Family by family, house by house, the French police arrested 13,000 people in the center of Paris in two horrific days in July 1942. Then they sent them to Nazi death camps just because they were Jews.
Eight decades later, France is honoring the memory of the victims and trying to keep their memory alive.
A week of ceremonies commemorating the 80th anniversary of the police raid on the Veles d’Hive on July 16-17, 1942, ended on Sunday with a speech by President Emmanuel Macron at the train station where Jews were sent to die in Nazi Germany.
The raids were one of the most shameful acts undertaken by France during World War II and one of the darkest moments in its history.
In those two days, the police herded 13,152 people, including 4,115 children, to the Winter Velodrome in Paris, known as the Vel d’Hive, before sending them to Nazi camps.
It was the largest round-up of members of the Jewish community in Western Europe. The children were separated from their families and only a few survived.
Survivors ask, “Can you imagine?”
In a public testimony last week, survivor Rachel Jedinak described knocking on a door in the middle of the night, being paraded through the streets of Paris and herded into a velodrome in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
She remembered how her desperate mother had yelled at the police. Some neighbors reported Jews, she said, while others wept as they watched them being herded like cattle.
Among the detained children were Chantal Blaschka’s aunts and uncles: 6-year-old Simon, 9-year-old Bertha and 15-year-old Suzanne. Their names are now engraved on a monument in the garden where the velodrome once stood, along with the names of some 4,000 other children who were victims of the raids.
Photographs of children hanging from tree trunks are the result of years of painstaking research to identify and memorialize long-anonymous victims.
Of the children deported from the winter velodrome in Paris, where they were collected, only six survived.
“Can you imagine?” Blaska asked, pointing to the names and shaking her head. “Can you imagine?”
Serge Klarsfeld, a well-known Nazi hunter whose father was deported to Auschwitz, spoke in the garden on Saturday, calling it “a startling testament to the horrors that Jewish families have endured.”
He stressed the need to transmit living memory. “The youngest of us are over 80,” he said of the deported children.
Anxiety was heightened by some after the far-right Rally Nationale made a surprise electoral breakthrough last month, winning a record 89 seats in France’s National Assembly.
Party co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen was convicted of racism and downplaying the Holocaust. His daughter Marin, who now leads the party, has distanced herself from her father’s position, but the party’s past is still a concern for many Jews.
“The policy, since 1942, has been to organize the murder of the Jews of Europe and therefore organize the deportation of the Jews of France,” said Jacques Frege, director of the Shoah Memorial in Paris.
“In most cases, decisions were made by the Nazis and carried out by the French administration,” he said. “But the management was French, commanded and controlled by gendarmes or policemen.”