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Monday, May 2, 2011

A Brief History of Anti-Semitism in Paris, Part 2

In the second section of my three part article on anti-Semitism in Paris, I will focus on the attitude towards the Jews in Paris and their subsequent treatment during World War II. Obviously, this article could be long enough to fill a book, so I will try my best to keep this brief enough that it could be read in a single sitting.

The memories of the First World War had left the French military and government indecisive in the face of the Nazi threat; the government collapsed several times leading up the war, though most times the governments consisted of the same people, just their positions had been reshuffled. Though the French did offer resistance when the SS made their way through the Ardennes forest in the late spring of 1940, they were caught off guard, and stubbornness as to how a battle was supposed to be fought cost them dearly. The French did not expect the Nazis to come through the Ardennes forest, so they actually moved the barriers that they had blocking the way so to focus their attention elsewhere on the French/Belgian border. In addition, as the SS were making their way through, the French sent planes over the enemy lines to observe the incoming threat, yet they were told not to fire upon them, as according to the commanding French officer at this time, planes were to used for gathering intelligence, rather than attacking. Within a few weeks, to the surprise and horror of many, Paris had been captured.

Many in Paris fled, by some accounts, more than 50% of the city. Then they realized that the Nazis were in the countryside as well, so they might as well return to where they at least had a place to live. Many fought bravely against the Nazis as well. The French resistance needed to keep themselves underground throughout the war so that they could operate without interference from the French war time government (which I will get to in a moment). However, this article will focus more on those that welcomed the new overlords and submitted willingly to their doctrine.

To help distribute pro-facist and anti-Semite propaganda, several newspapers were created, including a couple that were becoming widely read even before the Nazis made their way into Paris. Je Suis Partout (I Am Everywhere) was first published and 1930 and from 1936 on, they championed the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. Though briefly banned in 1940 by the French government, it grew in popularity upon the arrival of the Germans, and eventually had a circulation of 300,000 issues. Several others, including L'Humanité and Au Pilori (On the Pillory) applauded French citizens who made friends with the SS soldiers and declared that all Jews should be arrested and deported, without hesitation.

Perhaps the most famous example of collaboration in France would be the French government itself. Maréchal Philippe Pétain, a former WWI hero, became the head of the Vichy government, based in Vichy (in Auvergne) because of its reliable electricity, and being a resort town, a city with plenty of hotels. Though he claimed that the goal of the Vichy government was to protect the French from destruction, they willingly worked with the Nazi Party, and followed through with their desire to assist in eradicating the Jews in France.

On July 16, 1942, 13,152 people (almost entirely Jews) were rounded up in the middle of the night and taken either directly to an internment camp at Drancy, a northern suburb of Paris or to a former bicycle racing track known as the Vélodrôme d'Hiver, or Vél d'Hiv for short, which was located a couple of blocks away from the Eiffel Tower. For five days the captives were kept with little food or water in a stifling hot building during an especially warm time of year. Many killed themselves by jumping off of the upper deck of the seating area. Very little medical attention was provided. From here, the Jews were sent to internment camps close to Paris, and from there, Auschwitz.

While this action was promoted by the Nazis, it was not them who followed through on the deed. This was done by the Parisian police in cooperation with the Vichy government. The Nazis originally requested that only the male heads of families be captured, however a senior French official argued that one day the children would become adult Jews as well, so they should capture them as well. Whole families were arrested, and many were separated to never see their loved ones again.

With the liberation of Paris, the collaborators were naturally treated very severely, as many were beaten, jailed, and executed. However, it could do little to erase the memory that many in France had willingly submitted their wills and energy to the Nazi cause.

In my last article in this three part series, I will try to give a brief rundown on anti-Semitism in Paris following World War II, up to the present day. In particular, I will focus on how the French have accepted their role in complying with the Nazi party, including how French collaboration during WWII has become an increasingly popular subject in film and literature in France.

This is a very short article written on a very complex subject, so I appreciate the understanding as I had to skip over a lot of detail for the sake of brevity, and yet still give an accurate picture of the situation faced by the Jews in Paris during World War II. Thanks for reading, and as always, if you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to let me know!

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