La Rafle (The Roundup)

In thinking of the lives never allowed to blossom, of those children deprived of a future, those destinies cut short, we must raise still further the demands we make of our own lives. By refusing indifference, neglect, and complacency, we shall make ourselves stronger together. Francois Hollande

The French film La Rafle begins with the roundup of 13,000 Jewish men, women and children at 4 AM on the morning of July 16, 1942 in Nazi occupied Paris, by members of the collaborating French police.

They were taken to a transit camp at Drancy in the suburbs of Paris or a huge bicycle track (Velodrome d’Hiver) where they remained for several days without food and water. Of these 13,000 individuals only 100 are believed to have survived.

The German directive to the French police read: “The teams charged with the arrests will have to proceed with the most possible speed, without useless words and without comment. Furthermore, at the moment of the arrest, the well-foundedness or ill-foundedness of this arrest is not to be discussed.”

Originally the Germans had ordered the arrest of 25,000 French Jews. The fact that only half that number were rounded up reflects the courage of those French citizens who hid at least 10,000 of their Jewish friends and neighbors.

Nevertheless, the police arrested 3,118 men, 5,919 women, and 4,115 children. Eventually these 13,152 Jewish citizens of France were taken by train (cattle cars) with their families to a transit camp closer to Germany. Then they were transferred to Auschwitz in Poland, this time separated from their families, with men in one set of cars, women in another, and children in the third,

The horrors of life in Auschwitz, the brutality of the German guards and subsequent gassing of the Jews in the crematorium are too grim to be recounted here. The film focuses on the treatment of the sick and emaciated Jews, and the terror of the children as they are separated from their mother and father. It also centers on one child who somehow managed to escape from the camp, wend his way back to Paris, only to learn that everyone in his family has been killed.

The child, Joseph Weisman, now 80, believes it is time for the French to speak out on the fate of these wartime Jews. For the most part, the police and leaders of France have resisted a public acknowledgment of these events. Most of the records of the raids were destroyed after the war and only recently have the surviving records of one police station been discovered.

Wiseman says, “When I speak about it, it suffocates me, chokes me. It’s important to tell this story to the youth of today. It is they who will write the story of tomorrow.”

The appearance of La Rafle coincides with the 70th Anniversary of the mass arrests. While not the first public acknowledgment of the government’s role in the roundup, last month there were a series of public commemorations, including museum exhibitions and an address by President Francois Hollande.

The director of the film Rose Bosch, wrote: “La Rafle is a truthful account of events that took place on that morning in July 1942. Having experienced so many horrible things around the world when I was a journalist, I was angered by the fact that children were always on the front line. I was going to tell this story from the children’s point of view, the point of view of a group of real life children who experienced all this in Paris in 1942.”