Table of Contents
What was the situation like before Hitler came to power? 4, 5
Vichy France 6, 7
What happened when the Nazis started their anti-Jewish violence? 8, 9
The Final Solution – Wannsee Conference 10
How were the Jews deported to the camps? 11, 12
The situation in the various camps 13
The Jews that managed to go into hiding 14
Liberation: France 15, 16, 17
The situation upon the return of the survivors to their native countries 18
Conclusion 20, 21
List of Sources 22
• Jews in Weesp; Stumbling Blocks
• Film Reviews; “Monsieur Batignole”
• Report; Visit Synagogue
“We must continue to examine why the world failed to prevent the Holocaust and other atrocities since. That way, we will be better armed to defeat anti-Semitism and other formed of intolerance. We must continue to teach our children the lessons of history’s darkest chapters. That will help them do a better job than their elders in building a world of peaceful coexistence.” (Secretary-General United Nations, January ’09)
At the start of the project we went in the Synagogue in Weesp on February 27, 2009. Our teachers introduced the project and we students were invited to recite poetry.
In English Class we read diaries, stories, eye-witness accounts, poetry and other literature related to the subject. We were also given the opportunity to select DVDs and watch them.
1. What was the situation like before Hitler came to power?
In the period before Hitler rose the power France had been the leading country in Europe. It had suffered a lot during World War I, more than any other country. It took place on France’s soil and of the 65 million mobilized men, 8 million were killed and another 21 million wounded during the trench warfare. Many of them were young men, and therefore France struggled with a demographic problem; too few young people – too many old people (aging population). Another problem was that in France fewer people were born than in Germany, and that France had the oldest population. This meant a lot because there was a lack of men. In the 1920s there was a baby boom, but this didn’t help replacing the casualties, because of an influenza epidemic, which stroke hot on its heels.
There was also political tension during this period of time. There were different ideologies all over Europe; liberal democracy, Communism, Fascism. They struggled together for a long time. Some politically left people in France saw the Russian Revolution as a model for what should happen in France as well. In 1920 some of the politically left people formed the PCF; a political communist party. Whilst the other politically left people remained faithful to the French Republic.
When the Treaty of Versailles was signed, France was determined never to allow war to happen again. By demilitarization, reparation costs and occupation of land, France hoped that Germany wouldn’t attack again.
After the First World War, the USA helped the Germans by giving them loans, and therefore, USA gained wealth. On the other hand, France lost wealth because of war. Because of the limitations of Germany, there was economic instability.
Between 1924-1926 France was hit by an economic crisis. Costs of reconstruction, lower war reparations from Germany and no tax raisings led to devaluation of the franc (but after the Wall Street Crash all the currencies devalued again).
Between 1929 & 1932 the French export fell by 40% and in the 1920s there was full employment, while 15 years later 400,000 people were unemployed.
Before WW I France was mostly an agricultural country, and the only industry they had was outdated. In the rural areas mechanisation and fertilizers helped the farmers, so less people were needed to work on the farms. More people went to work in the factories by then.
After WW I there was a rapid growth of industry. The peasants also enjoyed it, because food prices rose. While advances were made in industry (chemicals, electricity, car manufacturing), most of France’s industry remained traditional (textiles, clothing, leather). The service sector also grew, with many new shops opening all over the country.
In the 1920s & ‘30s France had the largest (and most powerful) army of the world. Because of their colonies they had a large amount of resources. France would secure peace on land and Britain on the seas.
Many Jews came to France, mostly from Eastern Europe and Northern Africa. Between 1881 and 1914 more than 25,000 Jews immigrated, even though, for many of them it wasn’t their final destination, rather a transit point.
Not only Jews came to France, but also many Russians, Germans, Spaniards and East Europeans.
During World War I Jewish immigration halted, as well as putting an end to Anti-Semitic campaigns. During the 4 years of war Jews fought with the French side by side.
Afterwards the immigration increased on ce again, which continued especially in 1924, when the US prohibited free immigration. The year before the ‘Federation des Societes Juif de France’ was established, to take care of the needs of the French Jews.
Extra: The role of Vichy France in World War 2
To fully understand what was going on in France during the holocaust in the Second World War it is of vital importance one knows about Vichy France; therefore we have decided to add an extra sub-question on Vichy-France.
During the World War II France was divided into 2 different parts; the part, which officially was occupied by the Nazis and the Vichy France that was the puppet state of the Germans. After the northern France was conquered, Vichy France was formed and controlled by Marshall Phillipe Pétain. Even though they said to be neutral in the war, Vichy cooperated // collaborated together with the Nazis, because of sympathy, but mostly out of intimidation.
After the defeat of northern France the legislation of Vichy France was Anti-Semitic, including the ‘Statut de Juifs’. This comprehensive statute excluded Jews from public life; required their dismissal from positions in the civil service, the army, commerce, and industry; and barred them from participation in certain professions (medicine, law, and education).
The Vichy years were painful during the Second World War, due to the fact that many Frenchmen collaborated with the Nazi occupiers until the Liberation in 1944. The Vichy would hand over Jews from abroad, but not French Jews. Between 1942 and 1944 76,000 Jews were deported from France of whom 3 per cent survived. Two-thirds of the deportees were foreign Jews.
But the French also had to pay a high price:
• Many young French men had to worker for the German industry
• Millions of people were deported to Germany to work as some s ort of slave
• The French had to pay enormously high taxes for the Germans
• The Germans took food away that lead to shortages.
In the armistice between Vichy & Germany the French Army was disbanded except for a force of 100,000 men, all the others were prisoners. The French had to pay the costs of the occupation of the German troops.
“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” was replaced by “Work, Family, Fatherland”. The new government emphasized traditional values such as religion, patriotism and family. Abortion was repressed and large families were honoured.
In 1941 Joseph Darnand established the ‘Service d’Ordre Legionnaire’, an organization to round up Jews and fight against the French Resistance. In 1943 it was transformed into the ‘Milice’, the Gestapo of Vichy.
While Vichy France wouldn’t block Germany because of their armistice, Germany could trade overseas without being blocked. Therefore, goods and materials from abroad were brought into the empire. If the Germans had formed an alliance with Vichy, the British navy would have stopped them from trading overseas.
But the British and Americans weren’t completely fooled by the neutrality and stroke several attacks on their colonies; Dakar, Gabon, Madagascar & France’s Caribbean islands.
In 1942 the Germans occupied whole France, but the Vichy France had to continue its rule. After the D-day landings had taken place, resistance groups helped to liberate their country. While the majority of the French people had neither collaborated with the Germans nor with the Resistance they welcomed the liberation.
The ministers and Pétain fled to Germany. In 1945 the leaders of the government were arrested and executed for war crimes.
2. What happened when the Nazis started their anti-Jewish violence?
In May 1940 France was occupied by the Germans and now France was under German control, except for Vichy-France, the ‘German-free zone’. Things became very different under German regime, especially for the Jews. At first glance it didn’t seem to change too much for the Jews, but things got worse by the day.
Although Vichy-France was not conquered by the Germans, and so not under German regime, Vichy-France was starting the anti-Jewish violence in October 1940 without any request from the Germans. The Vichy government began passing anti-Jewish measurements, also known as the Statute of the Jews.
In 1941 the Vichy government established a “Commissariat General aux Questions Juives.” Together with the Gestapo they began the deportation of French Jews to Drancy (situated outside Paris) and later to the concentration camps in Eastern Europe. However, before this was the case, anti-Jewish measurements were already taken.
On 3 October 1940 the Statut des juifs (Statute on Jews) was passed in Vichy France. From that moment on Jews were forbidden many things that were ordinary for the non-Jewish French people. It already began before the Statut des Juifs, by the de-naturalization of Jews in France, so the Jews did not have a nationality at all. They could only call themselves Jew and not French. Soon after that the Statut was passed, which meant the exclusion of Jews in several types of work. Jews were excluded from the army, the press and every type of commercial and industrial jobs. Jewish officials were excluded from their jobs as well. This took an unbelievable time of only 3 months, to compare: in Germany this took more than 1 year. The next year (March 1941) Jews weren’t able to have there own company anymore. Later that year Jewish children could not go to school anymore. On the 22nd of June more jobs were taken away from the Jews. A month later Jewish doctors were forbidden as well. By now, most of the 350,000 Jews living in France were unemployed. This period is summarized in the table and timeline below.
Measure taken Vichy France Nazi Germany
Date Time it took Date Time it took
De-naturalization of Jews 16/07/1940 ( 1 month) 26/07/1933 ( 6 months)
Exclusion of Jews from the army 03/10/1940 ( 3 months) 26/06/1936 (41 months)
Exclusion of Jews from the press 03/10/1940 ( 3 months) 04/10/1933 ( 8 months)
Exclusion of Jews from commercial and industrial jobs 03/10/1940 ( 3 months) 06/06/1938 (64 months)
Exclusion of Jewish officials 03/10/1940 ( 3 months) 07/04/1933 ( 2 months)
Authorisation needed to sell or rent a company 09/03/1941 ( 8 months) 26/04/1938 (63 months)
Exclusion of Jewish students 21/06/1941 (12 months) 22/04/1933 ( 3 months)
Exclusion of Jewish lawyers 16/07/1941 (13 months) 04/04/1933 ( 2 months)
Registration of "Jewish" businesses 22/07/1941 (13 months) 14/06/1938 (64 months)
Complete exclusion of Jews from commerce and industry 22/07/1941 (13 months) 12/11/1938 (70 months)
Nomination of administrators for Jewish heritage 22/07/1941 (14 months) 03/12/1938 (33 months)
Exclusion of Jewish doctors 11/08/1941 (14 months) 13/12/1935 (34 months)
But these were not the only measurements taken against the Jews. Social measurements were taken as well. In Paris Jews were quickly forbidden to go in the Metro. Jews weren’t allowed in public places like swimming pools, parks and playgrounds. Like most Jews in Europe, French-Jews had to wear the yellow star that showed people were Jewish. The “Jewish-identity” was also marked in the French passports.
3. The Final Solution – Wannsee Conference
At a villa in a suburb of Berlin a group of Nazi officials had a discussion known as the Wannsee Conference, which would lead to the Holocaust of the Jews. Chief of the Security Police, Reinhard Heydrich led the discussion. The discussion centred the expulsion of the Jews. Measures like deportation of the Jews to the East, liquidation & ghettoization were introduced.
The documents recorded by Adolf Eichmann are now one of the most important on the murder of the Jews in Europe. In this so-called ‘Protocol’ the expressions like ‘extermination’, ‘murder’ and ‘deportation’ were replaced by ‘natural reduction of population’.
This meeting led to the Final Solution of the Jewish Question – the destruction of all 11 million European Jews.
Nowadays the Wannsee House is a Holocaust Memorial. →
The final solution (or as Adolf Hitler termed it: the final solution of the Jewish question) was the Nazi’s plan to systematically execute all the existing Jews in Europe. In other words, the Nazi’s wanted to kill all the living Jews in Europe and estate a Jew-free continent. The Nazi’s wanted to disguise the true nature of their plans and therefore used euphemistic terms like the “final solution.”
Before the idea of the real final solution the Nazi’s already started their mass-killings. By 1942, approximately 1 million Jews were already killed. After the Wannsee conference the Nazi’s began the systematic deportation of Jews to various concentration camps all over Europe. The centre of the extermination camps was situated on former Polish territory: there were 6 big concentration camps in Poland namely; Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek. These camps, with some others in other countries, were only designed to carry out genocide. Half of all the Jewish people killed in the war were killed in concentration camps; over 3 million. In the concentrations camps various techniques were used to kill/execute as many Jews as possible, under which shootings, random acts of terror and mostly gassings. However, a lot of people also died without any action taken on them by starvation or diseases.
4. How were the Jews deported to the camps?
French Jews were mostly deported via ‘Durchgangslager camps’, of which the most important and biggest one was situated in Paris: Drancy. Some Jews were captured by, so called, raids. The most famous one in France is undoubtedly the Velodrome d’Hiver-raid in Paris.
The deportation and concentration camp Drancy, in the northwestern region of Paris, was mainly used to deport Jews to further destinations in Europe. Drancy was mostly used as internment camp. In total 65,000 Jews were deported from Drancy, of which 63,000 would never return.
Drancy was situated in the suburbs
of Paris. As shown on the map, it was in the northwestern region. It was established by the Germans in 1942, although it was at first intended to be a deportation camp for foreign Jews in France, it later became France’s main internment camp.
Drancy was originally planned and designed as a large public housing project, however, it was used as a police barracks and later converted into an internment camp. Mostly Jews were deported from Drancy, but homosexuals and other “undesirables” as well. Most people were deported from Drancy to Auschwitz
The camp was a storey-complex originally designed to hold 700 people at once. At its peak approximately 7000 people were ‘stored’. These were not the only brutal circumstances; immediately after their arrival children were separated from their parents.
The Velodrome d’Hiver was a big stadium in the centre of Paris that was used for track cycling as well as for ice hockey, wrestling, boxing, roller-skating and circuses. However, during the occupation of France the Vel d’Hiv, as it was mostly called, was used for ‘storing’ the Jews that were waiting to be transported to Drancy, somewhere outside Paris.
A lot of Jews were held in the Vel d’Hiv during the second World War before being moved to a durchgangslager in the Parisian suburbs at Drancy and later to the extermination camp, mostly Auschwitz.
One of the most famous incidents became known as the Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv.
The Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv took place on the 16th and 17th of July 1942. In an operation called ‘vent printanier’ – springy breezy – a lot of French were sent to Auschwitz .
The Vel' d'Hiv roundup wasn't the first. Nearly 4,000 Jewish men were arrested on 10 May 1941 and taken to Gare d'Austerlitz and then to camps at Pithiviers and Beaune-La-Rolande. Women and families followed in July 1942.
At 4am on 16 July 1942, 12,884 Jews were arrested: 4,051 children, 5,802 women and 3,031 men. (total of 13,152). An unknown number, warned by the French Resistance, escaped while being rounded up. Conditions for the arrested were harsh: they could take with them only a bed cover, a sweater, a pair of shoes and two shirts. Most families were split up and never reunited.
After arrest, some Jews were taken by bus to a concentration camp in an incomplete block of flats in the northern suburb of Drancy. Others were taken to the Vélodrome d'hiver in the 15th arrondissement, which had already been used as a prison in a roundup in the summer of 1941.
The raffle accounted for more than a quarter of the 42,000 Jews sent from France to Auschwitz in 1942, of whom only 811 came home at the end of the war.
The book ‘Elle s’appelait Sarah’ is about the Rafle du Vel d’Hiv.
5. The situation in the various camps
France was housing two big deportations camps in the Second World War: Drancy and Gurs. Gurs was built first, but for another purpose; to house the dictator Franco and the fled Spanish soldiers. When the war started 4000 Jewish refuges were also allowed to enter the camp. When the Germans captured Gurs in 1940, 7500 Jews were deported to Gurs (this added up to 11500 Jews) and the conditions in that camp at that time were described as: overcrowded, cold, muddy, bad hygiene and hungry prisoners. All these factors led to 800 deaths in the first year of the camp. Camp Gurs was, however, slightly better than other camps in the way of control, there weren’t any watch towers to oversee the prisoners In 1943 Gurs was closed down and had housed approximately 22000 prisoners of which more than 18000 were Jews and 1100 died in Gurs.
The camp Gurs was flat with 1 storey barracks, unlike the second big deportation camp built in 1941 named Drancy which was planted with lots of 5 storey flats. The living conditions in Drancy were slightly better but still under a prisoner’s standard. Especially the food supply had been a large problem because it was too small, which led to an average calorie intake of the prisoners of 600-800 which is about one third of the amount they minimally should have, this changed for a short while when the red cross came. For about 65.000 Jews were transported from Drancy to Auschwitz –Birkenau. In the first years the camp was used as a deportation camp with the French police in control, which were known to execute everything the Germans said they had to, but didn’t induce extra rules to the camp, after a few years however the Nazis took over the camp that had absolutely no respect for the prisoners.
The Nazi-camp-commander of Drancy, Alois Brunner, had after the war been responsible for the death of over 130 000 Jews. After the war he collaborated with the US to finish unfinished businesses (like finding fled Nazis), what is strange, is that he fled too after the collaboration. Alois Brunner was also known as a doctor and did (like dr. death/ Aribert Heim/ Josef Mengele) experiments on the prisoners. One of the things he did to the prisoners was injecting a type of gasoline into the harts of the prisoners which would improve the heart flow; in camp Drancy he did this type of experiments to about 300 prisoners. This experimenting made Drancy one of the worst deportations camps of all.
6. The Jews that managed to go into hiding
The Jews in France were in the Second World War in a very uneasy position, many French people collaborated with the Germans and, therefore, escaping became almost impossible. What was an outcome (literally) was that France shared and, of course, still shares its border with Switzerland, which was Neutral (and still is). By escaping to Switzerland the Jews would be able to outlive the war and return afterwards (unfortunately in many cases there wasn’t anyone or anything to return to).
The Jewish people in big cities usually hired someone to drive them to a forest close to the Swiss border, after which they walk trough the forest across the border to avoid the German troops that were checking upon the border. However, the amounts of money that the Jews paid their transporters were abnormally high and those transporters are seen in many points of view as criminals.
But not only Switzerland was a good place to hide to, but also Turkey. Turkey helped (mainly Turkish Jews) Jews escape to Turkey. Via the Turkish council in Southern France from which the Jewish people were transported by train to Greece and from there to Turkey.
7. Liberation: France
While the Italians had allowed the Allies to set foot on their land to fight the Germans, there would also have to be an assault on the north to achieve final victory. Air support was essential to succeed, but the landing sites in northern France and Belgium were limited. Therefore, the Allied commanders decided upon the beaches of Normandy as their location. This location was particularly good because of good beaches to land, it was located within the supply range in southern Britain and most important: the Germans were expecting the Allies to land in Pas de Calais, where the Channel was narrowest.
Delayed by bad weather the allied force launched the invasion on the 6th of June. This has been planned for many months by the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force. General Dwight D. Eisenhower of America and the British Bernard Montgomery led this operation. The British Isles provided men and war material for the operation was rehearsed over and over, so that nothing would go wrong.
The U.S. and British Air Forces combine d their strength, having over 10,000 planes under their control. The naval force consisted of 80 warships and 4,000 other ships to convey the troops across the Channel. To get the troops on shore artificial harbours were to be constructed by making piers on concrete caissons.
U.S. and British forces succeeded in landing on the Normandy coast between St. Marcouf and Orne River. Within a week a strip of beach of almost 100 km long had been occupied. During the first hundred days following D-Day 2.2 million men had landed on the French coast.
The Canadian forces, which landed on Juno beach, had some problems. The first objective was to move inland and seize the airfield at Carpiquet and advance as far as Caen. While the German defences were largely intact after the heavy bombardments, the Canadians realized that moving inland was impossible; instead they had to repel the German counterattacks.
Nonetheless, the success of the Allied forces was won at enormous cost. Over 7,000 people had died, were wounded or captured.
The French capital had been occupied by the Germans for four years. For the German occupiers, Paris was a wonderful place to do their work. Loads of cinemas, theatres and dance halls were available for them. The Allies only the city’s industrialized suburbs, but not the city itself. The happiness masked repression by the Gestapo and SS.
After 1941 the Communists rose against the Germans and formed resistance movements. They were going to help the Allies, by capturing weapons and organizing attacks on the Germans.
By 1944 Parisians bought a lot of stuff on the black market. Prices rose and many poorer Parisians couldn’t afford to buy food. Hunger and diseases rose, and men and women joined the resistance.
Paris was waiting for liberation after the Allies had captured the Normandy shore. The progress towards the city was slow. On August 19, the Communist-led resistance rose up against the Germa n garrison. The commander of the Germans tried to work out a truce with the Free French under Charles de Gaulle, but it didn’t work. The Germans counterattacked with tanks, and Hitler ordered the city to be destroyed.
Choltizt, the man in charge in Paris, did not follow Hitler’s orders to burn the city. On August 25, the resistance and the advancing Allies wiped out the few remaining collaborationist and Germans. Paris was liberated.
De Gaulle’s ‘Fighting French’ (FF) started operations against Vichy forces in Africa. They soon had worked up the equatorial colonies and helped the British in North Africa. The Americans helped with taking over Vichy colonies. President Roosevelt didn’t like Charles de Gaulle and, therefore, kept de Gaulle from gaining control of French administration in North Africa. The American’s were in war in the western part of North Africa with Vichy forces.
Charles de Gaulle got control of the entire French force in Africa. He had a sizeable force and was supported by the British.
In 1943 the Allies invaded Italy. This was an operation led by the British general Alexander. People from all over the world were under his control; Americans, British, Australians, Brazilians, Poles, Indians & New Zealanders.
In the following year their was huge obstacle blocking the progress; German position at the Monte Cassino Abbey. Forces from all over the world attacked, but after months of failure, the Fighting French Moroccan troops fought their way through. They used a similar way of attack as the Germans used; Blitzkrieg. On June 5, 1944 the Allies took control of Rome.
By now the other forces from Normandy were marching towards Paris, what was soon afterwards captured again. De Gaulle seized power, and he was intent on keeping his nation in his control. The Communists were also trying to take control, but didn’t succeed.
De Gaulle had ended Vichy France. Pétain was sentenced to death for his collaboration with the Germans during the war.
8. The situation upon the return of the survivors to their native countries
Of course, since the Jews had traumatic experiences thanks to the Holocaust, many wanted to move far away from the place where it happened and build up a new life. It is estimated that 25 percent of French Jewry died in the Holocaust.
With few possibilities for emigration, tens of thousands of homeless Holocaust survivors migrated westwards to other European territories liberated by the western Allies. There they were housed in hundreds of refugee centres and displaced persons (DP) camps such as Bergen-Belsen in Germany. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the occupying armies of the United States, Great Britain, and France administered these camps. This caused, in some cases, difficulties. Some people did not want the Jews to be in their country:
The Gendarmerie Nationale (French Police) noted in its general report for 15 March to 15 May 1945: “An incident on 19 April in the fourth arrondissement of Paris is related: `250 to 300 people demonstrated, shouting "France to the French." A fight broke out with the Jews of the neighbourhood. The demonstration was occasioned by the expulsion of a person occupying the apartment of a Jew who had returned to Paris'.”
Despite this, France became a haven for postwar refugees and within 25 years its Jewish population tripled. In 1945, 180,000 Jews were living in France, and, by 1951, the population reached 250,000.Today more than 600,000 Jews live in France, 375,000 live in Paris. There are 230 Jewish communities, including Paris, Marseilles (70,000), Lyons (25,000), Toulouse, Nice and Strasbourg.
For decades after the war, the suffering of French Jews at the hands of their countrymen was buried, along with the shame of collaboration, at the back of national consciousness. François Mitterand, president from 1981 until 1995, insisted France "was never involved" in ill-treatment of its Jewish population, and it was not until Jacques Chirac in 1995 that a head of state admitted France's "inescapable guilt".
9. Commemorations: Why are they important?
The answer to this sub-question isn’t a fact but based on our opinion. The answer is the way we look at it, one can disagree when one reads it, but one should think of another answer which suits his or her opinion best in this matter.
In the world’s history people have been using ‘other groups’ of people to put their sins upon them. The Jews have been ‘those other groups’ in many occasions. To make sure that the Jews and any other religious/ cultural groups/societies never have to be blamed or used for depressions ever again, we hold a commemoration every year to think about all the people died in the Second World War (including the Jews).
This didn’t happen (organizing a annual commemoration) for the other times in which the Jews were blamed for the mistakes and problems of others, like the Christians did for hundreds of years and the Russians in the time of the Tsars. Not organizing commemorations didn’t open the eyes of the ones who blamed the Jews to the horrors they had put the Jews into. Maybe commemorations were never organized because the blaming never really ended until the end of the Second World War, or that people really believed that the Jews were the ones to blame.
A good example of a commemoration is the one that makes the Netherlands become silent for 2 minutes every year is the commemoration of war victims on the fourth of May.
In the picture on the right the Dutch queen and the commander of all the armies of the Netherlands (ex-commander by now) put a
coronet at the bottom of the commemorative
stone of liberty in Amsterdam.
But commemorations can also be important because they are people helping to remember good things, things that made a difference. Like in Holland on the fifth of May, when the Dutch commemorate the day 4 May 1945 the day on which the Netherlands were freed from the occupiers (the Nazi’s) by the allied forces (Canada, America, England).
The main question of this project; “What was the situation like in Europe during the Second World War?”, can’t really be answered, because we didn’t do research on every country. But we can answer the question; What was the situation like in France during the Second World War?
In the time before Hitler came to power France was suffering a lot because of World War One. The losses were big; a lot of wounded people, few young people and epidemics. There weren’t only demographic problems, but also political. Different ideologies began to rise all over Europe, as well as in France. Communists, Fascists and Democrats struggled together for a long time. Between 1924 and 1926 France was hit by an economic crisis. Also more and more people started working in factories and the service sector and less in the agricultural. For the Jews was France a transit point before WWI. They fought side by side with the French and after the war the Federation des Societes Juif de France was established to take care of the needs of French Jews.
In May 1940, France was occupied by the Germans and under their control. The Stature de Juifs was signed in Vichy France; a law enabling Jews from a lot of things. From that moment Jews weren’t able to do several types of work and Jewish children couldn’t go to school anymore. Social measurements like going by the Metro, swimming pools, parks and having to wear a yellow star were taken. Later the Commissariat General aux Questions Juives was passed, to deport French Jews to Drancy and on to the camps.
During World War II France was divided into 2 different parts; the part, which officially was occupied by the Nazis and the Vichy France that was the puppet state of Germany. It was controlled by Phillipe Pétain, who cooperated/collaborated with the Nazis. The legislation was anti-Semitic, therefore, many Jews were deported from France of whom only 3 per cent survived. But the French had to pay a high price by giving workers to the Germans, paying enormously high taxes and the Germans took food away.
At a villa in Berlin a group of Nazi officials had a discussion known as the Wannsee Conference. The documentation of this meeting is one of the most important on the murder of the Jews. This meeting led to the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, the Nazi’s plan to execute all the existing Jews in Europe. Before the Final Solution was made up 1 million Jews had already been killed. In camps in mainly Poland they were killed systematically by shooting and gassing them.
The Jews were taken to these camps via 2 big deportation camps: Drancy & Gurs. The conditions were far below average and Gurs had to be closed down.
Jews in France were in an uneasy position, therefore, instead of going on the trains they mainly tried to escape to Switzerland. Transported were paid high amounts of money to get them across the border. Turkey was also a popular country.
Delayed by bad weather the allied forces launched an invasion on the 6th of June, 1944 on the northern shore of France. The Allies fought their way through the German defences to Paris. The forces together with the Free French resistance they wiped out the Germans and remaining collaborationists. After the liberation Charles de Gaulle got power again. He ended Vichy France and Pétain was sentenced to death for collaboration with the Germans during the war.
Although the war was over by now, the consequences of the war weren’t over yet. The survivors came back and people started to become aware of the chaos and devastation the war had brought about. 25% of all the French Jews died during the War. A lot of foreign Jews decided to build up a new life in France. This caused the Jewish population of France to rise. Despite the fact that many French did not have any difficulties with this whatsoever, some people thought France belonged only to the French which caused some disturbances.
It took a long time before France eventually admitted they had been wrong in the war. Nowadays, in many countries the Second World War is commemorated, which is important because something as atrocious as this war should never ever happen again.
Jews residing in Weesp established a synagogue in a private home on the Korte Middenstraat in 1774. By 1840, the building was on the point of collapse and the Jewish population of Weesp had grown. As a result, the community decided to construct a new synagogue. A fund-raising campaign enabled the community to purchase a site at the corner of the Nieuwstraat and Hanensteeg. The new synagogue built at the site was consecrated in 1840. The Weesp community buried its dead at the cemetery of the Amsterdam Ashkenazic community in Muiderberg.
The Jewish community at Weesp was governed by a council consisting of five members. Two of the members were responsible for aid to the poor and one for raising and dispersing funds in support of the Jewish community in Eretz Israel. Voluntary organizations within the Weesp community included a burial society, a society for the upkeep of the synagogue, and a number of cultural and youth organizations. The Weesp community also maintained a Jewish school, located on sthe Nieuwstraat near the Groteplein. Several community members were active in local affairs; a few rose to serve on the town council.
In February 1941, during the World War II German occupation of the Netherlands, members of the general population of Weesp participated in the nationwide strike protesting the deportation of Jews. By the end of 1941, all Jews had been expelled from Weesp. The majority were murdered in Nazi death camps. Although the synagogue was plundered during the war its Holy Ark survived the war undamaged.
The Jewish community at Weesp was administratively dissolved in 1947 and the locale placed under the jurisdiction of the Jewish community at Bussum. During the postwar years, the former synagogue was used as a garage. In 1984, a plaque in memory of the vanished Jewish community of Weesp was affixed to the exterior of the building. The building was restored in 1986 and afterwards housed the offices of the local employment bureau. An adjacent building contains the offices of the local chapter of the Dutch Overlegorgaan Joden en Christenen (Council of Christians and Jews).
Several Jewish families settled in nearby Muiden during the last decades of the 18th century. Over the course of the 19th and early-20th centuries, the Jewish population of Muiden remained small. The Jews of Muiden were deported and murdered during the Second World War.
Jewish population of Weesp and surroundings:
Jews in Weesp: Stumbling Blocks (1)
“Um den Stein lesen zu können, muss man sich vor dem Opfer verbeugen”
On 6 may 2009, the day after the remembrance of the dead and liberation day in the Netherlands, 56 stumbling blocks were placed all around Weesp. Those
‘stolpersteine’ (German expression for: stumbling blocks) were placed in front of the houses where Jews were once deported to concentration camps and, unfortunately and like many others, died. The ‘stolpersteine’ are supposed to remind people of what happened during the war and that it should never happen again. Stumbling blocks are literally obstacles that should remind you of those people.
Weesp is not the first city where these stumbling blocks are placed, the original idea came from Germany where an artist called Gunter Demnig, who was born shortly after World War II, came up with the idea to remember the casualties of World War II like this. He once said: “Um den Stein lesen zu können, muss man sich vor dem Opfer verbeugen” (To read the stone, one has to bow for the victim). The idea has become popular in a lot of cities all over Europe after the first stone was laid in Cologne in 1994. More than 13,000 stones were laid down in 280 cities on October 2007 under which in Borne in the Netherlands. In 2009, even more stones (almost 20,000 in total) are placed in the Netherlands, Austia, Italy, Hungary and, of course, Germany.
In Weesp, the idea to place these stones came from Max van Dorth, who was asked to increase the historical awareness of the ‘Weespers’ in the centre of the city. Although a lot of stones are placed in the centre, most stones are placed in front of the house where the deported Jew(s) lived. However, in some cases the building has disappeared. The 13 stones that belong to these houses are placed in front of the synagogue.
One single stone is 10x10x10cm, covered with bronze and contains:
● The name of the casualty
● The date of birth of the casualty
● Date and place of deportation
● Date and camp of death
In my opinion those stones are a good initiative to remember the casualties of WWII that should never be forgotten. I think it isn’t really important in what way those people are remembered, as long as they are remembered. Initiatives like 4 May and these stones are important, but schools also have a great responsibility to remember them. A child has to understand to understand why commemorations are so important and that such a terrifying occurrence should never ever happen again.
Jews in Weesp: Stumbling Blocks (2)
“We must continue to examine why the world failed to prevent the Holocaust and other atrocities since. That way, we will be better armed to defeat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance. We must continue to teach our children the lessons of history’s darkest chapters. That will help them do a better job than their elders in building a world of peaceful coexistence”. (Secretary-general United Nations, January 09)
All over Weesp 59 shrub awl toes have been placed. These are small stones with a bronze plate on them. If you look closer you can see the name and date of birth of the person, the name and place of deportation and the date and place where he or she is killed. They’re small monuments in memory of the 19 families that were deported by the Germans during the Second World War. All Jews disappeared quite suddenly, never to return. They didn’t resist. They voluntarily took the train to Amsterdam, and in less than a year they were all dead.
On the 6th of May 2009 the German artist Gunter Demnig placed the stones one after the other on the pavement. All over Europe 19460 of his ‘Stolpersteinen’ have been laid. He started this project in Cologne where he made an artwork with paint, in memory of the gipsies. His aim is to make sure that we never forget what happened to the gipsies and Jews and that it never may happen again. Only once his idea was refused, because the community there thought that Neo-Nazi’s would make an attempt to destroy or walk over the stones.
Max van Dorth was the man behind placing of the stones in Weesp. Together with other inhabitants of Weesp he organized everything and made a programme for this special day, including the placing of the stones and the revelation of a memorial stone. Students of schools in Weesp helped with revealing the stones. This was important because one of the aims for the placing of the stones was that youngsters should be more aware of what happened during the Second World War.
Some of the stones were not placed in front of the former houses where the Jewish families had lived. Therefore, their stones were placed in front of the Synagogue. In the future 14 additional stones will be placed in 5 other placed in Weesp.
The stones had their price, because in total it was about € 5300 (only for the stones themselves).
The stones show that the Jews were part of the community in Weesp. Now that the stones are in place it is as if the Jews that were all gone have come home again. In Judaism it’s important to remember the name and life of someone. Therefore, it’s important for Jews to have their own gravestone. The Jews were killed in the Holocaust and never had their own gravestone, so no memorial.
By doing this I get the feeling that things have been rectified. I hope that when the community examines the stones, they can find consolation and inspiration for the future.
Film review: “Monsieur Batignole” (1)
In “Monsieur Batignole” a French butcher runs into difficulties when all of a sudden a young Jewish neighbour falls into his lap in summer 1942. He has to hide him for the Germans, which causes a lot of problems. In the course of the film his problems get worse and Monsieur Batignole decides to try and take the children to neutral Switzerland, this, however, causes even more problems. The film is mostly set in Paris, but also in other parts of occupied France. It is directed by Gérard Jugnot. Its genre is disputed, most people describe it as a comedy, I would consider this film a drama with comical parts.
Paris, 1942; France is occupied by the Germans. Edmond Bartignole is a normal butcher in Paris. Thanks to his daughter, who’s in love with a collaborator, he has some German connections, although he wants to have nothing to do with the Germans. One day he is, by coincidence, responsible for the deportation of his Jewish neighbours. He is shocked when unexpectedly one of the Jewish boys is standing in front of him. At first he is unwilling to help the boy, but in the end he helps the boy, together with his two cousins, to hide and escape. This attempt, however, is not only dangerous for the children, but also risks his own life. After an unexpected twist in the plot, there is no way back….
The plot of the film is rather thrilling, a lot happens in a relative short time (100 minutes). Comical scenes and thrilling scenes change during the film, which this causes variety, which makes the film more lively. The child-actors make the film more realistic by playing like a child. The film is French spoken, which can be annoying if you do not understand it, but makes the film even more realistic.
All in all, Monsieur Batignole is a real recommendation to anyone who is interested in the second world war/holocaust. It is especially interesting for people who want to know what it was like in France in the Second World War, and especially what the resistance was like. After watching this film I have learned (some) resistance in France was unwillingly, and the French certainly weren’t brave in the war.
Film Review: “Monsieur Batignole” (2)
During the summer of 1942 the life of the butcher ‘Monsieur Batignole’ in Paris changes completely after the French police have arrested his Jewish neighbours and one of them returns. This dramatic, black comedy is one of director Gerard Jugnot’s great successes. It tells the story of a journey to unoccupied Switzerland.
Edmond Batignole runs a small butcher shop and has a catering service in Paris halfway World War II. He lives together with his wife Micheline, daughter Marguerite and her fiancé Pierre-Jean, who is a playwright and informs the French Police about Jews.
Above the small store lives the family Bernstein, who are about to flee to Switzerland. That same night the hams of Batignole have been stolen and they accuse the young Simon Bernstein of this theft. Pierre-Jean informs the SS Colonel Spreich that some Jews try to get away. In return for this information the family Batignole get the apartment, where a house-warming party is organized soon afterwards.
But then all of a sudden Simon Bernstein knocks on the door of his former home. The butcher doesn’t know what to do, so he hides Simon in an attic room and later in the cellar of the house, where he is unexpectedly reunited with his two cousins.
Pierre-Jean finds out about this and tries to betray them. Batignole protects the children during a long journey with many unexpected twists to Switzerland.
The film is highly entertaining and at the same time informative. Everything gives a good impression about what life must have been like during World War II. Not everyone was a collaborator or a resistance fighter. Most people were ordinary people, with ordinary lives. The film shows how someone’s life can change from a normal man to a person risking his life to save a Jewish boy. This realistic film is very well performed, although it hasn’t got very much impact.
I thoroughly recommend this film if you are interested in World War II (also if you’re not); it will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.
Report: Visit Synagogue (1)
On the 27th of February we visited the synagogue of Weesp. This little ‘excursion’ within Weesp was part of the start of our holocaust project, which we will be busy with during history and English lessons in the 3rd and 4th period. We have been divided into 6 groups of 3 and 1 group of 4, these groups will each investigate a different country. They will each investigate different aspects of the holocaust in their country. However, all the groups will be gathering information about the holocaust in Weesp. Therefore, we started our project in the small but pretty synagogue of Weesp.
The synagogue in Weesp is, in fact, not more than just one big room. It is situated in the centre of Weesp, but you wouldn’t recognize a synagogue when walking through the centre. Outside, it is just a normal building but inside you find some religious items which make it a real synagogue.
To begin with, like in every synagogue, there were torah rolls which were inside the aron-hakodesj (sort of cupboard in which torah rolls are stored). What immediately caught my attention was the balcony that is used to separate men and women. In some way, it reminded me of the visit to the Portuguese synagogue. Although that one was bigger and more impressive, the atmosphere was the same.
We spent approximately an hour inside the synagogue. Mrs. Geerts and Mr. Zuidweg gave a short introduction on what was expected of us during this project and why they decided to do this project. After the introduction to the subject, we had a ‘guest-speaker’ (although we were the guests). She talked about her contribution to the synagogue and about its history. Later, it was our turn to talk, we had all brought a poem that we red out to the rest of the class. After this hour, we could go home; the weekend had started.
All in all, I think it was worthwhile visiting the synagogue. We could have started the project in class but this gave something extra. The woman who was with us, seemed to be very enthusiastic about us. This excursion was a successful start of, what I expect to be, an interesting project.
Report: Visit Synagogue (2)
At the end of the 18th century this private home was changed into which is nowadays known as the Synagogue of Weesp.(have you got your facts right?) This old building is situated in the centre of the city and during postwar years the former synagogue was used as a garage. The building isn’t used anymore for its previous function, but there are still some of its traditional ornaments to be found in the building, even though in the years of war it was plundered.
The reason for our visit at the Synagogue on the 27th of February was to introduce our new project: ‘The Holocaust’. After having a short Dutch lesson we left the school building and made our way to the centre of Weesp, where together with Mrs. Geerts and Mr. Zuidweg, teachers English and history, we entered the building. A lady and gentlemen awaited us inside. Mrs. Geerts gave a short introduction about the new project we would start. Beforehand we had already prepared ourselves, by searching a poem related to the holocaust. Everyone had to present his, her or their poem to the rest of the group, in front of the Holy Ark. Together with Lotte I recited ‘Never Shall I Forget’ by Elie Wiesel (whom we knew already of the book ‘Night’).
After everyone had recited his or her poem the lady who takes care of the building told us about the history of the synagogue and its previous usage. She was very enthusiastic and told us afterwards that she would like to have an exposition of our works in September.
We have (actually) visited another synagogue before; the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam. Compared to the one in Weesp, the Portuguese Synagogue is,, more impressive. The interior in Amsterdam remained all the same as before the Second World War. All the ornaments and aspects are still intact, but in Weesp it has been ransacked and therefore only the Holy Ark and the balcony for the women are still intact.
I never knew that there was a synagogue in Weesp even though I’ve walked past the building many times. From the exterior you wouldn’t expect that it is a synagogue. It wasn’t such a great experience as in Amsterdam, but as the start of our project it gave a good.