70 years ago on July 16 and 17, 1942 took place one of the most odious event in the history of Paris. Under German occupation and Vichy government, 13, 152 Jews were rounded up by the French police and interned in a cycling stadium Le Velodrome d'Hiver and the nearby internment camp in Drancy. It came to be known as the Rafle du Vel d'Hiv. The arrests were sudden and without warning. Among those arrested were 4000 children of all ages forcefully seized from their homes, schools and playgrounds. During four miserable days innocent people were held without food, drink and in horrible sanitary condition where dyphtheria and dyssentry caused many to die. After their detention they were sent to concentration camps such as Auschwitz never to return. On July 22, President Francois Holande will participate in a ceremony of commemoration to take place in the former site of the velodrome (it burnt down in 1959). In a recent survey up to 67% of the under 35 years of age had never heard of the round-up of the Vel D'Hiv. It is not surprising, after the World War II the government kept quiet the role of the French police in sending many Jews to death camps. It was considered taboo and the government felt that it was solely the responsibility of the Vichy Government. It took 50 years for a French president to acknowledge the responsibility of the French state in the round up of the Vel d'Hiv. This was President Jacques Chirac in 1995 who declared in a ceremony:
"These dark hours forever sully our history and are an insult to our past and our traditions," "Yes, the criminal folly of the occupiers was seconded by the French, by the French state."
A current exhibition " C' Etaient des Enfants" at the Paris Hotel de Ville tells the moving story from the point of view of the children themselves with photos, drawings, poems, toys and eyewitness accounts of the events of July 1942. In all 11, 400 Jewish children were deported from France 1942 to 1944 . Among the "deportes" were my cousins from Lyon- Robert (15), Huguette (13), Gilbert (10) and Georgette (4) who along with their mother Zakia entered the Drancy Camp on July 25, 1944. They were sent six days later on July 31, 1944 from Drancy to Auschwitz in Convoy 77 and never returned. Their memory and that of all the children victims of the Holocaust should be perpetuated so that such despicable acts should never happen again.
Exhibit "C'etaient des Enfant" at Hotel de Ville through October 27.