The Holocaust in France

Paris, 12 June 1928. David and Renee-Rivka Ehrlich and their children. David Ehrlich was born in Berlad, Romania, in 1897; his parents were Moshe and Hannah Ehrlich. He married Rivka Mendel (born 1900), and in the late 1920s the couple left Hungary for Paris, taking their two children, Zigu (born 1924) and Aguianak (born 1926), with them. In France the couple had five additional children: Sally (1928), Marcel (1930), Henry (1936), Emil (1938) and Anne-Marie (1940). David, Rivka and their seven children were apprehended in France and deported to Auschwitz on transport number 84, by way of the transit camp of Malines (Mechelen). All nine family members were murdered.

Paris, 12 June 1928. David and Renee-Rivka Ehrlich and their children.
They were immigrants from Hungary and they had two children Zigu (born 1924) and Aguianak (born 1926), with whom they traveled to France. After living and working in Paris they had 5 additional children: Sally (1928), Marcel (1930), Henry (1936), Emil (1938) and Anne-Marie (1940).

David, Rivka and their seven children were in France when they were detained and deported to Auschwitz. They went from Malines (Mechelen) transit camp and onto Poland to their eventual death. All nine family members were perished.

The French disposed of Jewish businesses, or, “businesses with an overtly, predominantly Jewish character.”  Most of the Aryanization was done by the sale of the business from the Jewish owner to a trustee under the watchful eye of the Vichy collaborators.  Then, though, there were some businesses – mainly Jewish-owned factories – that were handled directly by the German apparatus in order to assure that they enrich the Reich.  Regardless of how the Aryanization was done, it left Jews absolutely destitute and unable to avoid being placed in internment camps.  Jews were detained in French-run internment camps, of the more infamous were: Gurs, Saint-Cyprien, Rivesaltes, Le Vernet, and Les Milles.  The treatment was said to be inhumane and thousands died during the war years before deportations began in 1942.


The Holocaust in France

Before the Holocaust there were a whopping 340,000 Jews in France. Less than half held French citizenship, and many were refugees. Around 200,000 lived in and around the Paris metro area. The population of French Jews had increased considerably during the previous 30 years: it had almost tripled. This fact was also combined with the generally foreign nature of the Jewish population, being that only around 100,000 had been there since the First World War.  It is important to remember that France’s Jews were largely disliked because of French xenophobia; which stands in contrast to places like Poland, where most of the Jews were not foreign and the hatred was a cultural or religious one.

The Armistice of 22 June 1940 was signed after the French had lost to the Nazis, and Philippe Pétain was appointed chief of state of the new regime. The new French State was governed from a city called Vichy, and that extended southwards all the way into French Algeria.  The northern area was occupied by Germans and was incorporated into the military government administration of Belgium.  Paris also fell into the occupied zone.  The Vichy government had already started enacting laws against their Jewish residents by autumn of the same year – Statut des Juifs (Statutes on Jews.) These laws were passed in October 1940, and then again in June 1941 a whole new set of laws were created in addendum to the original ones.  The Statutes excluded Jews from public life; commercial life; forbade them from being professors; forced them to have their businesses registered; and gave them no general means of eking out an existence anymore.

The Holocaust in France

An Original Draft of the Statut des Juifs with annotations made by Pétain himself.

First Arrests

The differentiation made between assimilated Jewish families and recently-immigrated Jews is one of the most prominent features of the Holocaust in France.

On 14 May, 1941, Jewish men between the ages of 18 and 40 were summoned by the Paris police with an infamous green postcard – the “billet vert.” The 5,000 Jews that were taken into custody during the arrests were almost all Polish Jews. The men were sent to be held in concentration camps at either Pithiviers, or Beaune-la-Rolande.  More arrests occurred after the invasion of the Soviet Union in June, 1941, as Jews with Soviet citizenship were rounded up as well. A few more arrests occurred throughout the year but there were also a fair amount of releases.  The real trouble and subsequent deportations would occur in March, 1942 and onwards. Until that point, however, there were really never more than 10,000 detainees in French concentration camps at any given time.

Vel d'Hiv Roundup

The Vel d’Hiv Roundup

The Velodrome d’Hiver was an indoor velodrome (cycle track) in Paris.  Starting at 4:00am on 16 July, 1942, French policemen started banging on the doors of foreign Jews living in Paris.  They were arresting men, women, and children that did not hold French citizenship.

11,000 Jews were detained and imprisoned in the Vel’ d’Hiv. The poor prisoners were kept in an extremely hot closed space, with only 5 working lavatories. The number of prisoners swelled to 13,000 in the coming days, among them more than 4,000 were kids under the age of 16.

Many Jews had been forewarned (because the French police had been planning it out for almost a week,) but they never expected women and children to be arrested as well. For this reason, only Jewish men had gone into hiding and their wives and children were left exposed.

The Jews were kept there for around two weeks with very little access to water or food.  Finally, they were deported to various concentration camps, including Drancy.  Towards the end of the summer the interned Jews were separated from their children and deported, mostly to Auschwitz.  The fate of the Jewish children is just as sad: they were carted off alone to Auschwitz months later and gassed upon arrival, with only a few random adults accompanying them (the adults met the same fate.)

The entrance to the Vel d'Hiv

Entrance to the Winter Velodrome (Velodrome d’Hiver)

Two French Jews wearing the yellow star, a few weeks before the roundup

Two French Jews wearing the yellow star, a few weeks before the roundup

Later, in January 1943, another roundup occurred in Marseilles, France. During the evacuation of the Old Port of Marseilles, French policemen checked everyone’s identification papers and found an additional 2,000 Jews this way.  

The Final Toll from France

The first deportation from France was on March 27, 1942, and a majority of those Jews were selected for work at Auschwitz. Starting in August, though, the deportations take a sinister turn as the transports start to see more and more of their people being chosen for immediate gassing. Deportations of Jews continued well into September with the final amount of Jews deported from France being over 75,000 – less than 2,000 would ever return. The statistics for Jews in France were generally good – around 3/4 of the population survived in France. However, of the Jews that were actually deported, the statistics are extremely unfavorable and death was nearly guaranteed.

The deportations continued in a pattern all across France, and corresponded directly to the progression of the war. In the beginning the only Jews that were taken were stateless and foreign Jews in the northern occupied zone. As the war progressed and France became fully occupied the only safe space remaining was the Italian zone. After the Italians capitulated in 1943, those areas too were subject to the Gestapo’s deportations. It is worth mentioning that many Jews escaped through Spain (up to 25,000) because, although it was a fascist state, there was no persecution against the Jews there.