Rothschild : Roundups and Arrests
Anne Landau, Department of French and Italian, Northwestern University
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November 1942

The German ordinance that forced all Jews in the Occupied Zone to wear the Star of David, and the Vel d’Hiv roundup in July 1942, began to weigh on the consciences of the non-Jewish French, who until that time had responded indifferently and somewhat casually to Jewish arrests. Now they faced hundreds of yellow stars in the streets, and witnessed French police arrest yellow-starred women, children and infants, then drag them into busses and police vans. Public sentiment began to tilt in favor of less repressive action, just as Vichy officials had predicted. Protestant leaders had already protested, and high positioned Catholic clergy began to express concern. The chief concern of the latter was that, at the very least, the Vichy government should protect French citizen Jews.

As a result, a decision was made in Berlin not to insist on further arrests and deportation of French citizen Jews. Röthke was nonetheless successful in persuading Vichy officials to continue the mass arrests by French police of foreign and stateless Jews. In early October 1942, sweeps in the Occupied Zone resulted in the capture and incarceration at Drancy of about 2,500 Jews. Eichmann, the official who approved transports of Jews, authorized three convoys for November 4, 6, and 9, 1942 to deport the Drancy prisoners.

In the meantime, Röthke was informed through diplomatic channels of an opportunity to arrest and deport Greek Jews. He estimated the number of Greek Jews in the Occupied Zone, and requested that French municipal police take charge of organizing the roundup. At midnight, on November 5, 1942, French policemen were sent out with the names and addresses of the 1,723 Greek Jews in the fichier. There were 1,060 arrests made in the Paris region. Röthke’s aide, Ernst Heinrichsohn, believed that when the Greek Jews from the rest of the Occupied Zone were arrested and brought to Drancy, he would have enough live bodies to fill a fourth convoy. He asked Röthke to send Eichmann a telex requesting a fourth convoy, and Eichmann agreed. But because not all of the Greek Jews were delivered in time, and because of Eichmann’s furor when transports were not filled, Heinrichsohn needed to find additional victims to complete the fourth convoy.

As a result, on November 9, 1942, Heinrichsohn went to the Rothschild Hospice on the rue de Picpus, accompanied by Jacques Schweblin, the French Director of the Police aux Questions Juives (PQJ). Heinrichsohn personally interviewed potential deportees from among a group of elderly Jews whom he had sent from Drancy to the hospice in August 1942. He eliminated a few citizens who were French and from neutral Turkey and Spain. From those remaining, he chose 33 Jews from Poland, Russia, Germany, and Romania. They were taken to an isolated part of the hospice to prevent them from talking to others. On November 10, 1942 at 9 p.m., a team of French inspectors arrived at the hospice to start the deportation process. They woke the prisoners and conducted a search much as they would have done at Drancy; valuables were confiscated. The inspectors stood guard until 11 a.m. the following morning, when Jacques Schweblin returned and personally supervised the transport to Drancy.

In a deposition prepared for the 1979-1980 trial of Ernst Heinrichsohn in Cologne, Germany, Monsieur Salomon, who was the Hospice Director at Rothschild in 1942, testified that he got the very clear impression the 33 prisoners were to be deported East immediately. He was correct: the routine at Drancy was for the French police to isolate the prisoners, confiscate their valuables, escort them in the morning first to the busses, and then to the train headed to the death camps.

February 1943

The successful Allied landing in North Africa on November 8, 1942, precipitated German troops moving into southern France. In just three days, large numbers of the German army reached the Mediterranean coast, while Italian Axis forces moved up the Rhone River and occupied the Savoy and Riviera regions, the “Italian Zone.” Neither the Germans nor the Italians encountered opposition. This was an ill-fated turn of events for all the Jews in the Unoccupied Zone, including thousands who had fled Paris and the north of France after May 1940 to find refuge in the south.

In December 1942, the Vichy government decreed that Jews in the south must have their identity and food ration cards stamped Juif, as was the procedure in the north. The result was that Jews in the Unoccupied Zone could no longer live safely in the open. Many crossed the borders into Spain or Switzerland; others went into hiding, often in the Italian Zone because the Italian forces refused to enforce German racial policies, or arrest and send Jews to Drancy. This infuriated the German command and the leaders of the Vichy government, Laval in particular. When Italy surrendered in September 1943, German soldiers quickly occupied the Italian Zone.

After November 11, 1942, the transport of Jews to the death camps was suspended because foreign Jews were harder to locate and arrest, so that the rail convoys became difficult to fill. In December 1942, at Hitler’s order, pressure began to build in France for the arrest and deportation of French citizen Jews. In Paris, the tolerance of German authorities for Vichy efforts to spare them began to wear thin. As a result, an order was issued to resume the rail transports, and four convoys were scheduled to leave Drancy on February 9 through 13, 1943.