FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld  

 
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Jewish families. But at the same time, the agents of the Gestapo depended in France less on their own forces than on the efficient complicity of the police and administration of the French state. That state tormented and martyred thousands of Jewish families

Three episodes in particular will remain part of history, because they were culminating moments of the Final Solution in France – and all three involved children. The first and largest, the action known as the roundup of the Vélodrome d'Hiver (or Vel d'Hiv) – the winter bicycling stadium-which brought the arrests of more than 4,000 Jewish children of the Paris region, was carried out exclusively by French police in the summer of 1942. None of the thousands of children deported following these police raids survived. The second was the April 1944 roundup by the Lyons Gestapo, headed by SS officer Klaus Barbie, of 44 Jewish children who had taken refuge in the hamlet of Izieu in central France. All 44 were murdered in the East. The final episode was the raid led by Aloïs Brunner, a key SS officer involved with deportations of Jews, in July1944 on the eve of the Liberation, to arrest 250 children boarded in Jewish children's homes in the Paris area. Many of the children whose photographs are included in this volume were victims of these events.

I myself was a Jewish child hunted by the Gestapo. Brunner seized my father in Nice on September 30, 1943, but failed to find me or my mother and sister; the three of us were hidden behind a false partition in a deep closet. We were of Romanian nationality, and if we had remained in Paris we would already have been arrested, a year earlier, in the great roundup of Romanian Jews by French police in the early morning hours of September 24, 1942. We would have been deported September 25 on convoy 37 – the 37th convoy of railway freight cars that shipped Jews to the East – and gassed at Auschwitz on September 27, 72 hours after our arrest.

Brunner led the Nazi action in Nice, preferring to work with his own commando of Austrian SS rather than use the local French police, whom, as a result, I never feared. It was the men of the Gestapo whom we feared every moment and from whom we succeeded in escaping. From November 1942 to September 1943, Jews living in the Italian Zone of occupation, as we did, were in an oasis of tolerance, protected by the Italian army with the support of Italian diplomats in Rome. The Italian military authorities prevented, by force when necessary, the arrest of Jews by the Vichy police. I never feared the French police nor knew I should. When Brunner's SS broke into our Nice apartment building, beating our friends and neighbors, from our hiding place I heard – and I hear it still – my friends' father shouting, "Help! Help! French police – Help! We're French! Save us! Save us!"

Later, from March until August 1944, hiding in the Upper Loire, where the Gestapo had no antennae – we did not have to fear either French police or the area's German civil or military authorities, who were little or not at all concerned with the Jewish Question.

And so, I was able to avoid the terrible wound suffered by thousands of Jewish children who survived to become adults, many of them remnants of maimed families, who saw men in French uniforms rob them of their family happiness and their lives. Moreover, I did not have to wear the yellow star, which was imposed only in the Occupied Zone.
    
   

FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld

 
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