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

Numbers vary greatly as to how many Jews were eventually evacuated from the Vel d’Hiv to the Rothschild Hospital, ranging from 30 to about 100. Among them were people with heart problems, appendicitis attacks, those who had attempted to leap to their deaths with resulting serious breaks or fractures, and children. In her video testimony, Colette Brull-Ulmann, then a Rothschild intern, relates the chaos that ensued at the hospital when the Vel d’Hiv evacuees arrived. The video testimonies of Rosette Schalit-Bryski, Maurice Schiff, Léon Favier and Marcelle Bock, all children at the Vel d’Hiv, are as compelling as they are heartbreaking. Rosette was 4-years old, with diphtheria; on her hospitalization papers was written “internée comme terroriste” (“interned as a terrorist”); little Maurice was 3-years old. A woman gone mad hit 11-year old Léon on the head with a broken bottle; the swelling was so great he was taken to Rothschild. At the end of his video testimony, Favier shows the two hundred francs his father gave him in 1942 as they said good-bye, never to meet again. Marcelle, also 11-years old, remembers the rain dripping from the stadium ceiling and her mother saying that God was crying.

These were the lucky children – they survived.

From the Vel d’Hiv, more than 4,000 Jewish children and their parents were sent to the French detention camps in Beaune-la-Rolande and Pitiviers. There, families were separated, and parents were returned to Drancy and deported; the children waited. A short time later, they too were returned to Drancy and deported to Auschwitz, 1,000 at a time.

The person chiefly responsible for this crime against humanity was Vichy Prime Minister Pierre Laval. It not only carried his imprimatur, it was he who proposed that children under the age of 16 be deported – the Germans had not requested that be done. Dannecker had excluded children from deportation; his aim was to deport only able-bodied adults. Even Adolph Eichmann had to ponder before he agreed. The entire operation against children, most of them born in France – from roundup to deportation – was conducted at the suggestion of the Prime Minister, the highest ranking French official, and was carried out with diligence by French police on French soil.

Not a single one of the 4,000 plus deported children is known to have survived. At Rothschild, the few children rescued from the Vel d’Hiv were adopted, or slowly smuggled into safe homes, and none ever again saw their parents.

The men and women of the Rothschild Hospital acted heroically during the event and its aftermath; that role has largely gone unreported.

With The End in Sight - 1944

In many ways, Germany’s war on Jews seemed disconnected from Germany’s war in Europe, which it was losing. Vichy was collapsing, and despite the inevitable fall of the Reich, the convoys filled with Jews continued to roll across Europe. In France, the story was largely the same. While the Allies prepared for the Normandy landing, Aloïs Brunner carried on his sadistic war against the Jews of France. The Germans relied on the CGQJ less, and on the Milice (Militia) more. Joseph Darnand led this paramilitary force which was ideologically single-minded, in lockstep with the Gestapo, and opposed to all French resistance forces.

By January 1944, the exclusion of Jews from all the public hospitals of Paris was achieved. A Monsieur Miret, Secretary General of Assistance Publique, was summoned to Gestapo headquarters on the Avenue Foch and ordered to expel any Jews remaining in the public hospitals, whether they were patients or doctors with special exemptions. He was also told to make sure no Aryan personnel or patients were left at Rothschild, with the exception of Assistant Director René Magnien, and concierges who monitored calls and visits.

Miret declined an invitation to take over the Aryan directorship of Rothschild. Henri Dupin had been dismissed for what the Gestapo considered being too lenient on Jews. In February 1944, Madame Wiart, retired Director of Trousseau Hospital, was appointed Aryan director of Rothschild. She remained in this position even after the hospital was liberated. In late 1944, she was brought before the Liberation Committee of Assistance Publique and accused of anti-nationalist activities at Trousseau. Her “punishment” was to continue to serve at Rothschild, but without remuneration.

In January 1944, Assistance Publique received a German order to stop reimbursing the Rothschild Hospital for the care of Drancy prisoners, which had been paid since December 1941. The Germans insisted that UGIF assume sole responsibility for all future expenses. UGIF carried on Rothschild’s financial burden to the end, owing to a legal irony. In January 1941, a legacy (Offenstadt leg) bequeathed considerable monies to three Jewish philanthropies, the Rothschild Foundation being one of them. In May 1944, it was determined that all the monies belonged to UGIF because the assets of the three philanthropies were legally UGIF’s by virtue of the November 29, 1941 Vichy law that created it.

Throughout the first half of 1944, Brunner attempted, with some success, to make Jews even more complicit in the internment process both at Drancy and Rothschild. When he took command of Drancy in June 1943, he dismissed the French police at both places. He never wanted a private security firm at Rothschild; he preferred that Jews “take charge of” their own fate. In May 1944, he dismissed the Faralicq firm and decided to hold the Jewish hospital personnel “hostage” if escapes occurred. This led to even more repressive measures taken by Blondin, Wiart, and Armand Kohn.