In memory of the deported

16Jul09

Today is the anniversary of the “Vel’ D’Hiv” roundup. On June 16 1942, more than 12,000 Parisian Jews were arrested, herded into buses, and taken away.

About 7,000 of these innocent people ended up at the Vélodrome D’Hiver, where they spent five days without sanitation, and with almost no food or water. Then, they were sent to camps at Drancy, Beaune-la-Rolande and Pithiviers—and eventually, to extermination by the Nazis.

The French are still wrestling with their collective guilt. All over Paris, there are monuments and plaques honoring the memory of the deportees. One of these, which I saw in January on the Rue St. Jacques, tells an especially heartrending tale:

Deportation memorial

To the memory of the children, students of this school, deported from 1942 to 1944 because they were born Jewish, innocent victims of the Nazi barbarity with the active complicity of Vichy’s government. They were exterminated in the camps of death. We will never forget them.

In one of life’s strange coincidences, I saw that plaque only a few days after finishing Sarah’s Key, a book by Tatiana deRosnay that simultaneously unfolds two plots.

Skip the chapters that are set in modern times. But abandon yourself to the 1942 story that follows 10-year-old Sarah through her family’s arrest and her escape from Vel’ D’Hiv.

Although it’s fictional, Sarah’s Key puts a heartbreaking human face on that sad day, 67 years ago. I couldn’t help thinking of Sarah and her brother as I read the plaque on Rue St. Jacques.

During my last trip to Paris, I also visited the Musée de la Résistance, which honors the French citizens who quietly (and very courageously) fought back. I was moved to tears by the concentration camp victims’ notes and sketches.

In 1995, then-president Jacques Chirac finally acknowledged the French government’s complicity in the Holocaust. It was an important step toward forgiving, but I hope we never forget.

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
—George Santayana



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