On this day in 1942 La Grande Rafle ("The Big Sweep") began in Paris. Just after Bastille day there were many Gestapo in Paris, and the Nazi s decreed that all stateless and foreign-born Jews (including German and Austrian Jews but not British and American Jews) living in the city be rounded up. Many thought they would be relocated, but the Nazi plan was more extreme.
The Rafle du Vélodrome d'Hiverv, which was actually conducted by the French police, was the first of these roundups on 16 and 17 July 1942, code named Opération Vent printanier ("Operation Spring Breeze"),it involved the arrest of around 13,000 Jews (3,118 men, 5,919 women and 4,115 children according to police records). Under the authority of the Vichy government’s Secretary General of Police, the majority of those Jews were taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver (Vél d’Hiv'), the winter cycling stadium in Paris. The Vélodrome was designed to hold less than a quarter of the number people, and conditions inside were miserable. There were few toilets, little water and no food. After six days the prisoners were finally transferred to nearby camps and from there to camps in the east, such as Auschwitz, for extermination.
Vélodrome d'Hiver, in Paris,
July 1942. Source
It wasn’t all the Nazi’s idea, in July 1940 the Vichy government had began a review of all naturalizations in France since 1927, including Jewish and non-Jewish immigrants. A month later the Marchandeau Law of 1938, which banned expressions of anti-Semitism in the press, was repealed. In October 1940 the first Statut des Juifs was passed, which defined Jews by their race and excluded them from top positions in the civil service and army. In June 1941 a second Statut des Juifs was passed that led to a purge of Jews in various professions, a census of all Jews in the occupied zone, and a huge “aryanization” campaign. In all, at least 77,000 Jews from France were murdered during the war.
Marshal Philippe Pétain, head of the Vichy government, greets Adolf Hitler. source
If you a haven’t seen it, the movie Sarah’s Key is worth a watch and gives a dramatic account of the events of July 1942. It cuts back and forth in time to tell the slowly intertwining stories of Julia Jarmond (Krsten Scott Thomas), an expatriate in Paris circa 2002, and Sarah Starzynski (Melusine Mayance), a 10-year-old girl arrested by the French police during the July roundup of 1942. It is a fascinating movie, but don’t watch it with the kids.
Sarah in the velodrome. source
In 1995 French President Jacques Chirac apologized for the complicit role that French policemen and civil servants served in the raid on 16 July 1942.