On July 22, François Hollande delivered a speech commemorating the Vel d'Hiv Roundup, a "Nazi decreed raid and mass arrest in Paris by the French police on 16 and 17 July 1942 (…) The name of the event is derived from the nickname of the Vélodrome d'Hiver ("Winter Velodrome"), a bicycle velodrome and stadium where many of the victims were temporarily confined. The roundup was one of several aimed at reducing the Jewish population in occupied France. According to records of the Préfecture de Police, 13,152 victims were arrested and held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver and the Drancy internment camp nearby, then shipped by railway transports to Auschwitz for extermination. French President Jacques Chirac apologized in 1995 for the complicit role that French policemen and civil servants served in the raid." (Wikipedia)
François Hollande did not follow in the footsteps of his fellow Socialist François Mitterand who, on July 16, 1992, had refused to acknowledge the responsibility of the French Republic, judging instead that only Free France was the legitimate France at the time. Instead, Hollande chose to second Jacques Chirac. (Le Figaro)
François Hollande's speech has aroused emotions and consternation from those who, in line with Mitterand's view, regard the actions of the French police in this affair as being the consequence of the Occupation. However, the opposite reaction prevails at many message boards I have seen, namely that there is no saving grace in the Vichy government. Numerous articles online discuss the speech and its repercussions. In the following analysis from the subscription-required website Hérodote, French-Israeli historian Alain Michel points out seven errors committed by the president in his July 22 speech (Hollande's words are in red):
1 - François Hollande: A clear directive had been given by the Vichy administration: "Children must not leave in the same convoys as the parents."
- Alain Michel: The way in which the president presents the facts (the separation of children from their parents in the camps in le Loiret before deportation) is doubly erroneous.
First of all, it was not a directive from the collaborationist government of Vichy. The organization of the deportation was the fruit of a dialogue and a cooperation between the police administration of the "occupied zone" and the German authorities, to be precise: the representatives of Eichmann in Paris. There was no intervention from Vichy on this question.
Furthermore, the decision to deport children came from the Germans and the separation of the parents from the children stemmed from their need to have the convoys depart though they still did not have authorization from Berlin to send the children, To sum up, the police of the "occupied zone" applied German directives.
2 - François Hollande: I must recall the words that the Great Rabbi of France, Jacob Kaplan addressed to Marshall Pétain in October 1940, after the promulgation of the odious statute of the Jews: "Victims," he wrote, "of measures that attack our dignity as men and our honor as Frenchmen, we express our profound faith in the spirit of justice of Eternal France…"
- Alain Michel: Let me clarify that Jacob Kaplan did not become Grand Rabbi of France until 1954.
But especially, his declaration of patriotic attachment has nothing to do with the raid of 1942. First because the Final Solution did not yet exist in 1940 and what troubled Jacob Kaplan then was French antisemitism; secondly, because under pressure from the Vichy government, no adult Frenchman (or Algerian) was arrested during the raid of July 1942, while Jacob Kaplan, in his declaration of love for France, speaks on behalf of French Jews and them alone.
Note: The Vichy government made the decision to persuade the Germans to spare French Jews in this and other raids, but to sacrifice non-French Jews, many of whom had fled to France to escape the Nazis. This has led many to praise Marshall Pétain, while others have no patience with any attempt to whitewash Vichy. So in 1940 Kaplan was speaking on behalf of French Jews only, and on July 16, 1942, no French Jew was rounded-up. Therefore, according to Alain Michel, Hollande was wrong to try to link the two dates as evidence of wrong-doing on the part of Vichy.
Before going on, this article from Hérodote has about 141 comments, many of them fascinating. Those of you who subscribe may want to browse through them, although I'm sure you have heard all this before.
One thing that I must point out is that French people today live in terror of engendering another Vichy-style calamity by deporting Muslims, as they deported Jews. This comparison is entirely fallacious, since Islam represents a civilizational threat to France, while the European Jews of 1942 were deeply rooted in their host countries. Judaism then as now presented no threat to the existence of France or to any other nation, despite attempts by antisemites to hold Jews responsible for all the world's evils.
3 - François Hollande: The truth is that the French police, based on lists that it had drawn up itself, took on the task of arresting thousands of innocent people caught in a trap on July 16, 1942. The French gendarmerie escorted them to the concentration camps. The truth is that not one German soldier, not one, was mobilized for the operation. The truth is, it was a crime committed in France by France.
- Alain Michel: There is confusion in the fact that the French police of the "occupied zone" established lists in October 1940 on orders from the Germans and not on its own initiative as the sentence seems to suggest.
German soldiers, it is true, were never mobilized in France to arrest the Jews. The Gestapo knew well before the raid that it could count on the obedience of the police of the northern zone, in accordance with the Hague convention and the armistice convention. More than 8000 Jews had already been arrested in 1941 in the Parisian region and the Germans had always used the French police for these raids.
To sum up, the president might have said: "The truth is that this crime was committed in France by Nazis with the complicity of the police and the French administrators."
Note: The Jews arrested in 1941, again, were not French. The photo below shows them, in May 1941, boarding trains for the camps in Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande. From Hérodote.
4 - François Hollande: Honor was saved by the Just, and beyond that by all who were able to rise up against barbarity, by those anonymous heros who hid a neighbor here, helped another there, who risked their lives to spare the lives of the innocent, by all those Frenchmen who allowed three-quarters of the Jews of France to survive.
- Alain Michel: This affirmation is incomplete in so far as it was not only the Just and the anonymous heros who saved three-quarters of French Jews, but also the actions and political choices of the Vichy government which, by trying to protect French Jews (and abandoning to their fate Jews of foreign origin) slowed down considerably the German machine of destruction (see the works of historians Léon Poliakov and Raul Hilberg).
5 - François Hollande: The honor of France was symbolized by general de Gaulle who arose on June 18, 1940 to continue the fight.
- Alain Michel: It is not fitting, in a ceremony devoted to the persecution of Jews, to cite general de Gaulle who said nothing and did nothing during the Second World War to encourage the French to save the Jews. He would have done better to cite men of the Church like cardinal Saliège.
6 - François Hollande: The honor of France was defended by the Resistance, this army in the shadows that refused to resign itself to shame and defeat.
- Alain Michel: Likewise, the Resistance, as an organism, did and said nothing to save the Jews or to encourage that others save them, with the exception of Témoignage chrétien and Jewish resistance movements (both Communist and community-oriented). It is true that some resistance fighters, as individuals, saved some Jews, but never on orders from their movement.
Note: Témoignage chrétien is a weekly Christian journal founded during the Occupation. It urged France to save her soul and to rise up against the Nazis in the name of Christian values. The journal is still published today, and is open to left-wing influences, including pro-Palestinian tendencies. (See French Wikipedia)
At a time when France needs desperately to rise up again to save her soul, this journal is not providing much of an encouragement.
7 - François Hollande: The challenge is to fight relentlessly against all forms of falsification of History. Not only against the outrage of denial, but also against the lure of relativism.
- Alain Michel: The president places "denial," which is denying the evidence (of the reality of the holocaust) and is thus anti-history, on the same plane with those historians who revise certain ideological interpretations putting into perspective what happened in France with what happened elsewhere in Europe. This confusion between "negationism" and "relativism" is no doubt excessive and, who knows? could stymie historical research.
Note: As I indicated there is an outpouring of opinions on Hollande's speech and on this particular article by Alain Michel. Since the topic is far too complex to discuss, and since my historical knowledge is meager, here in conclusion is a comment by Alain Michel to angry comments sent by readers of Hérodote:
A few remarks from the author. For me, this is not about "exonerating" Vichy, but about showing what its responsibilities were, and where they stop. Unfortunately, in terms of responsibility, the French have gotten into the entrenched habit of an automatic condemnation, without balance, and often to the detriment of the facts. The period of the Occupation was a troubled one, where there were no 100% "good choices". Thus it is evident that, morally, the choice to go to London was the right one, but in terms of the fate of the Jews, Free France did not save a single one. On the other hand, if the choices of Vichy are problematical, it managed nonetheless to protect some Jews. History is not written in black and white!
For me, the main point to be retained about Hollande's speech is that he chose this moment in time, when France is hovering between life and death, between resistance against a new enemy and apathetic capitulation, to once again chastise, shame and burden the people with unjustified guilt. French leaders of post-Western France have become adept at discouraging feelings of national pride, and at suppressing any residual carnal tie to the homeland and to the two-thousand years of glorious heritage that may still lurk in the hearts of Frenchmen. "Repent" they say, and yet they feel no repentance for their own personal immorality or the steady dismantling of the laws, values and principles on which the country they rule was founded.
For those interested, Alain Michel has a separate blog on Vichy and the holocaust.
Riposte Laïque also has a long webpage devoted to the inadequacy of the speech.
Labels: Anti-Semitism, Charles de Gaulle, François Hollande, François Mitterrand, History, Intellectual Terrorism, Jacques Chirac, Jews, Philippe Pétain, Repentance, WW ll