French Prime Minister Francois Hollande admitted that during World War II, France rounded up thousands of Jews to be sent to Nazi death camps.
“The truth is that not one German soldier—not one—was mobilized for the entire operation” in July 1942, when more than 13,000 Jews were deported from Nazi-held Paris to extermination camp Auschwitz and others, Hollande said on Sunday, the 70th anniversary of the deportations.
“This crime was committed by France and France alone,” he said, adding that the “the truth is hard and cruel” and was a “betrayal” of French values.
On July 16 and 17 of that year, there were mass arrests of Paris Jews by French police in an incident known as the “Vel’ d’Hiv Rafle” (Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup). The name derives from the Vélodrome d’Hiver (“Winter Velodrome”), the stadium where many of the Jews were confined before being deported.
A particularly chilling fact of the deportation was the number of children arrested—all at the request of French authorities, not the Nazis. Approximately 4,000 children, or 31 percent of the total population of those deported, were sent to camps.
Hollande used the anniversary to say that France will crack down harder on extremism, including on forms of anti-Semitism. In March, a Jewish school in Toulouse was attacked, killing three children.
The French president compared the recent Toulouse attacks to the Holocaust.
Four months ago, children “died for the same reason as Vel’ d’Hiv: because they were Jews.”
“All forms of intolerance, all fanaticism, all xenophobia … the logic of hatred” will be blocked by the French government, he said.
It took half a century for Paris to acknowledge French collaboration with the Nazis in the roundup, also called Operation Spring Breeze. After the war, some members of the Vichy government were tried for treason, but the argument was that it was a government of occupation, not a true government of the French people.
Finally on July 16, 1995, more than 50 years after the roundup, then-President Jacques Chirac made a public apology. He became the first French head of state to acknowledge and apologize for France’s culpability in the deportations.
“These black hours will stain our history forever,” Chirac said, apologizing from the site of the commemorative monument for the murders, across from where the stadium had stood.
Previously, leaders including Charles de Gaulle and former socialist President François Mitterrand had denied that France was responsible for the deportations because the country had been under occupation.
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