- Following its victory over France in June 1940, Germany and Italy divided the country into a military occupied zone and an autonomous government at Vichy under the leadership of Marshal Philippe Petain. In theory, the Vichy regime had jurisdiction throughout France, but the reality was that its independence was subject to German policy. In May 1941, Petain pledged cooperation with the German government, and nowhere was this better exemplified than in the Vichy regime’s response to the Jewish question.In June 1940, there were approximately 350,000 Jews living in France, of whom more than half were not French citizens. Many of them were refugees from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg and who came to France to escape Nazi persecution. There were also about 20,000 Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe who had sought refuge for similar reasons. The presence of Jewish refugees in Vichy was in accord with German policy, which sought to dump the Jews under its control into unoccupied France. The antiSemitic Vichy government, however, without prodding from the Germans, enacted its own version of the Nazi racial laws against the Jews. Inspired by the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, the Vichy government in October 1940 passed into law its definition of a Jew. The law defined Jews as those with two or more Jewish grandparents, as well as those who belonged to the Jewish religion. Based on this definition, Jews were excluded from public office or serving in the military, and were banned from most middle-class professions. The legislation was also used to intern Vichy’s foreign Jewish population.In March 1941, the Vichy government established the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs and appointed Xavier Vallet as its head. The ostensible purpose of the agency was to coordinate anti-Jewish measures throughout the country, but its primary function was to “Aryanize” Jewish property. Toward the end of 1941, the Vichy government created the Union Generale des Israelites de France (UGIF), France’s version of the Judenrate (Jewish Councils). The function of the UGIF was to represent France’s Jewish community in its dealings with the Vichy government. A similar organization was established by the Germans in the occupied zone. Following the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, Adolf Eichmann and his Jewish “experts” made plans to deport the Jews of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands to the death camps in the east. In March 1942, the first transports of Western European Jews were sent to Auschwitz. In June 1942, Eichmann finalized the technical plans that would deport 100,000 French Jews, divided equally from both zones. In the occupied zone, the position of the Jews had deteriorated even earlier under the German occupation.Jews suffered from the same racial laws in the occupied zone as did those living in Vichy, but the deportations began earlier. In May 1941, the Germans deported 3,200 Polish Jewish refugees to the east. In August 1941, the Drancy transit camp was established in a suburb of Paris. During the same month, an additional 4,300 Jews, including 1,300 native French Jews, were interned at the Drancy transit camp in preparation for deportation to Auschwitz. About 70,000 Jews passed through the camp from its beginning in August 1941 to Liberation Day in August 1944. The camp was initially run by Vichy officials but taken over by the Germans in July 1943, when a concentrated effort was made to deport as many Jews as possible to Auschwitz. The total number of Jews sent to their deaths from the Drancy camp was about 65,000, including women and children. Among those who were deported from France to the extermination camps were 20,000 French Jewish citizens, 15,000 Polish Jews, and 6,000 German Jews.Prior to the deportations, Jews were required to wear the yellow Star of David badge for purposes of identification. In the occupied zone, the UGIF coordinated relief services to the Jews, as well as caring for the children whose parents had been sent to Drancy. When the Germans sent 12,000 foreign Jews, including 4,000 children, to the Velodrome d’Hiver sports stadium in July 1942, in preparation for their deportation to the extermination camps, the UGIF provided assistance to ameliorate the horrible conditions faced by those who would soon die in Auschwitz. The UGIF officials, however, balked when they were ordered to encourage Jews to voluntarily join their relatives in the Drancy camp. For this “insubordination,” several UGIF leaders were arrested and sent to Drancy.In July 1942, the Vichy regime decided that French Jews would remain under its control, but that foreign Jews would be handed over to the Germans. In November 1942, the UGIF encouraged Jews to flee to the Italian occupation zone in southeastern France, where anti-Jewish measures were not in effect. Approximately 30,000 Jews found refuge in the Italian zone until September 1943, when the Germans occupied the area following Italy’s surrender to the Allies. With the assistance of French collaborators, the Germans hunted down thousands of Jews, who were subsequently deported to Auschwitz. All told, the number of Jews who were deported from France, executed by the Germans, or died in the transit camps was approximately 90,000.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.