National day for the Victims of Racist Crimes

Monument in tribute to the victims of racist and Anti-Semite persecution. Source: SGA/DMPA - Jacques Robert
Monument in tribute to the victims of racist and Anti-Semite persecution. Source: SGA/DMPA - Jacques Robert
Corps 1
The National day in Remembrance of the Victims of Racist and Anti-Semite Crimes of the French state and in Tribute to the "Justs" of France
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The National day in Remembrance of the Victims of Racist and Anti-Semite Crimes of the French state and in Tribute to the "Justs" of France responds to the desire expressed by the Jewish community, as well as by many key French figures, to officially recognise the responsibility of the Vichy regime in the persecution of and crimes against Jews during the Second World War (1939-45). Between 1993 and 2000, two successive acts set the procedures for this national commemoration.

Between 1993 and 2000: The French Republic passed two acts to recognise the racist and Anti-Semite persecutions committed by the "government of the French State" (1940-1944) and pay tribute to the "Justs" of France

In 1993: Sunday 16th July, or the following Sunday, was declared a day of national commemoration

Decree no. 93-150 of the 5th February 1993, signed by the President of the Republic, François Mitterrand, established "a national day of commemoration of the racist and Anti-Semite persecutions committed under the authority of the so-called " government of the French State " (1940-1944)". The 16th July, which is the anniversary of the rounding-up of Jews in the Paris Vélodrome d'Hiver (16th July 1942), was chosen for this commemoration if it should fall on a Sunday. If not, it will take place on the following Sunday. Remembrance of this tragic event of the Occupation was previously carried out through ceremonies organised within the Jewish community.

The decree also allowed for the erection, at the State's expense, of monuments and steles in Paris on the site of an assembly camp, in Izieu and in every departmental administrative town. A monument was erected close to the former Vélodrome d'Hiver and steles were put up, in particular in the camp in Gurs (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) and in la Maison d'Izieu (Ain). On the 17th July 1994 in Paris, close to the former Vélodrome d'Hiver near the Bir Hakeim bridge, the inauguration took place of the monument in front of which the official ceremony now takes place, whilst others are held in the provinces, under the authority of the prefect, around plaques that have been placed in the departmental administrative capitals. On the 16th July 1995, in a speech made during this commemoration, the President of the Republic, Jacques Chirac, acknowledged that "the criminal madness of the occupying forces was compounded by the French and by the French State" and that "on that day, France caused irreparable damage". He reminded us that, in addition, the raid on the Vélodrome d'Hiver was "the starting point of a huge resistance movement involving many French families", known as the "Justs", who would save many Jewish lives.

In 2000: the statute added a tribute to the "Justs" of France Statute no. 2000-644 of the 10th July 2000 resumed and modified the decree of 1993, with the important insertion of a tribute to the "Justs" of France. This legal commemoration thus became an occasion for the Nation to show its acknowledgement of all those "who took in, protected or defended, one or more people threatened with genocide, risking their own lives and with no compensation, ".

The raid on the Vel d'Hiv. (July 1942): The symbol of the racist and Anti-Semite policy of the Vichy regime The day of national commemoration associates the acknowledgement of the responsibility of the French State in the crimes perpetrated during the Occupation with the 16th July, the anniversary of the raid on the Vélodrome d'Hiver. 1942: The raid on the Vel d'Hiv On the 16th and 17th July 1942, around 13,000 people - men, women and children - were arrested by the gendarmes and French police on the orders of Jean Leguay, the deputy and representative in the occupied zone of René Bousquet, the secretary general of the ministry of the interior for the police of Vichy. The operation was carried out using lists prepared in advance at police headquarters. Some 7,500 people, including 4,000 children, were assembled at the Vélodrome d'Hiver in terrible conditions, as nothing had been organised for their arrival, before being transferred to internment camps in the Loiret region; others were taken directly to Drancy and deported to the east during the summer. This raid was not the first, but because of its magnitude and the participation of the French State, it was the most significant. It was the result of a policy implemented by the government at the time.

From 1940 to 1944: the racist and Anti-Semite policy of the Vichy regime On the 10th July 1940, MPs assembled in Vichy voted, by 569 votes to 80, for full powers for Marshall Pétain. The following day, he promulgated the first three constitutional acts that founded the French State. The government immediately adopted a racist, xenophobic and Anti-Semite policy, prescribing laws that excluded from the national community a section of the French people for reasons of "race". Its aim was to limit the role and influence on economic, political and intellectual matters of "undesirables", in particular Jews, and to appropriate their property. This policy was the direct result of the "National Revolution" sought by Pétain, who claimed that responsibility for the defeat lay with previous governments and beyond that, with the parliamentary regime. The first exclusion measures were taken by the Vichy government in July 1940. On the 17th July, a statute banned access to public office, with a few exceptions, for people born to a foreign father. On the 22nd July, a statute followed revising the naturalisations that had taken place under the regime established in 1927 through the new nationality code. As a result of this statute, 15,154 people saw their French nationality withdrawn. In addition, those considered to represent a danger to national security were placed under house arrest or sent to detention camps. Gypsies, a nomadic people for whom borders were no obstacle, were interned in the thirty or so camps spread across both the free and occupied zones. Members of the Jewish community were soon to become direct victims of these discriminatory measures. Two laws introduced a year apart, on the 3rd October 1940 and then on the 2nd June 1941, promulgated two Jewish statutes. In adopting these arrangements, the Vichy government acted on its own initiative, anticipating German demands. Jews were the subject of a compulsory census and no longer had access to certain positions, jobs or professions. They also saw themselves excluded from public office, the magistracy, the army, and the press and from industry and self-employed professions. The statute was completed with the act of the 4th October 1940, which authorised the internment or house arrest of foreign Jews. On the 29th March 1941, a general commission on the Jewish question, instituted by the French State at the request of the German authorities, was given the task of monitoring the application of the Jewish statute and anti-Jewish laws and dealing with anti-Jewish propaganda. Its authority was extended across both zones. The French State opened and extended internment camps in the southern zone for the Jewish people, such as that in Gurs, where thousands of foreigners - mainly Germans (53.6%), but also Poles (12.8%), Spaniards (10.9%), Austrians (9.8%), and even Russians, Belgians, Dutch and Romanians - were held during the war and those in Vernet, in the Ariège region, and les Milles, in the Bouches-du-Rhône.

From 1941 onwards, French police took part in the first raids and in the internments that followed in the northern zone. The first three took place in Paris. On the 14th May 1941, 3,710 foreign and stateless Jews were thus interned in camps in Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande; on the 20th August, 3,477 Jews and stateless persons were arrested and taken to the camp in Drancy. At the end of the year, on the 12th December, 1,000 people, including 700 French Jews, were interned in the camp in Compiègne. With the implementation of the final solution by the Nazis, the persecutions and raids increased, affecting the whole of the Jewish community, the French and foreigners, men women and children.

The first Jews were deported from France to Auschwitz on the 27th March 1942. In arranging the census, arrest and internment of them and agreeing to deliver them to the Nazis, the French State became an accomplice in their extermination. Out of the some 300,000 Jews living in France, 75,000 were deported during the Second World War. The deportations became increasingly frequent throughout the last months of the Occupation. On the 6th April 1944, forty-four Jewish children were arrested in Izieu with their teachers. The last large raid took place between the 21st and 25th July 1944 and involved two hundred and fifty children lodged in houses of the General Union of Hebrews of France (l'Union générale des israélites de France or UGIF). The last deportees left the camp in Drancy on the 17th August 1944, one week before the liberation of Paris.

The resistance of the "Justs" Contravening the Vichy regulations and German instructions by hiding wanted persons was extremely dangerous. However, throughout the whole war, French people across the whole country from all social classes and of all religions, both individually and collectively, hid men, women and children from the French police and the Germans. This was the case, for example, of the "Marcel" network, which saved 527 children and of the protestant residents of the village of Chambon-sur-Lignon, who also hid many children. Through their actions, they showed that the republican values of freedom, equality and fraternity were not empty words. There were many, in fact, who took in children or who provided practical help and moral support to families who found themselves with nothing, obtaining false papers for them, warning them of raids and refusing to give their names to the authorities. It is impossible to quantify the number of "Justs" of France who, out of humanity, hid and saved thousands of people throughout the Occupation. The nation therefore chose to recognise the actions of the "Justs" and to make a point of honouring all of them on this day of remembrance.

Source: The "Mémoire et citoyenneté" (Remembrance and citizenship) Collection No. 18. A Ministry of Defence/SGA/DMPA Publication