Place des Martyrs Juifs du Vélodrome d'Hiver
In this upper-middle-class neighborhood of high-rise apartment buildings and plenty of parks, you won't find anything of Jewish historical interest-except for one monument near the Bir-Hakeim bridge, between the quai de Grenelle and the quai Branly. It was nearby, on the rue Nélaton, that the huge Vélodrome d'Hiver (known then and now as the Vél d'Hiv) was located. An indoor stadium used for six-day bicycle races, concerts, boxing matches, and other events, it was, from 1942 until its demolition in 1958, one of the most infamous places in all Paris.
La Grande Rafle was the name given to the main roundup of all the Jews in Paris. Early on the morning of July 16, 1942, the French police, acting under orders from the German Gestapo, wrenched over thirteen thousand Jewish men, women, and children from their beds. Most of the adults were sent directly to the camp at Drancy, while parents with children went to the Vél d'Hiv. And it didn't stop then. For the next two days the French police canvassed the city with buses, picking up Jews and taking them to the stadium.
Conditions inside the Vél d'Hiv were horrendous: it was hot, there were no toilet facilities, and there was little food and no place to sleep. For six days amidst mounting panic, the horrified prisoners endured physical indignity while the French police stood by.
The place des Martyrs Juifs du Vélodrome d'Hiver was dedicated on July 17, 1994. Each year now a ceremony commemorates the shameful incident. It was here, in 1995, that President Jacques Chirac, who had just been elected to office, officially acknowledging* France's complicity in the murder and deportation of the Jews of Europe.
© 2001 Kamins, Toni L. The Complete Jewish Guide to France. New York : St. Martin's Press.
* From President Jacques Chirac's address (1995)
"These black hours will stain our history for ever and are an injury to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal madness of the occupant was supported ('secondée') by the French, by the French state. Fifty-three years ago, on 16 July 1942, 450 policemen and gendarmes, French, under the authority of their leaders, obeyed the demands of the Nazis. That day, in the capital and the Paris region, nearly 10,000 Jewish men, women and children were arrested at home, in the early hours of the morning, and assembled at police stations... France, home of the Enlightenment and the Rights of Man, land of welcome and asylum, France committed that day the irreparable. Breaking its word, it delivered those it protected to their executioners."
Text courtesy of Présidence de la République (http://www.elysee.fr)
The French Republic
in homage to the victims of racist and anti-Semitic persecution
and of crimes against humanity
committed under the de facto authority of the so-called
"government of the French state" 1940-1944