A Michelin Noir
Histories of France during World War II usually mention the “Vel d’Hiv” roundup of July 16, 1942. On that and the following day, 9,000 French policemen, acting on the orders of their national chief, René Bousquet, blanketed Paris in search of foreign-born Jews. They went door-to-door in apartment buildings and bed-to-bed in hospitals, carting off on stretchers those who could not walk and then sweeping the streets and the cafés. The 12,884 arrestees were confined in the Velodrome d’Hiver sports arena for five days, then sorted out and sent to one of five concentration camps, most within a few kilometers of Paris: Pithiviers, Beaune-la-Rolonde, Compiègne, Rieucros, or Drancy, a way-station to Auschwitz. The roundup was a very public event, and the initial internment was in a very public place. The Vel d’Hiv is on a busy street: the Jews jammed into it had little food or water and less in the way of toilet facilities; the crying of the 4,051 infants and children was audible to every passerby.
Confronted by this hubbub, the French public did nothing. Neither, by and large, did the intellectuals: Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were in Paris then, along with a host of other luminaries, yet Vel d’Hiv is mentioned neither in their voluminous correspondence nor in their published diaries. Today this reticence may seem strange—doubly so, since in 1942 the German boot rested relatively lightly on conquered France, and some expression of protest or sympathy would not have been unthinkable.
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