Remembering the Vel’ D’Hiv Roundup
July 31, 2012
French President François Hollande recently spoke in Paris commemorating the 70th anniversary of what is known as the “Vel’ d’Hiv roundup”—two days when about 13,000 Jews were arrested in Paris and taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver, an indoor cycling stadium. There they spent several days in horrendous sanitary conditions before being separated from their families, transported to internment camps, and shipped east to concentration camps and killing centers.
After he spoke, Hollande met with survivors of the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup. As the survivors flocked the president, Michel Sztulzaft handed him a book, Je Vous Écris du Vel’ d'Hiv–Les Lettres Retrouvées (I’m Writing From the Vel’ d’Hiv—Letters Found). Sztulzaft is well known to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Shortly after the Museum’s Remember Me? website launched in March 2011, Sztulzaft recognized himself in one of the photos. Sztulzaft, whose mother was pregnant with him when she was imprisoned at the Vel’odrome before being rescued by a neighbor, is active in French survivor organizations. He attended Hollande’s speech as a representative of the Association des Amis de la Commission Centrale de L’Enfance, an organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the CCE, which aided Jewish children in the decades after the Holocaust.
The Vel’ d’Hiv roundup was a turning point in the Holocaust in France. Prior to July 1942, only Jewish men had been sent to internment camps. But men, women, children, and the elderly were held captive in the Vel’odrome before being sent to their deaths, and it was French police, not Germans, who rounded them up. In 1995, then-French President Jacques Chirac acknowledged for the first time French complicity in the Holocaust. Hollande is again turning official attention to the events, which the public is starting to be more aware of in the wake of two recent popular films, La Rafle (The Roundup) and Sarah’s Key. Also marking the 70th anniversary, French police have opened their archives on the roundup and displayed them in Paris.