Les grandes rafles de Juifs en France
The arrests of Jews in 1940 were specific and mostly involved men, foreigners and stateless people. They therefore did not provoke any unanimous disapproval or criticism. When the arrests became general and no longer spared French Jews, women and children, opinion changed. The change was slow at first, but gathered speed with the raid on the Vel d'Hiv and the large-scale raids of the summer of 1942 in the "free zone". It can even be said that these raids caused a reversal of public opinion in favour of those targeted. They also marked the beginning of ill-feeling towards the Vichy regime.
A radicalisation of the anti-Jewish policy
In fact, as a result of these raids, Vichy came to be perceived as totally subservient to the occupying forces, even amongst anti-Semites and those partisan to extreme political collaboration. Apart from associating France with Nazi Germany, the large-scale raids of the summer of 1942 demonstrated a radicalisation of the anti-Jewish policy. It was in effect the first time that the raids had taken on such amplitude in France, indiscriminately targeting men, women, old people and young children. From the summer of 1942 onwards, all Jews in France were threatened, regardless of sex, age or nationality. And the threat was very serious as in most cases, the arrests led to deportation to an unknown destination outside the country. Public opinion appeared disturbed by this radicalisation and disapproval was also expressed. How could anyone accept the series of scenes of horror that accompanied the raids, especially the screams and crying of young children as they were snatched from their parents? Even more than the arrests, it was such scenes that caused trauma and disapproval amongst the public, as much in France as abroad. The reaction was so great and so negative that the very foundation of the Vichy regime was shaken by it. A year earlier, the rounding up of Jews had not stirred up such feeling.
The raids of 1941
It is true that the first raid, organised in Paris in the spring of 1941, was carried out without any publicity, almost secretly. It involved 6,494 men aged between 18 and 60, exclusively foreign Jews who, several months after the census at the end of 1940, had received a simple "green note" at their home address. This note invited them in a curt tone to attend one of several Paris centres on the 14th May 1941, accompanied by a relative or friend, for a "review of their situation". This summons proved to be a trap and the "review" turned into arrest for 3,747 men. Once interned, these men were taken to camps at Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande, in the Loiret, where most of them would remain for several months, until the first deportations. A second general arrest of foreign and french Jews occurred in Paris on the 20th and 21st August 1941. It took place a short time after the start of the German offensive in the USSR and was thus portrayed by the propaganda as "an operation carried out in retaliation for communist agitation". The pretext was weak, but sought primarily to justify the intervention of the French police, supervised at the time by German soldiers. During the raid, 4,232 men were arrested, mostly in the streets of the 11th arrondissement. Shortly afterwards they ended up in the Paris suburb of Drancy, in a camp that had just opened but which had not yet come to be used as a nerve centre for the deportations of Jews from France.
On the 12th December 1941 a third operation began, targeting the Jews of Paris and the surrounding area. It was carried out directly by the occupying forces (with men from the security services - SD - and the Feldgendarmerie), but also had assistance from the French police. It was a more limited act than the two previous ones in so far as just 743 Jews were arrested on the day. But the operation was no less important as it involved for the first time "notable people", practically all of them of French nationality. Arrested in "reprisals for a series of anti-German attacks", these men were transferred to the camp at Compiègne (to the north of Paris). Some of them, entrepreneurs, businessmen, shopkeepers, engineers, doctors, lawyers and academics, were released in the weeks that followed, but most of them remained imprisoned and were later included in the convoys of deportees. The first of these convoys comprised 1,112 men and left France on the 27th March 1942. In June 1942, four convoys of the same size left Compiègne, Drancy, Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande, bound for Auschwitz.
The raid at the Vel' d'Hiv
The raid of the 16th and 17th July 1942 therefore took place after the first deportations of Jews in France, at a time when the Nazis were clearing the Polish ghettos and also starting deportations to Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. This large-scale raid was of a different kind to the previous raids in France: in fact, in less than forty eight hours (from four O'clock in the morning on the 16th July until 1pm the following day, the 17th July) the police arrested 12,884 Jews in Paris and the suburbs. It was important, even though the number of arrests was less than expected because of some "escapes". During the raid of the Vel d'Hiv the police authorities did not just arrest men of working age. This time, they also arrested men over 60 years of age, the sick, women (5,802) and even children under 16 years old (4,051). The lie of "transferring people to the East to work" was shattered. An operation of such amplitude had necessarily been planned carefully and at length. Some figures however speak for themselves. It must be emphasised in particular that 9,000 French civil servants (and amongst them 4,000 police officers) were called up for this raid, christened not without irony "operation spring breeze". On this occasion no less than 27,000 files on Jews (registered through the application of the laws of Vichy) had been taken from a central police file (the "Tulard" file), and distributed among the teams of police officers on the ground responsible for the arrests. The operation, which was without precedent in the annals of the French police, had been conceived on the initiative of the occupying forces. However, it was carried out from start to finish under the orders of Pétain, Laval, Bousquet, Leguay and the administrative and police management of the French State. In addition to the number of French civil servants involved in this raid, it is also important to mention the mobilisation of about sixty police and TCRP (the forerunner of the Paris transport system, the RATP) buses to transport the arrested Jews to Drancy and the Velodrome d'Hiver (situated in the 15th arrondissement). It must also be stressed that this Parisian complex, designed primarily for large sporting events, was not suitable for holding a mixed crowd of people, amongst them, as we have already mentioned, a large number of young children. In addition, practically nothing had been arranged for the lengthy imprisonment of such a number of people. The 8,000 people cooped up in the sporting complex between the 16th and 22nd July thus had to cope with a lack of water, terrible sanitary conditions and continuous noise. In addition, amid all this confusion, there are records of health problems and a proliferation of suicides and suicide attempts. The situation only improved slowly, as the Vel d'Hiv gradually emptied following the transfer of internees to Drancy, Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande. In these camps, the chaos and improvisation were certainly less acute. This breathing space was only a short-lived illusion for the internees at the Vel d'Hiv as most of them were then deported. Their names appear amongst the 38 convoys bound for Auschwitz which left France between the 17th July and the 11th November 1942.
The raids in the provinces and the "delivery" of foreign Jews to the Germans
In July 1942, the raids also targeted Jews who had taken refuge in the towns in the occupied zone, especially in Bordeaux, Tours and Dijon. Moreover, by applying the Franco-German agreements, the French State delivered more than 10,000, foreign Jews interned in camps in the southern zone to the occupying forces. In addition, to complete this "delivery", it increased the number of raids on foreign Jews, notably on the 26th, 27th and 28th August 1942, in the regions of Limoges, Clermont-Ferrand, Lyon, Grenoble, Toulouse, Montpellier, Marseille and Nice. Men, women and children arrested on these days were in turn sent to Drancy and deported to Auschwitz. In 1943 and1944 arrests, raids and deportations followed, both in Paris and in the occupied and southern zones. In total, between March 1942 and August 1944, 75,000 Jews were deported from France. The majority were foreign Jews but about a third of these men, women and children were French Jews. It must be said that the German authorities did not differentiate between French and foreign Jews. For Nazi Germany, all Jews, regardless of age and nationality were destined for deportation and extermination. Of course the Vichy regime did not have the same objectives. It just wanted to "evacuate" foreign Jews from the country. Whether willingly or unwillingly, its involvement in the raids and deportations played a determining role in the implementation of the final solution in France.
Source: Claude Singer, Historian, lecturer at the University of Paris I (DUEJ). "Les Chemins de la Mémoire" Review no. 119 - July-August 2002 for Mindef/SGA/DMPA