Survivors of the largest raid against Jews in France: “We hope that young people will remember history” | International

As a child, the Parisian Arlette Testyler was always told by her father, a Jew of Polish origin, that if she had any problems, she should look for a policeman. After all, they were in France, “the country of Voltaire, of Zola, of human rights”, the woman recalls at her 89 years. Everything changed with the Nazi occupation in 1940 and the collusion of the Vichy regime. In 1942, the largest anti-Semitic raid in Western Europe during World War II took place in Paris: almost 13,000 Jews, most of them women and children like Arlette, were arrested between July 16 and 17 in the so-called Vel d’Hiv raid. , the Winter Velodrome in Paris, an operation coordinated by the French collaborationist authorities and carried out by 4,500 French police officers. It was a stain that France took five decades to face.

It was not until Jacques Chirac, in 1995, that a president recognized the responsibility of the French State in the anti-Semitic action. Now marks the 80th anniversary of the raid and 27 of Chirac’s speech with the fear, among survivors and historians, that the temptation of historical revisionism and latent anti-Semitism in society will lead to a dangerous trivialization of history when there are fewer and fewer Witnesses to this tragedy.

“We cannot take anything for granted,” warns EL PAÍS Olivier Lalieu, historian of the Paris Shoah Memorial, the largest archive center in Europe on the genocide committed by the Nazis. And there are very recent warning signs, he recalls in reference to the statements of former far-right presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, who maintained during the electoral campaign that the Vichy regime “protected French Jews”, for which he decided to hand over foreigners . “The last elections show us that the falsification of history, political instrumentalization, is always possible. Hence our permanent fight for memory, history, transmission, education”, says Lalieu.

In the early morning of July 16, 1942, nine-year-old Arlette Testyler, her sister, and her mother were arrested by two French policemen at their home in Paris. His father had already been arrested in 1941, in another raid that affected only Jewish men: the so-called greenback raid, referring to the color of the circular by which foreign Jews who had taken refuge in Paris were summoned to present themselves for a routine documentation check. Those who did were arrested and eventually deported. Arlette’s father died in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. A year later, months after the Wannsee conference where the Nazi regime organized the “final solution to the Jewish question”, that is, its total extermination, people of all sexes and ages would fall in the new Paris roundup, whom they the French authorities had just ordered, also following the instructions of the Nazi occupiers, to wear the ignominious Jewish star.

On the afternoon of July 17, at the official end of the raid, the balance is 12,884 Jews detained: 3,031 men, 5,802 women and 4,051 children under 16 years of age, the majority born in France, which in principle contravened what was agreed, points out one of the main historians of the Vel d’Hiv, Laurent Joly. In the following days, the figure will rise to 13,152 detainees. Singles and couples without children are transferred directly to the Drancy camp, on the outskirts of Paris. Families end up at the Velodrome d’Hiver, a popular sports center next to the Eiffel Tower. They will remain there for several days in ignominious conditions, recalls Testyler, until they are also redirected to various camps, including Pithiviers, a hundred kilometers from the capital. She managed to flee from there. Most were less lucky.

The Vel d’Hiv raid was the first step towards death. Almost all of the detainees ended up, sooner or later, in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Only from the Pithiviers train station, where this Sunday the French president, Emmanuel Macron, will inaugurate a new memorial, 8,100 Jews were deported. In all, between July 17 and September 30, 1942, 33,000 Jews—3,000 a week—were transferred from France to the dreaded Nazi camp on Polish soil. Very few returned.

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The French State did not recognize its responsibility until half a century later. “Yes, the criminal madness of the occupier was seconded by the French, by the French state. France, homeland of the Enlightenment, of human rights, did the irreparable that day. Going back on his word, he handed over his protégés to the executioners”, Chirac declared in 1995. Many, too many, still question his words.

Hence, Macron is going to commemorate this Sunday the 80th anniversary of Vel d’Hiv with the aim, according to the Elysee, of forcefully refuting revisionist temptations and a still latent anti-Semitism: this summer, the city of Avignon removed a mural depicting Macron as a puppet dressed as Pinocchio and managed by political adviser Jacques Attali, of Jewish origin, after associations and politicians denounced the multiple anti-Semitic and conspiracy signs of the work.

“Anti-Semitism continues to lurk, sometimes insidiously, and that is very worrying,” says the Elysee. Added to this is the fact that, in recent years, “a new type of historical revisionism” has emerged, which means that “it is necessary to fight again” these tendencies, considers the French presidency.

The problem is not just French. UNESCO and the United Nations presented this week a report on the great impact of “Holocaust denial and distortion” on social networks. On Telegram, it becomes “massive”: almost half (49%) of the public content related to the Holocaust on this platform denies or distorts the facts. A percentage that rises to more than 80% in the case of messages in German and around 50% in English and French. On other platforms —Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, TikTok and Twitter were studied— that have content moderators, denialism also exists, although in a more contained way (19% on Twitter, 17% on TikTok, 8% on Facebook and 3 % On Instagram).

Two women at the Shoah Memorial on Monday.
Two women at the Shoah Memorial on Monday.GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT (AFP)

“Given the increase in anti-Semitism, racism, attempts to falsify history that we have witnessed during the electoral campaign, in the face of the explosion of conspiracy theories for years now on the French and international political landscape, we have a lot work to be done”, says the director of the Shoah Memorial, Jacques Fredj.

Like Arlette Testyler, Rachel Jedinak’s parents also died at Auschwitz, a fate she escaped because she managed to escape during her arrest on July 16, 1942. She can’t hide her frustration. “What else can I do?” Jedinak, 88, asked this newspaper during the visit, on the eve of its inauguration, of the Pithiviers memorial. She has written a book Nous n’étions que des enfants (we were just children) about the terrible conditions of Jewish minors at the time and is the promoter of the plaques that today commemorate the schoolchildren who were deported in every school in France.

Faced with the shared fear that the revisionists will triumph, Jedinak and Testyler continue to give talks in schools and institutes. “We are the last witnesses. I hope that the young people to whom we have told our story will remember and, for their part, pass it on,” says Jedinak. “We are the dinosaurs of the Shoah. After us, there will be no one left”, agrees Testyler. But, he adds, “if only 10% of those students say, one day, in front of the deniers, ‘I’ve seen them, I’ve talked to them, they existed’, we will have done something useful.”

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