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

In today’s idiom, Armand Kohn didn’t get it! Patients suffered and probably died because of Kohn’s faint-hearted submissions to German and French authority. Some of the Rothschild doctors could not believe the lengths to which Kohn went to comply with discriminatory, cruel directives. He cooperated in having Jews arrested and deported. He even kept a list of babies’ exact ages so he would know when they were six months old, so they and their mothers were promptly removed from the hospital and returned to Drancy.

In the end, it was all for naught. His obeisance did not save either himself or his family. Brunner personally arrested all of them. On August 17, 1944, the day Drancy was liberated and one week before Paris was freed, the Kohns were deported in the very last rail car coupled to the train carrying Brunner and his cohorts, and German soldiers of the defeated Wehrmacht to Germany. This one rail car has been called le dernier wagon (the last wagon), No.79, with 51 hostages on board. An escape ensued and 27 prisoners fled. Against Kohn’s explicit orders, two of his children jumped from the train and survived. His wife and eldest daughter died at Belsen, his mother at Auschwitz, and his youngest son at Neuengamme in Germany, a victim of medical experiments. Armand Kohn was sent to Buchenwald, and survived, broken physically and in spirit, un homme brisé. (Philippe Kohn interview.)

Throughout the German Occupation, the UGIF administration and staff were for the most part fulfilling what they understood as their mission, secours et entraide, to aid and assist both free and interned Jews, foreign and French. Until the Liberation, UGIF-Nord kept people alive by providing food, operating soup kitchens, and paying rents. Critics of UGIF fault its governing officials for being blindsided. They knew of impending roundups of foreign Jews, but failed to issue warnings. They placed foreign and French Jewish orphans in children’s homes, irresponsibly and without foresight, because the children could have been hidden in private homes and convents. Between July 21 and July 24, 1944, the last UGIF children’s homes were raided, resulting in 250 children and adolescents being sent on the last full train, convoy no. 77, to Auschwitz. Mathilde and Esther Jaffé, and several other children who were taken from the Rothschild Orphanage to UGIF homes following the February 10 and 11, 1943 orphanage raid, were among the arrested and deported. (Jaffé-Turpin interview.)

Critics also say that UGIF’s involvement in Drancy and Rothschild, especially from July 1943 to the liberation, made it a full partner with Vichy and the Nazis in the internment and deportation of Jews. UGIF delivered tons of food and clothing to Drancy, but most of it wound up in German hands. As for UGIF’s efforts at the Rothschild Hospital, what passed for good works only delayed the inevitable. The sick prisoners UGIF sought to have admitted were ultimately deported. The elderly prisoners UGIF lodged at the hospices were rounded up at whim, and the children it placed in the hospital’s orphanage were trapped. The visitors’ registers at the hospices UGIF was ordered to keep were used to find and hunt down free Jews. Some newborns were smuggled out of the hospital – no thanks to UGIF – but the agreement to let pregnant women deliver their babies and nurse them for six months was for most a temporary reprieve from deportation and annihilation.

Children of the Vel d’Hiv

On July 16 and 17, 1942, 9,000 French police in 888 teams fanned out over what the Germans called das Gross Paris, the greater Paris region, and arrested 12,884 foreign or stateless Jews – 3,031 men, 5,802 women, and 4,051 children. Men and women without children were taken to Drancy, and the rest, about 7,000, were sent to the Vélodrome d’Hiver, a large indoor sports arena in Paris’ XVth arrondissement, which was transformed into a prison.

The Germans were displeased with the results of the operation. The French police had been sent out with 27,388 names from the fichier, the card file that André Tulard, a career French police official at the Prefecture of Police, carefully compiled from the German-ordered October 1940 Jewish census. Jews of both sexes between the ages of 16 and 50 were to be taken. Children under 16 were to be left behind with UGIF to be placed in their children’s homes. The Vel d’Hiv Roundup, as it is now known, was the largest mass arrest of Jews to occur in France during the war. The Nazis called it Operation Springtime, and it was coordinated with similar raids in other countries.

When Rothschild physician Didier-Hesse heard the news, he rushed to UGIF headquarters on the rue de la Bienfaisance, and demanded to be sent to the Vel d’Hiv. Dr. Tisné at the Prefecture would allow only two Jewish doctors in at a time, plus a few Red Cross workers. Didier-Hesse procured a German pass (Ausweis) dated July 16, 1942, signed by Röthke (Dannecker’s successor) on UGIF stationery, and entered the Vel d’Hiv later that day. A rotation of doctors was soon set up, but Tisné remained adamant that two doctors were more than enough to tend to the 7,000 Jewish prisoners. Another Rothschild doctor, Benjamin Ginsbourg, was able to enter and provided a modicum of succor at the makeshift infirmary set up on the bicycle track.

What Drs. Ginsbourg and Didier-Hesse observed was nauseating. For five days, the prisoners were confined to the stadium with whatever provisions they managed to take with them; absolutely nothing was provided. There was neither food nor water, and the few toilets there were, were quickly blocked. During the days, it was horribly hot; nights were cold. Diarrhea was followed by dysentery; the foul odor was unbearable. Hundreds fell ill. Babies were born; babies died. Adults died. At least 100 suicides were recorded.