Rothschild : The Rothschild Hospital
Anne Landau, Department of French and Italian, Northwestern University

The object of their visit was to solicit Vallat’s help in changing Vichy’s attitude toward Jews. They hoped to appeal to Vallat’s sense of patriotism, even though he was a leader of the profoundly Catholic and anti-Semitic extreme right. Vallat was courteous, but his rhetoric was entrenched in an intellectualized form of anti-Semitism. After the meeting, Nora allegedly remarked, “Il se croit un patriot” (He thinks he’s a patriot), to which Debré added, “Ni coeur ni intelligence” (Neither heart nor brain). In recounting the meeting in his memoirs, L’Honneur de vivre (The Honor of Living), Debré states that events confirmed their diagnosis: It was not the Germans who imposed anti-Jewish policies on Pétain’s government; rather, French extreme-right groups, especially l’Action Française, to which Vallat had earlier belonged.

Nora and Vallat met again in 1947 when Vallat was accused and on trial for war crimes. Nora testified on Vallat’s behalf, and his testimony is thought to have saved Vallat a second time, despite Vallat’s own defense of his anti-Jewish actions on the grounds that Jews were “unassimilable,” Christ-killers and parasitic. Vallat received a ten-year sentence, was paroled in 1950, and amnestied in 1953.

Rothschild Annexed to Drancy – December 12, 1941

The eyewitness testimony that has become the basis for much of the literature on the Rothschild Hospital during World War II may be found in documents filed under Roman numeral CCXXXIII at the Centre de documentation contemporaine juive (CDJC), Paris. The originals have been photographed and are part of the Picpus Digital Archives. The Archives include reports prepared by Sammy Halfon, Rothschild Foundation Director from March 7, 1940, until he was arrested in July 1942; and by doctors Robert Worms, Chief of the service médecine (medicine department) until July 1942, and Alexandre Elbim, surgeon under Dr. Jacques Hertz, chief of the service chirurgie (surgery department) throughout the four years of Occupation. They tell the story of a hospital under siege, operating in lockstep with Drancy, and coming under increasing legal control of the Union Générale des Israëlites de France (UGIF), the Jewish council created by the Vichy law of November 29, 1941, subordinate to Vichy’s Commissariat Général aux Questions Juives (Bureau of Jewish Affairs).

Drancy was opened to accommodate the 4,000 Jews, including more than 1,000 Jews, who were rounded up August 20 and 21, 1941. This was the second great roundup, informally called the “XIth arrondissement roundup” because police encircled the area, closed the metro stops, and made most of the arrests in this heavily and historically Jewish neighborhood. The roundup was planned by the Germans but carried out by French police. Barbed wire was erected around the Drancy housing complex, and it became for all intents and purposes, a concentration camp for the Jewish prisoners, and a gateway for the death camps in Poland.

An infirmary of sorts was set up at Drancy, with Jean Tisné from the Prefecture of Police the first doctor in charge, and Henri Brocard the second. Both were French non-Jews, and their actions show that they were clearly anti-Semites. (Halioua interview.) Several Jewish doctors also arrested in the roundup worked at Drancy, including pediatrician Germain Blechmann, who later fell ill and was himself transferred to Rothschild.

Throughout its three years as a prison camp, conditions at Drancy were appallingly bad: inadequate medical supplies, drastically crowded living conditions, lack of proper hygiene, scarcity of food, and a population of 4,000 to 5,000 prisoners at a time, many of whom had various sicknesses before incarceration. Disease, sickness, and death increased at an alarming rate. As a result, the Prefecture of Police was forced to reaction. In November 1941, a few very sick prisoners were let go, but others who were just as seriously ill were sent to Tenon Hospital in the XXth arrondissement. When many escapes from Tenon were discovered, Police Commissioner François of the Police aux Questions Juives (PQJ) at the Prefecture of Police turned to the Rothschild Hospital, 16 kilometers from Drancy.

It is odd that the Rothschild Hospital was not chosen from the start. It was, after all, a hospital for Jews. On December 8, 1941, two pavilions of the Rothschild Hospital with a total of 140 beds were requisitioned for Drancy inmates. Dr. Robert Worms was appointed to head the service médecine (General Medicine Department) in pavilion 7 and Dr. Jacques Hertz, the service chirurgie (Surgery Department) in pavilion 5. Director Sammy Halfon negotiated an agreement with the Prefectures of Paris and the Seine, both of which controlled Drancy, and Assistance Publique: Public Aid would pay the hospital costs for Drancy patients, and the Prefecture of the Seine would reimburse Public Aid; Rothschild Hospital personnel would not be held responsible for escapes; the doctors would have complete freedom in deciding medical treatment and length of hospital stay. In addition, non-Jewish prisoners from the nearby prison Tourelles who were in need of hospitalization, could be admitted to Rothschild. As at Drancy, the Prefecture of Police would provide French police surveillance of all the prisoners at the hospital.

Early in 1942, the 140 beds increased to 240 beds and then to 300 beds. Halfon and Worms realized that Jewish prisoners from Drancy might be saved if fewer “free” patients – that is, Jews not in police custody and non-Jews – were admitted so that more space was made available for Jews from Drancy. Dr. Paul Isch-Wall concurred, and soon his service médecin (General Medicine Department), pavilion 8, made up of half free, half Drancy patients. Remarkably, some Jewish doctors were opposed to this plan. Dr. Jacques Hertz was especially adamant. He refused to admit prisoners from Drancy to his second surgery pavilion 4. Dr. Walther in the service maternité (Maternity), pavilion 3, aligned himself with Hertz, but this soon changed when pregnant Jewish prisoners from Drancy were permitted to deliver their newborns at Rothschild, according to an agreement reached between the Union Générale des Israëlites de France (UGIF) and the German authorities. Walther, who was an Alsacian Jew, had fought in World War I on the German side, and wore his Iron Cross alongside the Star of David when Germans entered his pavilion, in the naïve belief that the medal would earn him respect.