70th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv roundup
We’ve gathered this morning to remember the horror of a crime, express the sorrow of those who experienced the tragedy, and speak of the dark hours of collaboration, our history and therefore France’s responsibility.
We’re also here to pass on the memory of the Holocaust – of which the roundups were the first stage – in order to fight the battle against oblivion and testify to new generations what barbarity is capable of doing and what resources humanity may possess to defeat it.
- photo elysee.fr / Pascal Segrette - Laurent Blevennec
Seventy years ago, on 16 July 1942, early in the morning, 13,152 men, women and children were arrested in their homes. Childless couples and single people were interned in Drancy, where the museum created by the Mémorial de la Shoah will stand in the autumn.
The others were taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver. Piled together for five days in inhuman conditions, they were taken from there to the camps of Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande.
A clear directive had been given by the Vichy administration: “The children must not leave in the same convoys as the parents.” So, after heart-rending separations, they departed – the parents on one side, the children on the other – for Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the deportees of Drancy had preceded them by a few days.
There, they were murdered. Solely for being Jews.
This crime took place here, in our capital, in our streets, the courtyards of our buildings, our stairways, our school playgrounds.
It was to pave the way for other roundups, in Marseille and throughout France – in other words, on both sides of the demarcation line. There were also other deportations, notably of gypsies.
The infamy of the Vel d’Hiv was part of an undertaking which had no precedent and has no comparison: the Holocaust, the attempt to annihilate all the Jews on the European continent.
76,000 French Jews were deported to the death camps. Only 2,500 returned. (…)
Across time, beyond grief, my presence this morning bears witness to France’s determination to protect the memory of her lost children and honour these souls who died but have no graves, whose only tomb is our memory.
That is the purpose of the requirement set by the Republic: that the names of those martyred victims should not fall into oblivion.
We owe the Jewish martyrs of the Vélodrome d’Hiver the truth about what happened 70 years ago.
The truth is that French police – on the basis of the lists they had themselves drawn up –undertook to arrest the thousands of innocent people trapped on 16 July 1942. And that the French gendarmerie escorted them to the internment camps.
The truth is that no German soldiers – not a single one – were mobilized at any stage of the operation.
The truth is that this crime was committed in France, by France.
To his great credit, President Jacques Chirac recognized this truth, in this very spot on 16 July 1995.
“France”, he said “France, country of the Enlightenment and human rights, land of welcome and asylum, France, that day, was committing the irreparable.”
But the truth is also that the crime of the Vel d’Hiv was committed against France, against her values, against her principles, against her ideal.
Honour was saved by the Righteous, by all those who were able to rise up against barbarism, by those anonymous heroes who hid a neighbour here, helped another there and risked their lives to save those of innocent people. By all those French people who enabled three-quarters of France’s Jews to survive.
France’s honour was embodied by General de Gaulle, who stood up on 18 June 1940 to continue the struggle.
France’s honour was defended by the Resistance, the shadow army that would not resign itself to shame and defeat.
France was represented on the battlefields, with our flag, by the soldiers of the Free French Forces.
She was also served by the Jewish institutions, like the Oeuvre de secours aux enfants [Children’s Welfare Organization], which secretly organized the rescue of more than 5,000 children and took in orphans after the Liberation.
The truth does not divide people. It brings them together. In that spirit, this day of commemoration was established by François Mitterrand, and the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah was created under Lionel Jospin’s government. Set up under that same government, with Jacques Chirac, was the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation Resulting from Anti-Semitic Legislation in Force During the Occupation, whose aim was to put right what still could be put right.
In the chain of our collective history, it now falls to me to continue this common duty of remembrance, truth and hope. (…)
The Shoah was created from nothing and came from nowhere. True, it was set in motion by the unprecedented and terrifying combination of single-mindedness in its racist frenzy and industrial rationality in its execution. But it was also made possible by centuries of blindness, stupidity, lies and hatred. It was preceded by many warning signs, which failed to alert people’s consciences.
We must never let our guard down. No nation, no society, nobody is immune from evil. Let us not forget this verdict by Primo Levi on his persecutors: “Save the exceptions, they were not monsters, they had our faces.” Let us remain alert, so that we may detect the return of monstrosity under its most harmless guises.
I am aware of the fears expressed by some of you. I want to respond to them.
Conscious of this history, the Republic will pursue all anti-Semitic acts with the utmost determination, but also all remarks that may lead France’s Jews even to feel uneasy in their own country.
In this area, nothing is indifferent. Everything will be fought with the last ounce of energy. Being silent about anti-Semitism, dissimulating it, explaining it already means accepting it.
The safety of France’s Jews is not just a matter for Jews, it is a matter for all French people, and I intend it to be guaranteed under all circumstances and in all places. (…)
All ideologies of exclusion, all forms of intolerance, all fanaticism, all xenophobia that seek to develop the mentality of hatred will find their way blocked by the Republic.
To tirelessly teach historical truth; to scrupulously ensure respect for the values of the Republic; to constantly recall the demand for religious tolerance, in the framework of our laïque [secular] laws (1); never to give way on the principles of freedom and human dignity; always to further the promise of equality and emancipation. Those are the measures we must collectively assign ourselves. (…)
It is by being clear-sighted about our own history that France, thanks to the spirit of harmony and unity, will best promote her values, here and throughout the world.
Long live the Republic!
Long live France!
(1) laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the State.