When Past is Present

Written on August 10, 2012 by Banafsheh Farhangmehr in Arts & Cultures & Societies

PARIS — It was planned by German and French officials for July 14, 1942, until someone realized that Bastille Day might not be the best moment for a massive roundup of Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris.

Two days later, the operation went ahead, with 4,500 French police and gendarmes seeking out foreign-born Jews at the addresses they had registered with the French authorities. By late afternoon on July 17, 12,884 Jews, including 4,051 children, had been arrested and, for the most part, locked into an insalubrious cycling stadium, the Vélodrome d’Hiver, or Vél’ d’Hiv. All but a handful would be sent to their deaths in Auschwitz.

For most of us, memories gradually fade. With France’s wartime persecution of Jews, the opposite is happening. For years, it barely existed as a memory. Yet, thanks to the work of scholars, lawyers, artists and a handful of politicians, awareness of this deep stain on modern French history continues to grow.

This week’s 70th anniversary of La rafle du Vél’ d’Hiv, as the round-up is known, is the latest reminder of a past that resists burial. And with it come fresh opportunities to underline the perils of racial and religious intolerance, then and now.

An exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, the city hall, publicized in posters across the city, dwells on the 11,400 children, half from Paris, who were among the 76,000 Jews deported during the 1940-44 occupation.

Among the displays are teenagers’ identity cards stamped “JUIF” and photographs of Jewish families prior to their arrest, as well as letters and drawings sent from transit camps by children soon to be deported. In one log of 10 pupils at a Paris primary school, “déporté” is scribbled beside four names.

Continue reading in The New York Times


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