On July 22 the president of France Francoise Hollande will deliver a commemoration speech at the Paris site of the 1942 roundup of French Jews in remembrance of the tragedy’s seventieth anniversary. This is the first time in seventeen years that a French president will speak about the Vel D’Hiv roundup after Jacques Chirac’s historic apology for France’s complicit role in the mass raid, according to French newspaper Le Monde.
On July 16, 1942 over 13,000 Parisian Jews were forcefully gathered in a mass raid by French police at the Velodrome d’Hiver (French for “The Winter Velodrome)”, an indoor bicycle and sports stadium that had once held the 1924 Summer Olympics. After being temporarily detained there, the victims were deported to death camps, including Auschwitz, for extermination. Around one hundred people are known to have survived and only a handful of children. The roundup at Vel D’Hiv is considered to be Vichy France’s largest mass raid on Jews during World War II.
By and large, France has only recently been overcoming its resistance to admitting its role in the Holocaust. Before Chirac’s 1995 historic speech, the French government refused for decades to apologize for the French policemen’s roles in the roundup. Since the 1990s, there has been a growth of Holocaust studies in France, especially after a 1997 circular gave access to World War II archives which have been instrumental in Holocaust research.
Educators in France also believe that Holocaust studies are effectively taught in their school’s curriculum. ”I think the transmission [of events] is done well,” said Hubert Tison, general secretary of France’s history teachers association, to RFI. “It’s true these events should be treated as key dates in our national history, but the subject is no longer taboo. I think it’s being effectively taught, but maybe there’s still work to be done before it takes root in our collective memory.”
On Monday a new exhibition on the mass raid called “The Vel d’Hiv raid: the police archives” opened at city hall in Paris’ third arrondissement in time for its 70th anniversary, according to France’s 24 News.
Rabbi Moché Lewin, spokesperson for the Chief Rabbi of France, told RFI that the commemoration of Vel d’Hiv “is necessary for the well-being of humanity itself, and to assure that a barbaric ideology does not develop [in France] in the future.”