*** war and social upheaval: World War II -- the Holocaust in France French Holocaust Vichy complicity

The Holocaust in France (June 1940-August 1944)

Holocaust France
Figure 1.--This boy reprtedly was found still allive when the Americans liberated Buchenwald. We believe his name was Libermann, but we have no further details about him. He apparently was a German boy who escaped Germany to France before the War, but he and his family were deported after the German occupation of France. We do not know the circumstances. The photograpoh was taken on the front porch of the Chateau de Boucicaut in Fontenay Rose, France after the War (1947). This was a temporary childrens home for orphan Jewish boys opened November 1945 run by Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfanys (OSE). There parents had perished in the Holocaust. At the time the photo was taken, many of the boys had been placed, but there were approximately 50 boys living there. The Chateau was closed a short while later and promptly raised in the same year. The home was run for the more orthodox Jewish Boys. There is writing on the back of the photo in French and dated 1947.

France is unique among all the countries which experienced the Holocaust. France was the only defeated Allied country whose government actively assisted the NAZIs. After the French surrender. The Vichy authorities actively assisted the NAZIs track down and deport Jews. 【Eizenstat】 The first action taken against French Jews after the 1940 invasion was the expulsion from Alsace. To my knowledge, this was one of the very few non-lethal expulsions conducted by the NAZIs. Presumably the master plan for killing the Jews had not yet been fully worked out. Another early action involving German Jews was deporting Jews in Western Landen (Baden, the Saar, and the Palatinate), including some of the oldest German Jewish families, in October 1940 to camps in the French Pyrenees (Gurs, Noé, Récébédou, and Rivesaltes). Gurs was the largest. The death rate was very high because there were not even the most basic facilities. The camps were run by Vichy authorities. The killing of Dutch, Belgian and French Jews began in July 1942 when the death camps in Poland became operational. Vivian Fry, before American entered the War, worked tirelessly in Vichy to build up a rescue network working with the Emergency Resue Committee, a private relief organization. The NAZIs had inserted a "surrender on demand clause" in Article 5 of the Franco German Armistice of 1940. Fry succeeded in rescuing more than 1,500 artists, musicians, politicians, scientists, and writers, many but not all Jewish. The Germans make life a nightmare for French Jew, both in Vichy as well as the occupied area. Many French people risked their lives to protect Jews, including French people that were anti-semitic. One French girl recalls a priest who helped save her and her family describe how he disliked Jews, but saving them from the Germans was the "Christian thing" to do. 【Cohn】 Others assisted the Germans.

French Jews

Jews first reached France during the Roman era. There has been a continuing Jewish presence in France since that time. With the coming of Christianity, the Jewish community went through periods of both toleration and persecution depending on the policies of both the Church and the ruling monarch. The secularization of the French Revolution brought an era of toleration and emancipation. Even so there was a strong anti-Semitic element within France. even into the 20th century. Jews in the 19th and 20th century played a major role in French intellectual and commercial life.


France accommodated large numbers of refugees in the years leading up to World War II. The largest numbers came from the south--refugees from the Spanish Civil War. The Nationalists conquered Catalonia in a rapid campaign (January-February 1939). Madrid fell (March 1939). As Franco's Nationalists were shooting the men who fought for the Republic, large numbers of Republicans and there families sought refuge in France. An estimate 0.5 million Spaniards sought refuge in France. Many trekked through the high mountain passes of the Pyrenees (February 1939). Well before this, Jews has begun to seek refuge in France. Beginning with the NAZI take over in Germany (1933), Jews sought refuge in other countries. At first the NAZIs did not restrict Jewish emigration, they encouraged it. The problem for the Jews was finding a country willing to accept them. France was one of the most willing countries. As German persecution escalated, the numbers increased. The Austrian Auschluss and Kristalnacht increased the number of Jews seeking refuge. And Germany was not the only country persecuting Jews. Because of the numbers involved, the French began restricting immigration. Internment camps were set up for them. When France fell to the NAZIs (June 1940), more than 180,000 Jewish refugees were in France, many in internment camps.

Kindertransport (1938-39)

After the eruption of NAZI violence on Kristallnacht (November 1938), the British permitted 10,000 German, Austrian, and Czech Jewish children to seek safety in their country. The French did not open their borders to the children. It is no clear just why. One scholar points out that France had already admitted large numbers of Jewish refugees while Britain had not. The French were also overwhelming with refugees from the Spanish Civil War. 【Heim】 This may explain why there was no Kindertransport to France.

The Fall of France (June 1940)

The world was shocked when the German Panzers broke through the French lines on the Ardennes, crossed the Meuse and raced to the Channel. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and French units were forced to evacuate at Dunkirk. Paris fell and France asked for terms. Although under the terms of the Armistice, only part of France was occupied, provisions allowed the Germans to pursue any one they wanted even in the unoccupied or Vichy zone. This included Jews.

Unique Situation

France is unique among all the countries which experienced the Holocaust. France was the only defeated Allied country whose government signed an armistice with the NAZIs. Under the terms of that armistice, the Vichy Government had to cooperate with the Germans. The NAZIs had inserted a "surrender on demand clause" in Article 5 of the Franco German Armistice of 1940. The police and Vichy authorities actively assisted the NAZIs. After the French surrender. The Vichy authorities actively assisted the NAZIs track down and deport Jews. 【Eizenstat】

Alsace (July 1940)

The first action taken against French Jews after the 1940 invasion was the expulsion from Alsace. A large number of French Jews lived in Alsace. The province was to be incorporated into the Reich. To my knowledge, this was one of the very few non-lethal expulsions conducted by the NAZIs. Presumably the master plan for killing the Jews had not yet been fully worked out.

Vichy (1940-44)

The Pétain Government after signing the armistice with the NAZIs on June 22 set up a government in Vichy for the sector of southern France that was not occupied by the Germans. The Vichy regime in many ways cooperated with the NAZIs. The most shameful single act was Vichy assistance in rounding up over 80,000 foreign and French Jews as part of the Holocaust so they could be shipped to the death camps in Poland. Vichy even ran camps in France with appalling death rates. After the War some Vichy officials were executed and the Gaullists nurtured a myth that the great majority of the French people bravely resisted the Germans. Gaullist claimed that the French people never accepted the Vichy regime as a legitimate French Government. Gradually it has become increasingly clear that the bulk of the French people, shocked by the collapse of the French army and thinking that the War was lost, sought accomodation with the NAZI occupiers and looked upon Marshal Philippe Pétain with reverence. 【Curtis】 For years, any questioning of that myth was highly controversial. The film by Marcel Ophuls "Le chagrin et la pitié" (1969) was commissioned by French Government-controlled television, but the documentary on French life during the occupation proved so embarrassing that officials were afraid to broadcast it.


We do not have a good idea of just where French Jews and the foreign refugees were located in France. We think that there was a major concentration in the Paris area. This is, however, something on which we need more information. There was after the armistice an effort to reach the unoccupied zone. Many Jews believed that there they would have the protection of French law. One estimate suggests that as a result about half of the Jews in France were located in the unoccupied zone of Vichy. We suspect that many of the Jews wjo moved were the refugees which did not have property and community roots, but this is somethong else that needs to be confirmed.

French Concentration Camps

Refugee camps were set up before the War. Many were located in the south to house refugees from the Spanish Civil War. The camps also held Jewish refugees. Arthur Koestler, of Russian German origins, was held at Le Vernet close to the Spanish border, decribes the conditions there before the German invasion and Vichy in his novel, Scum of the Earth. He managed to esape by joining the Foreign Legion. Under Vichy control, conditions deteriorateed even further. An early action involving German Jews was NAZI deportations of ews in Western Landen (Baden, the Saar, and the Palatinate), including some of the oldest German Jewish families, in October 1940 to camps in the French Pyrenees (October 1940). (Gurs, Noé, Récébédou, and Rivesaltes). Gurs was the largest. The death rate was very high because there were not even the most basic facilities. The camps were run by Vichy authorities. An estimated 40,000 refugee Jews were held at these camps. Rhey were not NAZI concentration camps, but completely under Vichy control. A reported 3,000 died as aesult of conditions during the winters of 1940 and 1941.

Hiram Bingham IV (1904?-88)

One of the heroes in the sad history of the Holocaust in France is Hiram Bingham IV. That name will seem familiar to some readers because his father was he Hiram Bingham who discovered Machu Pichu (1911). He went on to serve as Republican govenor and senator for Connecticut. His son attended Yale and went on to enter the diplomatic service. He was posted to Marseilles, France as vice consul (1936). At the time tthis would have been comsidered a plum posting. This was just the time that war clouds began appearing in Europe. Bingham was still in Marseilles when France declared War (September 1939) and France fell (June 1940). Marseilles was in the unoccupied zone of Vichy. Jews were, however, not safe in the unoccupied zone. Vichy officials with various degrees of anti-Semitism and to court German favor, aggressively implemented anti-Semitic measures. Bingham did everything he could do to assist refugees including large numbers of Jews. It is believed he saved more than 2,000 lives. He issued travel visas as well as unauthorized American passports. He sheltered some refugees in his home and allowed those assisting the refugees use his home. One of the most revealing episodes was getting novelist Lion Feuchtwanger to safety. Bingham got him through German checkpoints by disguising him and providing with a fake passport. He managed to pass Feuchtwanger off as his mother-in-law. Others rescued by Bingham was noted abstract painter Marc Chagall and political philosopher Hannah Arendt. (It was Arendt who coined the phrase "the banality of evil".) This was in direct opposition to his instructions from the State Department in Washington which ordered diplomatic posts to restrict the flow of immigrants and refugees to the United States. Bingham worked without the knowledge of his superiors. The Consul General told him, "The Germans are going to win the war. Why should we do anything to offend them?" The Germans and Vichy officials soon learned of what Bingham was doing and complained to the U.S. Government. The State Department then revoked Vivian Fry's passport. (Fry and the American Emergency Rescue Committee was working closely with Bingham.) The State Department transferred Bingham to Portugal where he continued to assist refugees. Finally he was posted to Argentina. He caused further diplomatic problems there by turning up information on Argentine actions to give sanctuary to NAZI war criminals and war loot. When the State Department refused to take any action, Bingham resigned from the Foreign Service in protest (1946) even though he was only 4 years from earning his pension.

American Emergency Rescue Committee (1940-41)

Concerned Americans organized the American Emergency Rescue Committee to assist refugees (1940). They managed to convince President Roosevelt to authorized a few hundred visas for notable artists and intellectuals. Refugees were a difficult issue for the Roosevelt Administration. Eleanor in particular pushed her husband to do more. There was, however, considerable opposition in Congress to allowing refugees to enter America. And Congressional approval was needed by the Roosevelt to aid the Allies and re arm America. The Committee sent journalist and scholar Vivian Fry to France to assist Jewish and other refugees. Fry before American entered the War worked tirelessly in Vichy to build up a rescue network. Hiram Bingham proved crucial in Fry efforts because he provided travel documents that could only be issued by American diplomats. Fry succeeded in rescuing more than 1,500 artists, musicians, politicians, scientists, and writers, many but not all Jewish. After German and Vichy authorities complained to the State Department, American officials revoked his passport, forcing him to return to America (early 1941).

U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children: Operating in NAZI Occupied Europe

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) provided relief services in Germany during and after World War I. The AFSC was, as a result, respected or at least tolerated even by the NAZIs. America at the time was neurtral and both the NAZIs and Vichy wanted to maintain relations with the United States. Thus the AFSC was able to operate relief programs in unoccupied Vichy France. The AFSC worked with Jewish welfare agencies, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and provided assistance to Jewish refugees in France, Spain, and Portugal. Even after Hitler declared War on America (Decmber 1941), Vichy still maintained relations with the United states. AFSC's capabilities were limited. So they decided to save Jewish children from children's homes and refugee camps in southern France and get them to America. We are not sure how the children were selected. AFSC worked under the auspices of the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children (USCOM) (1941-42). After the Allied Torch Landingds (November 1942), it became impossible to operate in Vichy, but they could work in Spain and Portugal. USCOM managed to bring several hundred Jewish refugee children safely to America.

Anti-Jewish Measures

The Germans make life a nightmare for French Jews. Vichy officials do not appear to have resisted the NAZI demands and cooperated closely with NAZI officials. Thus anti-Jewish measures were introduced both in the German occupied areas and in the unoccupied Vichy areas area, although the time-table varied somewhat in the two areas.


The NAZIs acted quickly after their victory to begin persecuting French Jews. The first anti-Jewish measures were taken by Vichy (July 17). The Marchandeau Act prohibited antisemitism in the media. This was repealed (August 1940). The first major step was to legally define just who was Jewish. In France it had become a religious matter. To the NAZIs of course it was biological. A NAZI ordinance defined a Jew as an individual who belonged to the Jewish religion or who had more than two Jewish grandparents (September 27). This ordinance was issued by the military occupation authorities and thus covered the two-thirds of France (including Paris) that was occupied by the Germans. Despite autonomy from German policies, Pétain issued a Jewish Statute bringing Vicy law inconformance with the NAZIs (October 3). This was essentially the Vichy version of the NAZI Nuremberg Laws. This banned Jews from occupying certain positions and defining a Jew as an individual with three grandparents of the Jewish race or with two grandparents of that race if his/her spouse were Jewish. This at first applied only to "unoccupied" Vichy. Vichy's language was more comprehensive than the German occupation ordinance. (For example, a half-Jew who was not practicing Judaism was not classified Jewish by the Nazi ordinance, but was classified as Jewish by Vichy if he/she had married a Jew. 【Weisberg】 Pétain may have been eventually forced by the NAZIs to issue this decree, nut this is not what occurred. It was an action taken entirely independent of NAZI compulsion. Yhis provided the legal basis for removing Jews from the professions, show business, teaching, the civil service and journalism. It is difficult to know precisely why Pétain took this action, but deep-seated anti-Semitism on the part of Pétain and his advisers as well as a esire to curry favor with the NAZIs surely must have veen the key factors. Pétain and Hitler met at Montoire 3 weeks later (October 24-26). Hitler wanted Pétain to commit Vichy to the war with Britain and utimately his anti-Bolshevik crusade. We do not know if the Jews were discussed, The NAZIs had not yet decided on murder and rather were primarily interested in expelling Jews from Germany. The Germans deported 29,000 German Jews from Baden and the Rhineland (the Saar), and Alsace-Lorraine into Vichy (October 22). At the time NAZI planners were thinking about using the French colony of Madagascar as a African ghetto. Britain's continued resistance made this impossible.


Vichy established a Commissariat for Jewish Affairs (March 29). An intense propaganda campaign began against Jews. The Commissariat proceeded to 'aryanise' the property of French Jews, essentially confiscating it. Another Vichy law prohibited Jews from holding specified jobs not covered by the October 3, 1940 measure. This law applied to both the unoccupied and occupied zones. It defined a Jew as a person with at least three Jewish grandparents--or with two such grandparents if his/her spouse had two Jewish grandparents or if he/she were not a practicing Catholic or Protestant (June 2, 1941). The French legal establishment never denounced these anti-Semitic acts. Many lawyers and jurists argued definitional and procedural issues such as who had the burden of proving that a half-Jew was a practicing Christian. Even "liberal" jurists and attorneys seem to have fully accepted the measures as binding and sought to obtain rulings to benefit a few individuals. 【Weisberg】 Of course it is easy in the safety of the post-occupation world to make such indictments. It is unclear what would have happened if the legal profession had refused to accept the Vichy laws and just what dangers that would have posed. The June 2, 1941 law, in addition several additional administrative decrees, limited the number of Jewish lawyers to 2 percent of the attorneys inscribed in the Bar of each jurisdiction. There were "numerous clauses" of Vichy law which prevented Jewish attorneys from practicing. 【Weisberg】 Many were eventually arrested and transported to Auschwitz. Vichy authorities began seizing Jewish property (July). Jews were ordered to turn in their radios (August 8).


The laws and regulations to persecute the Jews were put in place during 1940-41 by both Vichyv and NAZI occupation authorities. The anti-Jewish efforts shifted in 1942 to rounding bup Jews. NAZI authorities required Jews in France to wear the Star of David (June 1, 1942). This was the sane time the NAZIs required Jews in several other countries (Belgium, Croatia, the Netherlands, Romania, and Slovakia) to wear these badges. As much as the NAZIs went on about festinctive facial characteristics, in fact a major problem they encountered was identifying Jews. There was no accident about the timing. The facilities for mass killing at the NAZI death camps in Poland were coming on line. The Jewish Stats facilitated identification and roundups so Jews could be deported to the death camps. Eichmann met with representatives from France, Belgium and Holland to coordinate deportation plans (June 11). After mid-1942, further anti-Jewish regulations were no longer needed. The primary task became rounding Jews up for deportation. The U.S. State Department granted permission for 5,000 Jewish children in France to enter the United States (September). The effort failed because the Vichy government did not issue needed exit papers. This was possible as late as October. Once America launched the Torch landings and Germany occupied Vichy, such a transfer was no longer possible.

Star of David Juif Badges (June 1942)

The Germans first introduced the Jewish badges in Poland (November 1939). They were slower to do the same in the Reich and Western Europe. They never even tried in Denmark. The French situation is complicated and we have not yet found any detailed description of the regulations issued in France. Most of the badges were yellow star of David badges with 'Juif' (the Fench word for Jew) in Hebrew style letters. The Germans had some difficulty enforcing the rwgulation in France. The Vichy authorities apparently refused to implement the order in the unoccupied zone, telling the Germans that the anti-Jewish measures they had already been implemented were sufficent and that such badges would 'shock' the French people. The Germans implemented the decree in occupied France (June 1942). (One source dates the legal degree to May 29, 1942.) This was done as the death camps in Poland became operational and the transports began from the West. The badges helped to make in easier to identify Jews. Many French Jews refused to wear the badge. And even in the occupied are, many French Jews could get away with not wearing the badge, esoecially if they did not look Jewish. One report suggesrs that some French non-Jews expressed their empathy for Jews by wearing stars, but we do not know how common this was and they risked being picked up once the deportations began. The French police did not enforce the decree. We do not yet have a coopy bif the decree. In many areas of NAZI-occupied Europe, children younger than about 10 years did not havec to wear them. We are not sure what the age rule was in France, but we have seen images of very young children wearing them. We also notice arm bands for children.

Joseph Barthelemy (1941-43)

The second Justice Minister in the Vichy Government was Joseph Barthélemy (1874-1945). He had been a liberal Catholic before the German occupation, a critic of the NAZIs and their anti-Semitism. As Justice Minister, he played an important role in drafting and administering the anti-semitic system. He worked closely with Xavier Vallat in writing ant-Semetic laws, notably the second Statute on Jews (1941). At the same time he is known to have intervened to assist individual Jews. 【Weisberg】 After the War he attempted to justify his actions by claiming that the Jews in pre-war France exerted influence beyond their actual numbers. Maurice Gabolde was appointed to replace Barthelemy (1943). Barthélemy contunued, however, to plat azprominant role in Vichy legal circles. He was chosen to lead the proceedings against Léon Blum in the Riom Trial for which the Germans einitually had high hopes. After the Liberation, the Provisional Government arrested him (October 1944). He subsequently had to be transferred to a hospital where he died of natural causes (1945).


We have not been able to find much information on what happened in French schools during the occupation. We have some limited information. France was very important for the Germans after their stunning victory (June 1940). The exploitation of the French economy was a major benefit to the German war economy, especially because the benefits expected from the East never materialized after the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). As a result, the Germans attempted to maintain stability by not interfearing in many areas. The French school system was left largely untouched. The schools opeated similarly in both th occupied and unoccupied zone. It continued largely unaffected in both the occupied and unoccupied zone. There were some limited few exceptions. Jewish teachers and professors were dismissed (October 1940). Mot of the curricula changes were in history. Some references to the Germans were edited. More attention was given to the mdieval era. Textbooks written by Jews were withdrawn. And work was added on morals. Vichy believed that France;s defeafet was due to the weakening of national character as a result of Socialist and pacifist education. 【Nettelbeckp, pp. 161-62.】 And there was more attention to physical education. The Government also promoted summer holiday camps for both public and catholic school children. What we are not sure is what happned to the school children. And here there is the complication that thee were large numbers of foreign Jews in France who had sought refuge before the War. Some lived in camps set up by the French. We are not sure if they attended French public schools before the War. Other refuges lived outside the camps. we are also unsure if they attnded public schools. We know that Jews were still in French schools at the time that Vichy and German authorities required that Jews where the Star of David badges (June 1942). One child at the time rembers being taunted by the other boys. His biography has been made into a film. We also know that some Jewish children were expelled from the schools in Vichy-controlled Algeria. We do not know to what extent the French Police or Gestapo used the schools to find Jews. Requiring Jews where the Star of David badges and the dpotatiins occurred at about thv same time. Once the roundups and deportations began, parents presumably began removing the children from the schools. There were instances where Jewish children were separated from their parents for security and sheltered in schools. The Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE) helped to support Jewish children, hiding many in homes and schools. 【Curtis, pp. 203-04.】 A factor here is the regulations requiring Jews to wear the yellow star of David badges which would make the Jewish childrden stand out.

French Anti-semitism

There was considerable anti-semitism in France, exposed by Emil Zola in his famed "J'acuse" editorial. This there were many French willing to assist the NAZIs track down Jews.


French Jews as in many other countries were vulnerable because they were no fully integrated into French society. In many cases, most of the close friends of French Jews were other Jews. Thus when they needed support, many had few gentile families to turn to. You could not just ask any one to hide you or assist. There were very stiff punishments for those cost hiding or assisting Jews.


Few French were aware of what happened to the Jews after they were arrested by the police. German behavior in France was much more correct than in Poland and Russia so it was not nearly as apparent that they were being murdered in Poland as it was to people in the East.

Commissariat General aux Questions Juives (General Commission for Jewish Affairs)

Vichy established the Commissariat General aux Questions Juives (CGQJ Commission for Jewish Affairs) to expedite actions against Jews, especially decisions as to whether a particular person was Jewish. It is unclear just what the purpose was. Crtainly the Vichy men wanted to please the Germans and to reduce the role of Jews in French life. Just how far thy intended to go is not entirely clear. The first Commisioner Xavier Vallat, a leader of the Catholic, anti-Semitic extreme right in pre-War French politics. People designated as Jewish were subject to having his/her property 'ayranized', meaning transferred to a non-Jewish provisional administrator or in practical terms stolen by Vichy authorities. Here jurisdictional disputes developed with the ordinary French law courts. 【Weisberg】 The SS considered Vallat too moderare. His Catholic orientation limited just how far he was prepared to go. The SS found a truly duspicable individual--Louis Darquier who styled himself, Louis Darquier de Pellepoix (May 1942). He was one of more vilinous NAZI collaborators. The SS was preparing the transports and mass killing of Jews at camps in Poland. They wanted simeone who would cooperate fully. An imprtant step in the Holocaust was robbing the victims before murder. His job was 'control' France's Jewish population, meaning to isolate French Jews, rob, and then concentrate them in preparation for transport east to death camps. 【Callil】 And in the process Darquier hekped himself to some of the looted Jewish property. He was fired when his "his greed and incompetence could no longer be countenanced". 【Fraser】 His actions against the Jews was not the problem. He was fired because he was taking toongreat oa share of their property.

Vichy Legal Net

After the War, Vichy officials claimed that the anti-Semitic laws forced on them by the NAZIs. If that was true then logically the regulations would be the same as the NAZI laws or less severe. In fact in many ways the legal system in Vichy was more severe than in NAZI Germany. One author reports that German officials were "annoyed" that the CGQJ often demanded that half-Jews desiring to be classified Aryan because he/she was a practicing Christian, had to prove that their baptismal records were valid. German authorities apparently wanted the CGQJ to assume that such documents were legitimate. NAZI authorities in the Reich generally refrained from deporting Jews married to Aryans. In one celebrated incident near the end of the War, Berlin Jews with German wives were arrested but later were released when their wives protested. Vichy authorities, however took actions against such individuals. If a person was classified a Jew, the French ethnicity of their spouse would not preclude them from being interned in a camp where Jews were deportable under Vichy law. Most of these cases involved non-citizens.

Economic Measures

Some courts assisted economically distressed Jews to obtain rent reductions. Vichy and German decrees impovrished Jews and looted their property. Aryan "administrateurs provisoires" took control of Jewish businesses, apartment buildings, and securities. Legally they were to serve as trustees but often the property was used by these trustees for their own purposes. Regulations blocked Jewish bank accounts so that money could not be withdrawn. Any legacies and inheritances had to be turned over to the "administrateur provisoire". 【Weisberg】

Vichy Police

The Vichy Police played a central role in the French Holocaust. It was the French police not the Germans that conduct most of the round-ups of Jews. This was the most difficult aspect of the Holocaust requiring the most manpower and the French police provided it. Without the Vichy police cooperation, the Germans would have had much more difficulty pursuing the Holocaust in France. It would have been much easier for Jews to hide. Notably the small French Army permitted under German occupation adamantly refused to cooperate. There was no such reluctance on the part of the police. There were some reluctance on the part of local officials to pick up French Jews, as opposed to the large numbers of foreign Jews who had sought refuge in France. Laval raised the issue of 'cosmopolitan' Jews. The involvement of the Vichy police is well-established because of the surviving documents. And this cooperation began well before the Germans moved into the Unoccupied Zone after Operation Torch (November 1942). Some of the police were even enthusiastic about the undertaking as the documentation shows. Soon after the Polish death camps were operational and prepared to receive large-scale transport, the French roundups began in earnest. The first step was to roundup and concentrate the Jews in temporary camps. Once this was done the large scale transports to the death camps could begin. They roundups were based on the addresses compiled in the December 1941 census. Many Hew, mostly men had already been confined in internment camps and labor battalions. Emigration visas were annulled. Laval also moved to prevent Jewish emigration which was already very difficult. Instructions came from the very top. Vichy Secretary General for the Police René Bousquet and Associate Director Henry Cado were at the center of the roundups. Bousquet ordered regional prefects to proceed with transfers to the occupied zone for deportation (August 22, 1942). Their orders were to 'liberate' their regions of foreign Jews. 【Curtis, p. 192.】 Caldo ordered the arrests and transfers to take place before September 15 (August 5). At first there were some exceptions: the elderly over 60 years old, children under 2 years, pregnant women, veterans, those wounded in the War, half Aryans, or Jews with an Aryan spouce. Shortly after these exemptions were cancelled and the police roundups commenced. A HBC reader writes to tell us that he believes that many policemen disliked these orderes. This is probably true, but we are unable to quantify this. It is also clear that many police officers did not object. Documentation shows how individual officers bragged about finding cash and valuables on the Jews being deported. Official police reports clinically reported on daily deportation counts, detailing men, women, and children. While assessing attitudes toward the orders received is difficult to assess with any precission, there is not doubt that the French police dutifully followed the orders received from Vichy and the German occupation authorities. We have not found accounts of police officials refusing to obey the roundup orders.


Vichy officials cooperated with the NAZIs in the roundup and confinement of Jews, both foreign and French Jews. This was facilitated by all the anti-Jewish measures promulgated warlier by both Vichy and Germanb occupation authorities. French police were responsible for the roundups. The roundups began soon after the Jews were forced to wear the Star of David Juif badges, The Police already had detailed records on Jews and where they lived. The badges made it even easier to riund of the Jews. Paris police conducted the first large arrests, arresting 3,747 men (May 1941). The mass arrests did not begin, however, until the German death camps in occupied Poland were fully operational. SS Councilor for Jewish Affairs, Theodor Dannecker, set out making good his vow to free France from Jews as quickly as possible. He demanded that Vichy, working with Pierre Laval, assist in the roundup and deportation of 32,000 Jews. Laval cooperated. Fascist Jacques Doriot and the Parti Populaire Français (French Popular Front--PPF) were delighted to assist the Germans of ridding France of its 'Jewish problem'. Paris police arrested 12,884 Jews (July 16, 1942). This included 4,501 children and 5,802 women. This action came to be called La Grande Rafle ('the big round-up'). A very moving film, 'The Round Up' provides an accurate depiction of events. They were interned in Vélodrome d'Hiver (Winter Velodrome), an indoor bicycle racing track and stadium pending deportment. The conditions were deplorable. There were no living facilities at the stadium, simply an enclosed space. A Paris lawyer, Georges Wellers, describes conditions in the camp, "All those wretched people lived five horrifying days in the enormous interior filled with deafening noise ... among the screams and cries of people who had gone mad, or the injured who tried to kill themselves'. A young Jewish univesity student who kwpt a jiurnal wrote, "... fifteen thousand men, women and childen at the Vélodrome d'Hiver , so crowded together they van onkynsquat, they get troden on. Not a drop of water , the Germans have cut off the water ahd gas mains. The ground has curned into sticky, gluey mud. Among them are sick people hauled out of hospitals, people with tuberculosis wearuing 'contagious' signs round their necks. Women are giving birth right there. No medical help. No medcines, no bamdages .... Theybwillmprobabky ball be deported. On Thursdy Mmw Carpentier saw twp goosds tarins at Dancy in which mwn and women had been stacked like cattle, without even straw for deportation." 【Berr】 It was in the summer and the windows were closed. They wee denined access to the bathrooms. The detainees were soon transported, becoming some of the first to die in the newly opened Auschwitz gas chambers. Vichy authorities arrested another 7,000 Jews (August 26-28, 1942).

Deportations (July 1942)

The killing of Dutch, Belgian, and French Jews began in July 1942 when the NAZI death camps in Poland became operational. Vichy officials assisted the NAZIs in these deportments. The first deportations took place on French state railways under French guard (March 12, 1942). The first deportations were the foreign refugees and not French-born Jews. The deportments are believed to have totaled 24,500 French Jews and 56,500 foreign Jews that had fled to France for safety. 【Curtis】


The German Holocaust was very carefully thought out. In General families were kept together unti transported o the death camps. This was because they were easily to managed as long as they were together in family groups. While this was the general pattern, it was not always the case. Work caps were set up fr men in several instance. and in France the process was more chaotic, in part because the French police were involved and because the Jews were not concentrated in small areas in preparation for the transports. A reader writes, "Occupied France was particularly cruel in this respect. French gendarmes happily did all the dirty work." 【Novitz】 A historian writes, "From France, deportations continued without pause. On 17 August 1942, among 997 mainly Polish-born Jews deported from Paris to Auschwitz, 27 were children under the age of four, almost all of whom had been born in France, and most of whom were deported without their parents." 【Gilbert Atlas】 Gilbert named each of the children. In one family there were seven children, the oldest of whom was 10 years old, and all had been born in Paris] "All 27 young children ... were gassed within hours of reaching Auschwitz." This deportation was, of course, from Drancy, a 'family camp' just outside Paris. Imagine the agony of parents as their children were dragged, screaming, out of their arms. The parents were killed later, also at Auschwitz. There are actually a number of examples of such extreme cruelty, where children were deliberately torn from parents prior to entering the cattle cars or sometimes trucks.


Drancy was originally a French police barracks outside Paris. The NAZIs turned it into a transit camp for Jews being deported. Unlike the earliest French camps which had been created for refugees from the Spanish Civil War, Drancy was created by the Vichy regime and was overseen by the French police. The first raids rounding up Jews were conducted by the French police (1941). They targeted foreign Jews. Those arrested were interned at Drancy. Evidence suggests that the French police mistreated those arrested and interned at Drancy. Conditions were poor. The camp was overcrowded. Sanitation was poor and food inadequate. Vichy authorities and the NAZIs deported about 77,000 mostly foreign Jews through Drancy (1941-44). One family of German Jews interned at Drancy were the Karliners. Most were deported to Auschwitz with the full knowledge and complicity of Vichy officials. Most of the Jews deported were killed in Auschwitz. Very few survived.

French Rail System

The French rail system as the rail system in other occupied countries played a key role in the NAZI Holocaust. Thousands of French Jews were deported over the French rail system. A French court in Toulouse ordered the State and the National Railroad Company (SNCF) to pay $80,000 to a Jewish family whose members were delivered to the World War II transit camp at Drancy, outside Paris. Jews there were deported to NAZI death camps in Poland. This was the first court case in which SNCF had been found liable for their role in the deportation of French Jews. The suit was brought by two brothers in 2001. They were arrested by the Gestapo and transported to Drancy in 1944, where they remained until it was liberated when the Allies reached Paris (August 1944). a few months later. According to the plaintiffs' lawyer, R� mi Rouquette, the Toulouse court found that the state did nothing "when it had a chance to" and that the railway did not object and in fact billed the state for third-class travel despite using freight and cattle cars to deport the Jews. 【Bernard】

French Complicity

Many French people besides the Vichy authorities cooperated with the NAZIs. There were rewards for informing on Jews and French people hiding Jews. Conditions were very difficult under German occupations. Not uncommonly French collaborators informed in Jews for the most seemingly inconsequential rewards. That was how the Gestapo found the Jewish boy in Au revoir les enfants--a true account.

Further American Efforts

After the Bingham mission (1940-41), there was some further American efforts to dave French Jews. The United States offered to accept Jewish children. Vichy autorities failed to issue exit bdocuments (1942). U.S. Congressman Emanuel Celler introduces a bill calling for allowing refugees in France who can prove they are facing persecution to enter the United States (September 1942). The bill is not reported out of committee. The Treasury Department prepared to issue a license allowing for the transfer of funds from American Jewish organizations to neutral Switzerland. The money would be used to help rescue French and Romanian Jews (July 16, 1943).

Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE)

Jewish doctors founded the Obshchetsvo Zdravookhraneniya Yevreyiev ( Organisation for the health protection of Jews--OZE) in Saint Petersburg, Russia just before World War I (1912). The goal was to help needy members of the Jewish population. OZE opened branches were established in other countries. World War I and the Russian Revolution transformed Russia. The Bolsheviks did not approve of private groupsorgabized outside the Connunust Party, even chariable groups. As a result of the interference by Bolshevik officials, the OZE relocated in Berlin where it received support from Germany's well-established Jewish community (1923). Albert Einstein lent his name to the organizatiin and became the honorary president. When Hitler and the NAZIs seized power, OZE adminisrators fled to France. It was renamed the �uvre de Secours aux Enfants (Society for Rescuing Children/Organization to Save the Children), retaining a similar acronym-OSE. The OSE during World War II, saved and aided many hundreds of mainly Jewish refugee children befdore the fall of Frnce. Ecen after the German vicyory (June 1940), OSE managed to hide many children from the German and Vichy police. OSE ran Children's Homes, often called 'Chateaux' but were mostly large country mansions. Jewish children of various ages, including infants, were cared for in the homes, after parents had to go into hiding or were deported to the death camps. OSE continued to be active after liberation (June-August 1944) in assisting Holocaust survivors.


Despite 3 years of NAZI occupation and the active complicity of the Vichy Government in the roundup and deportation of French Jews to NAZI death camps, somehow most French Jews survived. An estimated three-fourths of France's Jews, about 250,000 people, survived the Holocaust. The number which perished is terrible, but French Jews on the whole fared better than Jews in most of the rest of NAZI occupied Europe. Foreign Jews fared less well. This did not occur by accident. There appear to be several reasons for the relatively high survival rate. We can not assess just how important these fctors were, but we believe that all were of some importance. We welcome reader comments here. 1) Spain was a haven for Jews and France bordered Spain. Unlike Dutch Jews who were trapped, French Jews had an outlet. Two, most French people did not collaborate with the NAZIs and anti-Semitic Vichy officials. 2) One author attributes the high survival rate to "benign neglect". 【Zuccotti】 Most French men and women kept silent which allowed French Jews to blend in with the population, hide, or cross the Spanish border. Many Jews managed to obtain fake papers and ration cards. They survived by living quietly and taking odd jobs. Of course this was easier if one did not look obviously Jewish. This required the passive goodwill of French men and women who simply went their every day lives. There were also many French people who risked their lives to protect Jews, including French people that were not sympathetic to Jews or even overtly anti-semitic. 3) The Catholic Church did a great deal to save Jews and Vichy officials were suppotive and respectful of the Church. One French girl recalls a priest who helped save her and her family describe how he disliked Jews, but saving them from the Germans was the "Christian thing" to do. 【Cohn】 There are many heroic stories. Many French people and church groups took great risks to hide and protect Jews, particularly the children. There were many schools and other facilities, many run by the Catholic Church, that manged to successfully hide Jewish children. One such facility was L'école de plein air de Faïdol. The 3,000 residents of Le Chambon hid some 5,000 Jews in their homes. This was an act of great bravery with parents putting their entire family at risk. All it would have taken was one collaborator to turn them in to the Gestapo. 4) There were clandestine Jewish rescue organizations. The armed Jewish resistance groups often aided Jews. 5) France was a large country with substantial wilderness areas. Thus unlike the Netherlands there were places to hide. And when the Germans began conscripting workers, a substantial support system developed for those hiding from authorities. 5) While the French police was loyal to Vichy ad followed orders from Vichy, not all policemen supported the actions against Jews, especially French Jews. Thus some policemen did what they could such as leaking indormation about planned actions. We can not quantigy this, but it was a factor.

Personal Accounts

We have begun to collect individual accounts about the experiences of Jewish children in France. These individul accounts ae very important. Numbers, even lsrge numbers, do not convey what occuured. For that we need to know about the induividuals involved. And for France, we know a great deal about the individuals because unlike Poland and many other countries, there were many survivirs. In Poland, whole families and communities were murdered without a trace or survivors. In prticular many of the children wee saved. The children were the most vulnerable abd a NAZI priority target, but the Resistance was able to hide and save many children. Quite a number found safety in Vichy which was not occupied for over 2 years (November 1942). And the they faced the Milice and not just the Gestap. . And some mnaged to get to Switzerland. The Allies finally arrived (June 1944), but it took more than 2 months to fuly liberate thevcountry. We note harrowing accounts of French Jews and foreign Jews in France during the NAZI occupation. Here they faced both the NAZIs and the Vichy authorities who took actions against Jews without NAZI prompting. Without assistance from Vichy, hunting down Jews wouls have been more difficult.

Liberation of France (June-August 1944)

The salvation of the French Jews who managed to evade the Gestapo and Vichy French police was in the end only possible because of D-Day (June 6, 1944) and subsequent liberation of France (July-August 1944). For several weeks, the Germans bottled the Allies up in Normandy and the Bockage country. With the breakout through Operation Cobra, the major units of the Wehrmact were destroyed at Falaise or in full retreat. The landings along the southern coast introduced more Allied units into France. Paris was liberated (August 25). About 60,000 Jews were still in the city, half of them in hiding. The Allied armies pushed north, pursuing the Wehrmacht toward the borders of the Reich.


The Gauallist Myth that there was wide-spread ressistance in France to the Germans also included a reluctance to explore the extent to which the French collaborated in the Holocaust. That has finally changed. Beginning in 1995, President Jacques Chirac as well as important institutions like the Church, the police, several professional associations as well as the National Assembly have acknowledged the extent to which Vichy and French citizens collaborated with the NAZIs, including active participation in the Holocaust and the destruction of French and foreign Jews. France reluctantly after many years officially accepted France's active role in the Holocaust. The many post-War French governments had steadfastly refused to accept any responsibility for France concerning the Holocaust. President Jacques Chirac officially recognised the French state's responsibility in the deportation of French Jews, putting an end to decades of ambiguity and deninal by successive French governments (1995). The French Judiciary admitted for the first time in 2009 that the Vich regime (the offical French Government at the time) freely without being forced to by the NAZI occupiers sent thousands of Jews to the NAZI death camps. A Paris court had asked the Council of State for its opinion on a case brought by a the daughter of an Auschwitz deportee. The Council of State, France's highest judicial body, ruled that the Vichy government held 'responsibility' for deportations. It ruled that NAZI-occupation authorities did not force Vichy to 'betray' their fellow citizens. Rather the anti-Semitic persecution was carried out willingly. The Council asked for a 'solemn recognition of Vichy's responsibility and of collective prejudice suffered' by the deportees. 【Allen】


The Milices Patriotiques actively sought out collaborationists, executing about 10,000 men in extra-judicial proceedings. About one-third were executed before D-Day (June 1944). The rest were shot in the in the wake of advancing Allied armies after D-Day. DeGualle put a stop to this after he was able to set up a new French civil administration. Judicial proceedings in France were complicated because unlike many other countries in the NAZI Empire, Vichy was the legitimate governmentb of France, even recognized by the United states and mahy other countries. And thus many collaborationist acts were caried out under the authority of legitimate authorities. French courts sentenced 6.763 French citizens to death (1944-51). Only 791 men were actually executed. Many more were sentenced to what the French called 'national degradation'. Nearly 50,000 French citizens received this punishment. It did not entail prison and after a few years the most onerous aspects were ended. Not one Frenchan was convicted of crimes against humanity or what we now refer to as the Holocaust. The assumtion was that only the Germans were involved in such crimes. 【Judt, pp.46-47.】 There have been a few prosecution of collaborationists involved in Holocaust well after the War. Quite a number of Collaborationists joined the OAS terrorist movement during the Algerian War (1954-62). The trials after the War were porimarily collaborationists. It took much longer to procecute those who helped conduct the Holocaust, generally referred to as crimes against hummanity using the Nuremberg IMT terminology. These trials finally began in thw 1980s. The principal defendents were: Klaus Barbie, René Bousquet (head of the French police), Jean Leguay (Bousquet's deputy), Maurice Papon, and Paul Touvier. Bousquet and Leguay were convicted for their responsibilities in the rafle du Vel'd'hiv (Vel'd'Hiv raid) (July 1942). Jacques de Bernonville escaped to Québec, then Brazil. Jacques Ploncard d'Assac became an adviser to Salazar in Portugal. Bousquet was assassinated while he awaited prosecution in Paris following a 1989 charge for crimes against humanity (1993). He had been prosecuted after the war but had been acquitted in 1949. Paul Touvier was convicted of crimes against humanity. Maurice Papon was convicted of signing arrest warrants for large numbers of French Jews.(1998), but released 3 years later and died in 2007. His prosecution will probably be the final one. the last one.


Of all the occupied countries, France's role in the Holocaust is perhaps the most disappointing. Many French Jews survived because of the Church and the character of many individual French citizens. The role of the French (Vichy) Givernment and many other French officials and policemen, hiwever, was disgracefull. There is no doubt that Vichy pursued a 'complictious, pro-active role in Nazi projects, above all the Final Solution'. 【Judt】 The documentation is overweakming. The whole idea of Vichy was that the NAZIs had won the War and thus there was no choice but to work out the best deal for France by cooperating with the NAZIs. The very word "colaboration" was a French creation. Other occupied countries in the West had military rule imposed on them. Only France was left with a degree of self government and Vichy chose to cooperate with the NAZIs in the Holocaust. Sacrificing Jews was for Vichy a way of ingratiating themselkves with the Germans. One historian writes, "It is not that France behave the worst. It is that France mattered most." 【Judt】 And in the end it was a policy if immense stupidity. Vichy officials continued to misjudge tge character of Hiltler and the NAZI leadership. Even as Vichy worked diligently to collaborate with the Germans, NAZI functionaries were planning the destruction of France as a nation sdtate. The NAZIs planned to annex large areas of northern France in addition go Alsace-Loraine. And NAZI think tanls were prepring plahs to balcanize France so it would never again threaten Germany and make it esier to exploit a in post-War NAZI dominated Europe.

French Holocaust Records Released to Public (July 2012)

French authorities opened the The chilling archives of the largest deportation of French Jews to Germant for the first time (July 16, 2012). Selected items from the archives of the Paris Police Prefecture were put on display for public view for the first time. The exibition was chosen to coinside with the 70th anniversary of the infamous Vel' d'Hiv (Velodrome d'Hiver or Winter Velodrome) roundup by Paris Police of some 13,000 Jews over two days. The Vel' d'Hiv was located in the center of Paris close to the Eifel Tower. The Jews were held in apauling conditions and then bused to the Drancy station for deportation to the recently opened killing facility at Auschwitz. The documents show the level of collaborations between the French police and the Germans during World War II. Records on Jews were collected by the French police and the roundupd conducted by them and not the Germans. German authoritiies woukd have had to deploy a much larger force and resources to round up Jews if the French police had not cooperated. The chilling police records are being exhibited in the Paris Jewish district's city hall. The Paris Police compiled tallies listing the daily count of men, women and children detained, alongside stark black and white photographs of deportees. A registry of those forced to wear the yellow star and a Jewish census show how police knew who to take. They compilred meticulous handwritten lists detailing personal possessions the Paris Jews were force to hand over. Other police documnts list the value of property, such as jewelry, confiscated, often forcibly, during the deportation. And this all by the Paris Police, nit the Germans.


Allen, Peter. "France 'responsible' for holocaust deportations, court rules, " Telegraph.co.uk (February 26, 2009).

Bernard, Ariane, "Railway Fined For Holocaust Deportations." New York Times (June 7, 2006).

Berr, Hélène. Trans. David Bellos. The Journal of Hélène Berr (Weinstein Books, New York, NY, 2008.

Callil, Carmen. Bad Faith: A Firgotton Hisory of Family, Fatherlanf and Vichyvrance.

Cohn, Marthe with Windy Cohn. Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany (Harmony), 282p.

Curtis, Michael. Verdict on Vichy: Power and Prejudice in the Vichy France Regime (Arcade, 2003), 419p.

Eizenstat, Stuart. Imperfect Justice.

Frasier, Nicholas. "Toujours Vichy: a reckoning with disgrace," Harper's (October 2006), pp. 86�94.

Gilbert, Martin. Atlas of the Holocaust 4th Edition (Routledge: 2009).

Heim, Susanne. "Jewish emmigration and international refugee policy: The situation of children," Children and the Holocaust: Symposium, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, April 3, 2003.

Judt, Tony. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Penguin Press, 2005), 878p.

Nettelbeck, Colin. "A forgotten zone of memory? French primary school children and the history of the occupation," French History and Civilization, pp. 157-66.

Novitz, Sheila.E-mail message, Aoril 5, 2014.

Tangy, Jacques. "Freed by the bravery of others," The Washington Post May 28, 2004, p. W13.

Weisberg, Richard H. Vichy Law and the Holocaust in France (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 447 p.

Winnik, Jannette. E-mail message, April 8, 2003.

Zuccotti, Susan. The Holocaust, the French, and the Jews.


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Created: January 14, 2003
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