French Moviegoers Come to Terms with Country’s Greatest Shame

Cet article a été publié dans FR2DAY en 2010 (this article was published in FR2DAY in 2010)


Newly released “La Rafle” (The Roundup) is making history by recounting one of the darkest events of France’s past; an event that the country tried for decades to forget and that marked the climax of the collaboration of the Vichy government with the German occupants. All people in the film, and all of the events, are based on true stories that director Roselyn Bosch gathered from people who survived the roundup.

One of these survivors is Nice resident, Anna Traube, who during an advanced screening at the Variétés last week recounted her ordeal.

Born in Lepizig to a Jewish-German dentist, Anna Traube was 20 years old when she was arrested in her family home during the July 16, 1942 raid in which French police – acting on instructions from the occupying Germans – began rounding up approximately 13,000 Jews in Paris and the nearby region. She was asked to take a blanket and enough food for two days.

Single people and couples without children went directly to the concentration camp of Drancy while the families were brought to the Vel d’Hiv where they stayed for six dreadful days before being sent to camps in the Loiret and later on to Auschwitz.

The Vel d’Hiv was an indoor cycling track located near the Eiffel Tower, which was used over the years for everything from bicycle races to boxing, circuses and concerts. According to some accounts, as many as 7,500 people were held there in scorching heat, with no lavatories, no place to sleep, very little water and almost no food.

68 years later Traube can still remember the awful smell, the cries of the babies, the children who played on the tracks, the hunger, the fear, the stretchers that carried the sick and the dead…

After 5 days, she knew she had to escape. Under false pretenses, she made her way to the Red Cross tent where a doctor told her to go see Gaston Roques, an engineer in charge of decontamination, who had already helped two other persons to escape.

Roques provided her with a false laissez-passer that bore a name that could not be more French, Yvette Baudoin. Traube tried to remain as calm as possible but when she passed through the second of the three mobile checkpoints that sealed the Vélodrome’s exit, she recognized among the three armed men, the guard who had propositioned with her just a few hours earlier. When Traube handed out her papers, she knew he had recognized her – in his eyes she saw a mixture of surprise and admiration – but after what seemed like an eternity, he let her go. Traube later found refuge with the Labattut family in Bois-Colombes.

Traube was not the only person who managed to escape thanks to the help of fellow Parisians. Before the roundup, a report from the “Renseignements Généraux”, the intelligence service of the French police, had stated that France was not anti-Semite enough to allow such an event to take place on its soil, which explains why nearly 11,000 out of the 24,000 Jews the Vichy government had planned to arrest, were saved, rescued or hidden by their countrymen. Still, 12,884 Jews were arrested in the roundup (4 051 children, 5 802 women and 3 031 men) and only 25 men came back from the death camps in Poland.

For decades the French government declined to apologize for the role of French policemen under the German occupation, but on 16 July 1995 President Chirac ruled it was time that France faced up to its past and acknowledged the role that the state had played in the persecution of Jews on its own territory.

Last weekend, Chirac wrote a column for the “Journal du Dimanche” in which he advised all French people to see the film, reminding everybody that “There is no great nation, no national cohesion, no possibility to take up world challenges, without memory.”


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