railway wagon by President François Hollande. It provides details of the persecution of the Jews in France and many personal mementos of inmates before their deportation to Auschwitz and their death. They include messages written on the walls, graffiti, drinking mugs and other personal belongings left by the prisoners, some of which are inscribed with the names of the owners. The ground floor also shows a changing exhibit of prisoner faces and names, as a memorial to their imprisonment and then murder by the Germans, assisted by the French gendarmerie.
A memorial was also constructed in 1976 at Drancy internment camp, after a design competition won by Shelomo Selinger. It stands beside a rail wagon of the sort used to take prisoners to the death camps. It is three blocks forming the Hebrew letter Shin, traditionally written on the Mezuzah at the door of houses occupied by Jews. Two other blocks represent the gates of death. Shelomo Selinger said of his work: "The central block is composed of 10 figures, the number needed for collective prayer (Minyan). The two Hebrew letters Lamed and Vav are formed by the hair, the arm and the beard of two people at the top of the sculpture. These letters have the numeric 36, the number of Righteous thanks to whom the world exists according to Jewish tradition."
On 25 May 2001, the cité de la Muette – formal name of the Drancy apartment blocks – was declared a national monument by the culture minister, Catherine Tasca.
The Holocaust researcher Serge Klarsfeld said in 2004: "Drancy is the best known place for everyone of the memory of the Shoah in France; in the crypt of Yad Vashem (Jérusalem), where stones are engraved with the names of the most notorious Jewish concentration and extermination camps, Drancy is the only place of memory in France to feature."
Klarsfeld's work contains nearly 300 pages of primary sources on French roundups in 1942.
The events form the framework of:
/*"Flammes du père inconnu" d'André Girod avec la Rafle du Vel d'Hiv*/