The greatest mass-arrest of Jews ever carried out on French soil is known as the Vél’ d’hiv’ Round-up. It involved 13 000 victims from Paris and its suburbs. Over slightly more than two days, the Round-up involved nearly a third of the 42,000 Jews deported to death camps in Poland in 1942.The statistics for this terrible year account for over half of the total 76,000 Jewish deportations from France. Compared to the mass-arrests that had previously taken place in Paris on May 14, August 20-23 and December 12, this event is particular for a number of reasons, foremost being its scale. Because they had not developed the reflex of hiding, women and children were this time involved. The action was part of the vast deportation plan of European Jews, devised by the Nazis at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. The Vél’ d’hiv’ Round-up was a concrete case of execution of the Final Solution. The event also gave the government of Pierre Laval the opportunity to implement French sovereignty. The Vichy Armistice Convention of June 22, 1940, had provided for French sovereignty over its entire territory, but this principle was subsequently violated. René Bousquet, Vichy Secretary General of Police, then led new negotiations with General Carl-Albrecht Oberg. The nomination of these two individuals to their positions represents a landmark event. Bousquet had occupied his position since Laval’s return to power in April. On March 9, 1942, Hitler had nominated Oberg for the position as Supreme Chief of the SS and of the German Police Military Command in France, a position that he occupied from May. The arrival in Paris of Reinhard Heydrich, Head of the Reich’s Central Security Office (RSHA), and his meeting with Bousquet on May 6, 1942, are cited by Klarsfeld as the beginning of the German demands (Klarsfeld, 2001). One month before the Round-up, effective from June 16, it was envisioned that in addition to the 16 to 55 year-old Jews to be arrested in the Paris region, a further 10,000 were to be taken from the so-called free area. The age limit for men was then lowered to 2 years of age and raised to 60 years of age. It was raised further later on.
Head of Government Pierre Laval announced the night before the Vichy Council of Ministers of June 26, 1942 that Jean Leguay, Bosquet’s Deputy for the Occupied Zone, had been summoned by Theodor Dannecker, SS Councilor for Jewish Affairs (Service IV-J). Dannecker, who had been delegated to France by Adolf Eichmann, demanded the transportation of 10,000 Jews from the Southern zone, as had been promised by René Bosquet on June 16, and the arrest of a further 22,000 of which at least 40% were to be French from the Seine and Seine-et-Oise départements. On June 30, upon a fleeting visit to Paris, Eichmann and Dannecker co-signed a declaration “to totally free France of Jews as quickly as possible” (Klarsfeld, 2001).
Disregarding a promise that he should lead a unified police force, on July 2, 1942 René Bousquet agreed to put his men at the disposal of the occupier for the purposes of arresting Jewish foreigners in the two zones. The following day, at the Council of Ministers, Laval announced a census for the Southern zone intended to distinguish French Jews from “the trash sent by the Germans themselves”. Pétain considered the initiative to be “fair” and “that it would be understood by the public at large”.
On July 4, Dannecker implemented a commission presided over by the General-Commissioner for Jewish Affairs, Louis Darquier de Pellepoix. The commission brought together the heads of various French organizations involved in round-up preparations and set-up a visit of the Southern zone camps by a German delegation. On the same day, Laval suggested to Helmut Knochen, Head of Security Policy and the SS Information Service (SiPo-SD), that children should be deported as well, in order to appease public opinion which could be shocked by the breaking up of families (Joly, 2006). He repeated his suggestion the following day (July 5) to Knochen’s Deputy, General Oberg.