Rothschild : Roundups and Arrests
Anne Landau, Department of French and Italian, Northwestern University
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Nor is there any record in the UGIF meeting minutes about the February 1943 raids. The next meeting for which there is a record was held on March 11, 1943, a full month after the tragedy. The minutes make no reference either to the deported orphans, or to the other raids at the Rothschild Foundation! To appreciate the full significance of the omission, it is worth reading the minutes in full and reflecting on what was not reported:

Monsieur Kohn expose les conditions dans lesquelles l’Orphelinat Rothschild a été transformé en Annexe des Hospices Rothschild pour accueillir 218 vieillards venant de Drancy. Monsieur Weill-Hallé remercie Monsieur Kohn de la rapidité avec laquelle cet effort a été déclaré. Madame Getting mettra ses services en rapport avec les Chefs de chambrées qui seront incessamment désignés. Monsieur Danon déclare que la Maison de Saint-Mandé va être prête.

Monsieur Kohn talked about conditions for transforming the Rothschild Orphanage into a Rothschild Hospice Annex for 218 elderly persons from Drancy. Monsieur Weill-Hallé thanked Monsieur Kohn for the quickness with which he got the job done. Madame Getting will put her services in touch with the people who will be in charge of the wards. Monsieur Danon said that the Saint-Mandé Home will be ready.

We are left to ponder why no record was made of the raid and confiscation of children the previous month, and to wonder at the nonchalance of reports of transforming the orphanage into an annex for elderly persons.

By the end of February 1943, the Rothschild Orphanage was closed. UGIF transformed the facility into a second hospice, named the Rothschild Hospice Annex. In documents it is sometimes referred to as Camp Lamblardie, for the street on which it was located. The refurbishing took less than a month, and on March 2, 1943, 203 elderly prisoners arrived there from Drancy.

Aloïs Brunner

In June 1943, Eichmann sent Brunner to Paris to assist Röthke and speed up the deportation of the Jews of France, which, in his view, was dragging. For the first six months of 1943, only eight trains made their way to the death camps in the East. At the same time, German officials put constant pressure on Vichy to rescind the citizenship of immigrant Jews nationalized since 1927, which would have made thousands of Jews immediately deportable. Vichy never did formally agree, but when Brunner arrived in Paris in June 1943, he sought to deport the current prisoners at Drancy and Rothschild, in preparation for the expected mass arrests of denaturalized Jews to follow.

Like Eichmann, Brunner was Austrian. In 1931, at the age of 19, he joined the Austrian Nazi Party; this was seven years before the annexation, or Anschluss, of Austria to Germany. Brunner became Eichmann’s private secretary, and before he left Austria he supervised the deportation of 47,000 Jews from Vienna. Thousands of Austrian Jews escaped to other European countries, or to the United States if they had appropriate sponsorship. Many of the Austrian refugees who fled to Belgium or France were arrested and deported from France. Before arriving in France, Brunner also served in Salonika, Greece, where in just two months he arranged to have deported to Auschwitz 43,000 Jews – the entire Jewish population of Salonika! Brunner is considered directly responsible for the murders of approximately 130,000 Jews.

Many survivors have sought to characterize Brunner by his looks, as if looks could betray an evil person. Georges Wellers, former Drancy prisoner and witness in the Eichmann trial, called Brunner “puny” and “expressionless,” with “mean little eyes.” Historians refer to his “cruel half-smile.” Brunner liked to demonstrate his physical repulsion of Jews; he often wore large, black leather gloves, even in the heat, to avoid physical contact. Wellers said he saw Brunner slap a deportee at Drancy, ungloved, stretch out his hand, and wipe it against a pole.

When Brunner took command of Drancy in June 1943, he demonstrated the axiom that Nazi logic was intentionally illogical in its war against Jews. The method of control he perfected in Vienna and implemented at Drancy was intended to confuse and terrify. Brunner eliminated the French police, many of whom had treated prisoners brutally. He dismissed the entire Vichy camp administration, leaving only a small force of French gendarmes to stand guard outside the camp, and to escort Jews to the trains. Brunner and a small team of SS officers commanded the camp and selected Jewish prisoners to become camp officials and camp guards. While they wielded actual power, most loathed the authority they were given. Some prisoners, “missionaries” as they came to be called, were sent into Paris, either to capture other Jews so that their own families at Drancy would not be deported, or to bring back their own family members so they could be “resettled” together in the East.

The French had neglected Drancy, much of which was unfinished. Brunner had the facilities improved in order to deceive the Jews into believing that Drancy was a temporary holding station, prepatory to their relocation to Polish labor camps. He had the prisoners repaint rooms and staircases, reroof and rebrick buildings, replace wood bunks with iron beds, and construct an elegant large gate to take the place of the barbed wire at the main entrance. Food was more abundant, and UGIF was permitted to deliver food parcels to the camp if they were to be shared. Almost every adolescent and adult internee was x-rayed and declared fit for the “labor camps.” A dental office was installed and prisoners’ teeth checked. Brunner’s actions were reassuring to many prisoners. The final deception was that, as the Jews left Drancy for “resettlement,” they were told to exchange their valuables for a receipt representing Polish money, zlotys.