Sixty years ago this week, more than 12,800 Parisian Jews were rounded up by the Vichy government, the first step on their road to Auschwitz.
Some 9,000 French civil servants, 4,000 of whom were police, were mobilized for the operation and 60 train cars were used to transport the arrested Jews.
Before they were loaded into cattle cars and sent out of the city of Paris, they were gathered in an indoor bicycle stadium, the Velodrome d’Hiver –“Vel d’Hiv” for short.
Today, the words “Vel d’Hiv” are synonymous with “collaboration” and “shame” for the French, not to mention a reminder of the overzealousness of the French chief of police, Rene Bousquet, who did not wait for the green light from Adolf Eichmann to begin rounding up the Parisian Jews.
This week, the Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation, sponsored by the Town Hall of Paris, is commemorating the 60th anniversary of the deportations from the Vel d’Hiv with five days of documentaries, feature films and debates.
Such an event is typical of the French inclination toward memory, what many here see as the sacred French duty of actively remembering the past in order to come to terms with it.
This raid was not the first to take place in Paris.
There were earlier ones in 1941. But the July 16-17 roundup was by far the largest — and women, children, and the elderly were not spared.
It also marked a turning point in the persecution of Jews in France: 38 convoys of 1,000 deportees each made their way from France to Auschwitz between July 17, 1942, and Nov. 11, 1942.
The feature films and documentaries, which include films in French, English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, Czech, and German, are mainly concerned with the Parisian events, but put them in their larger European context.
The program also includes the French premiere of the American documentary “The Optimists: The Story of the Rescue of the Jews of Bulgaria,” by Jacky Comforty. Winner of the 2001 Berlin Film Festival and Best Documentary at the 2000 Jerusalem Film Festival, this documentary traces the story of the Bulgarian Jewish community.
A similar commemoration is at the Gare Saint Lazare in Paris until July 21: a photographic exhibit called “Deported Jewish Children of France.”
The exhibit is based on the recent book of the same title by French lawyer and famed Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld, and is being sponsored by the French Association of the Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees in association with the Beate Klarsfeld Foundation.
The photographs are accompanied by names, dates of birth and anecdotes, and depict the children with pets and siblings, dressed up for parties and at the beach.
On July 7, the exhibit was vandalized.
The suspect, Christiane Castillon, 55, who had no prior police record and doesn’t apparently belong to any extremist organization, said that “people make too many allowances for Jews where the Holocaust is concerned.”
Several panels were destroyed, particularly those on which the word “Jew” appeared. Castillon tried to efface the word with white paint.
Her trial is scheduled to take place on Nov. 21.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.