Rothschild : Roundups and Arrests
Anne Landau, Department of French and Italian, Northwestern University
 
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Brunner wasted no time in turning his attention to the Rothschild Hospital. He chose an arbitrary figure: he wanted 70% of the 65 internees at the hospital returned to Drancy at once. On July 3, 1943, two Jewish guards from Drancy appeared at the police office at the main hospital entrance. They said they were sent by Brunner to organize the transfer of internees, that Brunner himself would make a personal visit on July 5 to supervise the transfer, and that the services of the French police at the hospital would soon no longer be necessary.

The hospital staff and the French police guard decided to say nothing to the prisoners before Monday July 5, so their last Sunday at Rothschild could be spent in peace. While many on the staff were upset and concerned, the French police were relieved to be terminated as guards; they had long feared punishment for not doing more to prevent escapes from the hospital.

On July 5, Brunner made a characteristically late and extravagant entrance. The prisoners had been prepared to leave; they had all tucked their belongings in parcels. Brunner was accompanied by Dr. Abraham Drucker, a Drancy prisoner, and together they made the selection of patients to be returned.

Remarkably, there is an eye-witness account of Brunner’s July 5 visit and of events that occurred at the Rothschild Hospital on other occasions: Dr. Charles Odic’s “Stepchildren” of France: A Doctor’s Account of Paris in the Dark Years,” is an obscure book which was written contemporaneously with the events. It is reproduced in full in its English language version for the Picpus Digital Archives.

The Rothschild doctors, nurses and administration had been gathered together to meet Brunner. In a long and hate-filled tirade, Brunner is alleged to have laid out the plan: “…my essential aim is to exterminate you, but I intend to do so by methods with which you will willingly comply and indeed anticipate.” He then threatened that a single escape among the remaining prisoners would result in the execution of 42 members of the hospital administration, doctors and workers (there were then over 400). The Rothschild staff was terror-stricken. It was at this meeting that Brunner met Armand Kohn, to whom he took an immediate strong disliking. He asked Kohn if there were any Aryans in the hospital. When Kohn answered, “Yes,” and suggested that Aryans were at Rothschild by choice, Brunner is said to have replied, “How is it, sir, that you haven’t already been shot?”

Kohn was concerned about the loss of French police surveillance at the hospital; he convinced the hospital administration to hire a private firm. They chose an agency set up by former Police Commissioner, René Faralicq. In the minutes of the July 8, 1943 meeting of the UGIF Commission Médico-Sociale, Kohn reported that the new security firm would soon be in place, and that until then, “patients would be locked in their rooms, and interns would sleep with them at night.” This startled many committee members. Kohn was quick to add that these steps were taken at the request of the chief doctors. Dr. Didier-Hesse, who was in attendance, objected. Speaking for himself and for Dr. Isch-Wall, Rothschild’s head doctor, Didier-Hesse replied that neither of them had ever made such as request, that they did not know who initiated it, and that they would never agree to coercive measures imposed on the patients allegedly for the sake of their own safety.

The private surveillance firm lasted until May 1944, when Brunner suddenly declared Rothschild a “free hospital for Jews.” As pointed out in Chapter 1, Brunner never wanted private police at Rothschild; he never wanted police at all. As at Drancy, he preferred that Jews “take charge.” On May 3, 1944, Brunner visited Rothschild to announce this decision. Hospital personnel, he said, were all hostages, and it was their responsibility, and no longer that of private police, to prevent escapes. To show his “largesse,” he immediately released 59 old and invalided Jews from the hospices, but at the same time he took a dozen internees to Drancy to be deported, including the sister-in-law of Léon Blum, a boy in a cast, and two young mothers with their babies. An escape from Rothschild a few days later resulted in the threatened retaliation – five patients returned to Drancy. Another escape from the hospital led to the incarceration at Drancy of Fernand Cohen and his wife Suzanne, the Directors of the Rothschild Orphanage and later of the Rothschild Hospice Annex. This was their second arrest. They were first incarcerated at Drancy for four months in 1942; this 1944 incarceration lasted two weeks.

In October 1945, Fernand Cohen filed a report at the CDJC on the deportation of children and elderly from the orphanage/hospice on the rue Lamblardie during Brunner’s tenure. The report is included in the Picpus Digital Archives. Cohen’s report reads in part, “A first departure took place on July 23, 1943: On that date 36 elderly were returned [from the Rothschild Hospice] to Camp Drancy. Finding this number insufficient, Captain Brunner sent his aide Bruckner who, after a brutal examination, selected 49 persons [from the Rothschild Hospice]; they were taken, the same day, to the [Drancy] Camp. On November 11, 1943, 7 residents (pensionnaires) received the same fate, and 34 on March 16, 1944. The total number of elderly deported was 126. These were people between the ages of 60 and 85 years old, their health was so precarious that it had justified their release [to the Rothschild Hospice] from Camp Drancy.”

Dr. Alexandre Elbim, in his report CCXXXIII-49, filed with the CDJC in 1945, reported that in October 1943, in retribution for an escape, the Nazi authorities demanded that doctors compile a list of patients who were transported to Drancy on November 11, 1943. Dr. Hertz, fearful of Brunner, drew up the list: 48 Jews, including 8 infants, the youngest 5 months old; and elderly between 84 and 87 years old.