Rothschild : Roundups and Arrests
Anne Landau, Department of French and Italian, Northwestern University
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Jacob Pessah

Jacob Pessah, a Turkish Jew, was one of the victims of the July 23, 1943 roundup. His story is interesting because it brings up a largely unknown footnote in the history of the Shoah in France, and in other occupied countries.

Turkey was a neutral country in World War II. In theory, its treaties with Germany protected its Jewish citizens from deportation, and Turkish diplomats in France and Turkey worked feverishly through diplomatic hurdles to save them. In mid-1943, the German occupying authorities issued an ultimatum to Turkey and other neutral countries to promptly repatriate their Jewish citizens in France, or else they would be treated as other foreign Jews. Turkish diplomats organized train caravans to take Turkish Jews back to Turkey, and it is thought that as many as 3,000 Turkish Jews in France were rescued this way.

Jacob Pessah was one of the many Turks who was not spared. In early March 1943, he was arrested in his hotel room, taken to Drancy, and because of his advanced age, transferred to the Rothschild Hospice Annex. The Picpus Digital Archives contain a filmed interview with his grandson, Michel Yaeche, who vividly remembers his Sunday visits to his grandfather at the hospice. He recalls Pessah saying that everyone was treated well, the food was good, and the rooms were clean. Then one Sunday in 1943, when Yaeche and his parents arrived, they found the doors shut. They peered through the parlor window and saw no one. They asked residents on the rue Lamblardie if they knew or saw anything; they knew nothing.

Jacob Pessah and his wife had been returned from the hospice to Drancy, deported on July 26, 1943 on Convoy 56, and murdered upon their arrival at Auschwitz. The deportation card (fiche) for Jacob Pessah lists his status, or nationality, as indéterminé.

The Complicity of the French

The roundups at the Rothschild Hospital, the Orphanage and the Hospice were conducted mainly within the context of mass arrests of Jews throughout France. The mission of the Gestapo in France was to arrest and deport all Jews living in France. Gestapo officials went to great lengths to achieve this goal, and it is noteworthy, but not remarkable, that upper echelon SS officiers Dannecker, Heinrichsohn and Brunner, all made personal visits to the Rothschild Hospital in an effort to accomplish that end.

What is difficult to comprehend is the willing participation of the French police at the hospital at almost every step of the process, both in France as a whole, and in the Rothschild Hospital in particular. At the hospital, when Dannecker and Röthke headed the Judenreferat, French police from the Prefecture served as guards. After Brunner arrived in June 1943, the guards were employees of a private security agency made up of retired French policemen. As with the massive roundups of Jews in Paris, it was French police who entered Rothschild, led the prisoners to police vans, and whisked them off to Drancy. When the orphanage was raided in February 1943, it was French inspectors who compiled the list of foreign children to be arrested, and French police who pointed rifles at children’s heads!

The Vichy police force was comprised of close to 100,000 men. In Paris alone the Prefecture of Police had a force of 30,000 men, the gendarmerie municipale and the motorized gardes mobiles. The German Feldgendarmerie, on the other hand, had no more than 3,000 police (ordnungspolizei) for the entire Occupied Zone, and when the Germans invaded the Unoccupied Zone in November 1942, that force was reduced significantly.

These are amazing statistics. Germany relied heavily on the French to carry out anti-Semitic policy, and the government and police of Vichy readily complied. In exchange for their complicity, certain Vichy officials maintained influence and governance in the Occupied Zone, especially in anti-Jewish measures. As early as October 1940, the Prefecture of Paris had an anti-Jewish office up and running. French police controlled Drancy and other camps. With SCAP, the Service de Contrôle des Administrateurs Provisoires, the French controlled and rivaled the Germans in the appointment of temporary administrators, and the aryanization and liquidation of Jewish businesses. The Commission Générale aux Questions Juives (CGQJ) both worked for and competed with the Germans. These are just a few examples.

Without Vichy collaboration, the Germans would never have been able to inflict the heavy toll on the Jews in France.

When Armand Kohn returned from Belsen concentration camp in 1945, he testified before a Comité d’Epuration (Purge Committee), concerning the organization of the French police force at the Rothschild Foundation. A portion of his testimony may be summarized as follows: The Prefecture of Police provided 24 hours surveillance in three eight-hour shifts. The French inspectors in the small office at the main entry continually monitored who entered and who left. On hospital grounds, two French policemen sat in each ward where there were prisoners, and others guarded the entrance to every pavilion where there were prisoners. Similarly, French police guards monitored the entrances to the hospices.

When the Faralicq agency replaced police from the Prefecture in July 1943, the same arrangements were made. Later that year, its agents were assigned the additional task of documenting visitors by issuing visitor cards and keeping visitor registers. These registers provided current addresses of Jews, which could then be used for further arrests.