Theodor Dannecker and Heinz Röthke
SS-Hauptstürmführer Theodor Dannecker was 27 years old when he arrived in Paris in the late summer of 1940. He was sent there by Adolph Eichmann, who was chief (SS-Oberstürmbannführer) of the Gestapo’s Jewish Section (IVB4 office) in Berlin. Eichmann’s directive to Dannecker was to organize a Jewish bureau in Paris, the Judenreferat, similar to those in other occupied European cities. Dannecker answered directly to Eichmann, rather than to SS-Oberstrürmbannführer Helmut Knochen, who headed the Security Police (Sicherheitsdienst or Gestapo) in France from headquarters at 72 avenue Foch. Dannecker had only three years experience in the Berlin bureau, but Eichmann had full confidence in him – he was talented, energetic and rabidly anti-Semitic.
From June 1940 to July 1942, Dannecker was the judenreferent, or Jewish expert, in France. The Jewish section he established at 31 bis avenue Foch and 11 rue des Saussaies, Paris, became the most active of the German agencies involved in the long-range planning of Jewish policy in France. Dannecker established the French-headed Commissariat Général aux Questions Juives (CGQJ), which coordinated French anti-Jewish policy; the Service du Contrôle des Administrateurs Provisoires (SCAP), which oversaw the confiscation of Jewish property; and the Police aux Questions Juives (PQJ), an anti-Jewish police force, at first was part of Vichy’s Ministry of the Interior. He insisted on the creation of the Union Générale aux Questions Juives (UGIF), which merged all Jewish service organizations into one.
Dannecker prodded the Vichy government to take anti-Jewish measures even more drastic than it had enacted on its own volition. For example, in early 1942 Vichy was pressed to pass a law requiring all Jews, including French Jews, to wear the yellow star. The effort failed; Vichy officials, even Prime Minister Laval, felt that such a measure would shock French public opinion and provoke sympathy for French Jews, which they wanted to avoid. The Germans went ahead on their own. On May 29, 1942, the 8th German ordinance mandated all Jews in the Occupied Zone over the age of six to wear a yellow Star of David on the left side of an outer garment, with Juif or Juive written in black letters.
Dannecker personally ordered and planned the roundup of Jews that took place in Paris in August 1941, resulting in the opening of the Drancy camp. As recounted in Chapter 1, he visited the Rothschild Hospital on April 4, 1942, with disastrous consequences for many patients. He had a major role in the planning of the Vel d’Hiv roundup in July 1942.
After the Vel d’Hiv roundup, Dannecker was recalled to Berlin. In Vichy-Auschwitz: La “solution finale” de la question juive en France (Vichy-Auschwitz: The “Finale Solution” of the Jewish Question in France), Serge Klarsfeld maintains that the recall was caused by Dannecker’s overtly violent anti-Jewish behavior, rather than a need to assign him to another country. His reprehensible conduct at the Rothschild Hospital on April 4, 1942, described in Chapter 1, serves as an apt example. His negative reputation in Paris became so offensive to Vichy’s leaders that SS-Oberstürmbannführer Helmut Knochen, and SS-Stürmbannführer Herbert Hagen concluded that the German objective of retaining Vichy collaboration could better be achieved by a person less inclined to stir up French animosity.
Enter Heinz Röthke, a man who shared Dannecker’s hostility toward Jews, but was less likely to show it in public. As the second judenreferent, SS-Oberstürmführer Röthke’s approach to the deportation of Jews was bureaucratic and quasi-pedantic. In Berlin he was a student in theology, who found a replacement for God in Nazism. He read every file on every Jew he deported, but he could not bear to know them personally. It was not in his character to supervise and carry out Jewish roundups, so for a while he delegated that responsibility to his aide Ernst Heinrichsohn.
In 1943, when Vichy was becoming far less cooperative with the German Authorities, as the fortunes of the war shifted away from the Axis forces, Röthke asked Eichmann for help, and he sent SS-Hauptstürmführer Aloïs Brunner, who acted independently of any German chain of command.
In the main, the roundups of Jews at the Rothschild Hospital were implemented within the context of mass arrests conducted mostly in the capital. Under Röthke’s watch, there were two: the first occurred on November 11, 1942, and the second on February 10 and11, 1943.