Jews in France

Elizabeth Ciarrocca, a senior history major at the University of California Santa Barbara who is currently working on a Honors Thesis concerning the leaders of the Holocaust in France, looks at the situation Jews in France faced during World War II.  Based on the examination of the works by Michael Marrus and Robert O. Paxton, Renée Poznanski, and Susan Zuccotti, Elizabeth argues that the Holocaust in France was encouraged b French anti-Semitic trends which created a climate where the French offered assistance to the German forces, who without such aid, could not have carried out, to such ends, the Final Solution in France.  This page was completed for a web project for an introductory lecture course on the Nazi Holocaust. 

Ever-changing Attitudes (jump to)

Persecution at the hands of the French (jump to)

Other interesting web sites (jump to)

Ever-changing Attitudes

How tolerance and emancipation of Jews in France turned to xenophobia and anti-Semitism: Emancipation to the Yellow Star

While the anti-Semitism faced by Jews during World War II stemmed as much from French sentiments as it did from German pressures, Jews at one time enjoyed many freedoms in France.  The French Revolution brought about acts of emancipation, on September 27, 1791, for the Jews in France (Poznanski 2).  France and the United States were the two countries that led the way to granting “Jews full political, legal and social equality, eliminating all formal barriers to their participation in every aspect of life” (Zuccotti 7).  The Jewish population lived in an environment in which they had the opportunity to excel in arts and intellects, being at home in a tolerant, cosmopolitan setting. 

Jews in France were among themselves divided into two categories: French Jews and Jewish immigrants living in France.  These categories significantly influenced the treatment individuals received during the war; however, it was also a categorization that was many times overlooked (Poznanski 1-14).  The former category were those well established in France, spoke French, or did not adhere strictly to Jewish practices; otherwise indistinguishable in the French population.  The latter were immigrants, which the French feared.  Immigrants threatened to take away jobs from the French as unemployment was on the rise; they threatened the sanctity of French culture, bringing in foreign influence at a time when the French were already wary of American and Russian influence; and immigrants threatened to bring France into an international conflict that they were desperately trying to avoid (Marrus and Paxton 36).  Vichy made the claim that they were forced to choose the lesser of two evils: by sacrificing the foreign Jews to the Germans they were able to protect their French Jews.  However, their defense is invalidated by the number of French Jews who were included in the convoys destined for Auschwitz. 

The 1930s in France was a period that brought about the end of tolerance and freedom of immigration for Jews.  Immigration was encouraged in the period after World War I to create a workforce to compensate for the thousands of men who died on the battlefields (Marrus and Paxton 35).  France became a safe haven for immigrants.  The situation changed in the 1930s: unemployment rose, production dropped, and political stability ended (Marrus and Paxton 34).  These factors are reflected in the xenophobic policy that developed. 

From the 1930s until the invasion by the Germans in May 1940, the French population was searching for a scapegoat.  The shock of defeat in 1940 was too much for the French to comprehend.  Jews served as this scapegoat for the French troubles.  The first legislation that emerged against the Jews, on October 3, 1940, the Statut des Juifs, came before any pressure from the German occupiers.  As Susan Zuccotti points out, “It seems to have come from the government’s desire to present a demoralized public with a visible scapegoat for the defeat, from a wish to preempt German regulations of the issue, and from the prejudices of Pétain himself” (Zucotti 56).

This was the first of the measures against the Jews.  Following the law of October 3, 1940, Jews lost all of their rights, following the trend that was taking place in Germany.  Jewish businesses were Aryanized; Jews were only able to shop during select hours during the afternoon when most shops were sold out of whatever rationed goods they had; Jews were banned from public parks, cinemas, and restricted to a curfew; and finally on June 1, 1942, a German decree announced that all Jews were required to wear a yellow armband with the star of David and the word Juif written on it.  This measure made no distinction between French Jews and foreign Jews.  It made all Jews living in France stand out in public.

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Persecution at the hands of the French

How the French contributed to the overall consequences of the Final Solution and French initiatives towards to the Jews: the Vel d’Hiv roundup and Drancy

The initial establishment of concentration camps in France was a result of the French government, not because of pressure of the Germans.  At first intended for foreign Jews, people were held in insufferable conditions under which they perished before the first convoys were even sent to Auschwitz.  These foreign Jews in internment camps “were the first casualties of the Holocaust in France, and they died because of French, not German, persecution (Zuccotti 67).  In fact, it was even said that after the Germans took over control of Drancy, conditions at the camp improved (Marrus and Paxton 253).

Europe in 1942 sent a context in which the greatest roundups, deportations, and implementation of the Final Solution could be carried out.  After German invaded the Soviet Union, the war took on an even deeper anti-communist tone, thereby placing more blame on the Jews under the image of Jewish communists (Poznanski 207).  In 1942 Germany assumed the total occupation of France. 

The effects of the Holocaust in France could not have been felt in the way that they were had it not been for the collaboration of the French police with the German authorities in the roundups of Jews.  The Germans did not have the resources in France to carry out extensive manhunts that resulted in the vast number of Jews being sent to the East. 

The Vel d’Hiv roundup was the greatest example of this collaboration.  On July 16, 1942, some 13,152 men, women, and children were forced out of their homes (Poznanski 261).  While the Vel d’Hiv roundup succeeded in sweeping the streets of Paris and surrounding areas of a majority of their Jewish populations, French and Nazi forces failed to reach their goal of 24,000 Jews.  Single persons and those without children were sent directly to Drancy while families were held in a stadium in Paris, the Vélodrome d’Hiver, that was not equipped to house numerous people over a long stay (Poznanski 261). 

The police intended for this roundup to be done quietly so as not to attract attention from the French populace.  This intent was doomed from the start because word leaked out and underground networks frantically tried to warn Jews to flee or hide.  However, especially French Jews could not imagine what awaited them.  They dutifully followed the law by registering for the “census” and thereby made themselves available to deportation.  The concept of the Final Solution was unfathomable to them, especially at the hands of the French authorities who had so long protected them, in a country to which they were loyal. 

For 70,00 Jews from France, their stopover to their unknown destination in the East was at Drancy (Marrus and Paxton 252).  Drancy was to become a critical link to Auschwitz and the German Final Solution; for it was from Drancy that 62 of the 74 convoys left France between March 27, 1942, and August 17, 1944 (Zuccotti 206).  All but six of these trains arrived at Auschwitz, carrying 73,853 Jews, a majority of whom were gassed upon arrival (Zuccotti 206). 

Drancy opened as an internment camp for Jews expected from Paris in August 1941 (Marrus and Paxton 252).  From its opening until July 1943, Drancy’s administration was run entirely by the French.  There was much debate between who should be responsibility for the running of the camp: no one wanted the job.  As Renée Poznanski describes it, Drancy was “first a synonym of terror, and later became an almost obligatory stop on the way to a sinister unknown destination”(Poznanski 215).

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Other Interesting Websites

Site for the Conservatoire Historique du Camp de Drancy

The Historic Conservitory of Drancy was established to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and the Jews who were deported to Auschwitz.  They have an interesting website, with information on the Drancy camp, such as the different periods of leadership and a short section summarizing the anti-Semitic discrimination in France.  However, the site is in French and the link to other languages are not active.  I also get the feeling that this site has not been updated recently because in addition to certain pages seeming incomplete, the prices to become an honorary member of the society are still listed in francs.

This website has a good presentation of “the Vichy Policy on Jewish Deportation” (the title of the web page).  It is written by Paul Webster who is also the author of Pétain’s Crime, a work on the Vichy period.  What I like about this site is that it is simple to understand and contains a lot of historical facts on the subject of Vichy and the Jews and it contains many links of other related information. 

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UCSB History 33d course homepage

History 33D web projects index page

Vichy France project page

Jews in France;
the Shield
the Final Solution

annotated bibliography;
list bibliography;
about the authors