FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld  

 
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While they ruled, the Italian occupation authorities in the south of France even prevented French administrators from stamping the word "Jew" on our identity papers.

At moments when we did feel the danger of arrest around us, we also felt the active solidarity of many French people, both secular and religious people, who held out their hands to us, knowing the situation in which we found ourselves and who we really were.

And much later, when I began to struggle against the immunity enjoyed by the German criminals responsible for the Final Solution in France, it was, first of all, Germans who gave me firm support – that of my wife being the most precious and effective. And then a generation of sons and daughters of the Jewish deportees of France involved themselves in our work. It is to their support that we owe the convictions of the German criminals, the indictments of their French accomplices, and the change in attitudes of French society, particularly our youth, toward the guilt of the Vichy government.

The Gestapo wanted to destroy all traces of the existence of its Jewish victims. Whatever personal papers Jews carried with them were destroyed on their arrival at extermination centers – at the same time that most of the victims themselves were destroyed. Those who survived the "selection" for work or death on the arrival ramps were registered and tattooed with a serial number that became their entire concentration camp identity. Furthermore, total destruction of the archives of the extermination of millions of human beings was anticipated in case of a Nazi defeat. This included the documents recording Jews' arrivals in the camps, and in particular their camp registration cards. Ultimately, in fact, most of these documents were burned. We should always remember the declaration of Heinrich Himmler to SS leaders about the Final Solution: "It is a glorious page that will never be written."

In France, the Gestapo and French police administrators used arrested Jews' identity papers to create registration files at Drancy and in the camps in Loiret, Compiègne, and other places, and to make up the deportation lists. The act of recording was misleading, since the final goal of the process was total disappearance of the deportees. And whatever outcome for Germany, victory or defeat, these files and other French archives on the arrest and internment of Jews were destined to be kept secret. This is the traditional rule in France if documents risk creating problems or causing embarrassment for the generation that lived through the events. For example, at the Liberation, the Prefecture of Police in Paris destroyed almost all its voluminous archives on arrests of Jews, and in addition quietly transferred the family and individual files from the Prefecture's Jewish registry, and files on Jews arrested in Paris, to the Ministry of Veterans and War Victims Affairs.

At the Liberation, a true balance sheet of the catastrophe experienced by Judaism in France would not have been possible if Jews had not taken responsibility for their history into their own hands. This happened first at Drancy, where those responsible for the camp registers conscientiously saved them and the deportation lists they possessed and turned them over to the new French authority, which would become the Ministry of Veterans and War Victims. As it happened, that organization would jealously guard these documents
    
   

FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld

 
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