A central event in the history of the Nazi Occupation of Paris is the mass arrest and deportation of Jews in 1942. More than 13,000 Jewish residents were arrested and taken to the Vel d’Hiv (Vélodrome d’Hiver), an enclosed winter stadium near the Eiffel Tower. They were held under inhumane conditions before being deported to Nazi death camps.
Below are photographs of two Jewish or formerly Jewish communities in Paris. I’ll also visit sites that memorialize the arrest, deportation, and murder of French Jews.
La Cour aux Juifs
A Jewish community lived in the eight floors of apartments surrounding this pleasant courtyard with fountain, lamps, and double staircase. La Cour aux Juifs, built into the hillside of Montmartre, was one of many Jewish neighbourhoods in Paris that suffered a terrible fate under Nazi Occupation.
Rue des Rosiers
Rue des Rosiers (rosebushes) is a street in a Jewish neighbourhood called in Yiddish “Pletzl” or “little place.” From the 1880s, East European Jews fleeing pogroms settled in the Marais neighbourhood. Before World War II, the Pletzl was a thriving community. During the Occupation, more than half of its population were murdered in Nazi camps.
A plaque in nearby Jardin des Rosiers-Joseph Migneret reads:
Arrested by the police of the government of Vichy, complicit with the Nazi Occupation, more than 11,000 children were deported from France from 1942 to 1944, and murdered at Auschwitz because they were born Jewish.
More than 500 of these children lived in the 4th arrondissement, among them 101 little children who hadn’t even attended school yet.
You who pass by, read their names. Your memory is their only sepulchre.
Never forget them.
If you walk along the Seine south of Métro Bir-Hakeim, a somber sculpture of seven figures gradually comes into view. They are sitting on the ground, in a state of shock and despair. Parents hold their toddler protectively, a little girl plays listlessly with her doll, a man embraces his pregnant wife, and an older woman rests on her suitcase, leaning her head on her hand. Perhaps she’s remembering pogroms from another time and place.
The sculpture memorializes the shameful events in the history of Paris when authorities in Nazi-occupied Paris arrested Jewish residents, crowded them into the Vel d’Hiv, and transported them to Nazi death camps. The memorial acknowledges the complicity of the French government of 1940-1944 in racist and anti-Semitic persecutions and crimes against humanity.
Below: the Deportation Memorial (right) and view toward Métro Bir-Hakeim and Tour Eiffel. The Vel d’Hiv (Winter Velodrome), where arrested Jews were held, was located a couple of blocks to the right in the photo.
Garden of the Vel d’Hiv Children
A short walk from the Deportation Memorial is the Garden of the Vel d’Hiv Children. On one side is a wall of names and ages with the following explanation:
List of children arrested by French police and interned at the Vélodrome d’Hiver on July 16 and 17, 1942, before being deported by the Germans to the extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Opposite the wall is a “garden of children” documenting some of their lives: names and photographs of children and parents, along with their last Paris address, dates of arrest and deportation, and the identification number of the convoy in which they were transported to a death camp.
With the exception of 6 adolescents, none of the 3,900 children detained at Vel d’Hiv and deported, survived.
Steles for the children
The translucent blue stele below, rounded to suggest a gravestone, is located at Square Félix Desruelles. Similar ones are found throughout Paris.
Below two etched hands of children, the stele tells that many of the children who were deported and murdered had lived in the 6th arrondissement, among them 6 little children who hadn’t even attended school yet.
Memorial plaque on school
The plaque below, affixed to the entrance of a boy’s school on Île St-Louis, acknowledges that Jewish children who had attended that school were deported and murdered in death camps.
Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation
To the rear of the Notre Dame Cathedral is an unforgettable memorial to French Jews who were deported and murdered.
After passing through the gates, I entered a pleasant grassy area with a fence on either side of the walkway and then descended a set of stairs.
The noises of the city became muffled, and I could only hear the lapping waters of the Seine through a barred window. I felt as though I were leaving the world behind and entering a space of separation, departure, and denial of freedom. A row of sharp bars seemed to signify no exit, no escape, no turning back.
Opposite the sharp bars, I faced a narrow entrance that was both forbidding and necessary to the experience.
Inside: an enclosed space of quiet lamentation.
On the ground lies a circular metal plate around which these words are engraved:
Ils allèrent a l’autre bout de la terre et ils ne sont pas revenus.
They went to the other end of the earth, and they did not return.
A dedication is inscribed on the wall:
Pour que vive le souvenir des deux cent mille français, sombrés dans la nuit et le brouillard, exterminés dans les camps nazis.
So that the memory of two hundred thousand French people, enveloped in night and fog and exterminated in Nazi camps, may live on.
The impact of the memorial is sorrowfully poetic and visceral.
Shoah Memorial: The Wall of the Righteous
The Mémorial de la Shoah is located in the Marais, which had a significant Jewish population before the mass arrest and deportation. Taking photographs inside the museum was not allowed, but the exhibits were detailed and well presented. And devastating.
Just outside the museum is Le Mur des Justes (The Wall of the Righteous):
Père Lachaise Cemetery
Monument for the inmates of Natzweiler-Struthof, Nazi slave labour camp in Alsace
In 1941, Nazi Germany invaded Alsace and a year later established the Natzweiler camp near the village of Struthof. It was the only concentration camp in France, but it encompassed 70 “kommandos” (labour units) along the Rhine River.
Below is a map showing the location of the Natweiler-Struthof camp. It also indicates “the number of French deportees, not including foreigners refused by France.”
Many of the inmates of the slave labour camp of Natzweiler-Struthof were members of the Resistance in occupied territories. These political prisoners “disappeared” under the Nacht und Nebel decree of 1941 that enabled their clandestine arrest and deportation under cover of night and fog.
Nazi guards put the prisoners to work in granite quarries, and Nazi “doctors” experimented on many of them. The death toll at that camp reached about 22,000. Below is the monument at Père Lachaise Cemetery dedicated to those who suffered and died at Natzweiler-Struthof.
In the center is a sculpture of a Natzweiler prisoner who expired in an emaciated and exhausted state. The stacked stones on either side of the body come from the quarry. The triangle at the base represents the red triangle that political deportees had to wear on their prison clothing.
Buchenwald-Dora monument at Père Lachaise Cemetery
A film crew installed a railway for their camera, unwittingly creating a disconcerting image.
Next: Bridging the Seine