PARIS (EJP) --- The 70th anniversary of the largest instance of the deportation of French Jews from WWII Nazi-occupied France will be historically marked by the opening of police archives on the tragedy on Thursday.
Popularly known as the “Velodrome d’Hiver”, after the former cycling track-turned-internment camp where some 13,000 Jews were held close to the River Seine in Paris before being deported to Auschwitz Nazi death camp, the documents include registries of the detainees, as well as a wartime Jewish census.
A survey commissioned by the Union of Jewish Students in France (UEJF) revealed on Monday that 57-67% of French youth under the age of 35 have no knowledge of the incident that occurred under the Nazi-colluding Vichy administration in France.
The opening of records of the events of July 16 and 17, 1942, which detail the extent to which the French authorities collaborated with Nazi deportation of Jews, comes after recent French governments have shown greater efforts to be open after France’s Second World War-era culpability.
According to the curator of the exhibition, Olivier Accarie: “This is our history, it’s vital for the country to know,” adding that “today we are ready to confront this”.
Other historians have revealed how around half of all Jews targeted to be rounded up managed to escape, with president of the History and Memory association Charles Tremil even claiming “some police helped them get away”.
Amongst the documents on display, include detailed lists of personal items confiscated from the detainees, alongside calm accounts of the progress of the operation, including a record dated July 22, which stated: “The Jews interned at the Vel d’Hiver were redirected this morning...to the camps. In around one hour, the Winter Velodrome will be available.”
Other commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the deportations included a minute’s silence held on Monday by war veterans and survivors, including 86 year-old Yvette Levy, who was herself deported from the camp. Struggling to contain her emotion, she recounted the inequality that led to the men, women and children being deported on account of their Jewishness, adding: “(They say) we should forget, we should forgive. It’s not possible.”
Francois Hollande is due to give a speech at the former internment camp on Sunday in an official ceremony, bearing marked similarities to a similar ceremony helf by former French president Jacques Chirac in 1995, in which he admitted state culpability in the persecution of French Jews and enabling Nazi deportation and extermination of the wartime Jewish community.
In May, the National Company of French Railways (SNCF) announced the launch of a new joint research project with Yad Vashem into French Holocaust deportations. The agreement saw SNCF make available research into 80 mass transport of French Jews during WWII and will form part of the “Transports to Extinction: Shoah Deportation Database” project by Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research in Jerusalem.
“The ‘Final Solution’ could not have been carried out by the Germans without the extensive cooperation of many people at all levels of society and governments throughout Europe”, said Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev.
The move followed last year’s acknowledgement by SNCF president Guillaume Pepy that the rail company had been “a cog in the Nazi extermination machine” in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. SNCF also confirmed in February that it had handed over digital copies of its archives from the Second World War to three Holocaust museums, including Yad Vashem.