The Vél d’Hiv Raid: The French Police at the Service of the Gestapo
By Maurice Rajsfus
Translated by Levi Laub
Foreword by Michel Warschawski
2017. Hardcover and Paperback.
Ebook also available.
$18.95 | 9780997818451
$14.95 | 9780997818468
At the 75th commemorative anniversary, three companion books by survivor Maurice Rajsfus, Operation Yellow Star and Black Thursday and The Vél d’Hiv Raid bring to light one of the most traumatic events in French history during the 20th century. Rajsfus, who became an investigative journalist for Le Monde and a controversial outspoken critic of the French Police, offers detailed archival research and a first-hand witness account of the infamous roundup in France on July 16, 1942, in which over 13,000 immigrant Jews were arrested and detained for three days in squalid conditions at the Paris sporting stadium, the Vélodrome d’Hiver. The Vél d’Hiv Raid, as it is now known, was conducted by the French Police on their own initiative, and is an event distinguished in history for its horrific display of local anti-Semitism under the Nazi occupying force.
The Vél d’Hiv Raid: The French Police at the Service of the Gestapo dives into arrest records, right-wing media accounts, memoranda, and preparations for the raid. The author correctly points out that only a spare few of the policemen refused to obey orders and resist participating in this humiliation of 13,000 citizens of their city. Upon Liberation, the French Police were decorated with a collective Legion of Honor by General Charles de Gaulle. And it was only at the 70th anniversary of the raid, in 2012, that a French politician officially apologized for the raid, yet the French Police have to this day never done so. The author’s book is a compelling argument that this fact is a national embarrassment and a warning to citizens of every country about institutions under strong governments that are allowed to act with impunity. A Foreword by Michel Warschawski echoes the author’s call to solidarity among individuals to come to the aid of those targeted for their race, religion or ethnicity and not to accept an argument of collective immunity.
Listen or download KPFA radio host Mitch Jeserich’s interview with Levi Laub on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the infamous Vél D’Hiv Raid at https://kpfa.org/episode/letters-and-politics-july-17-2017.
With passion and indignation, Maurice Rajsfus recounts the worst single crime of the Vichy regime in France: the pre-dawn arrest by French police, at German instigation, on July 16-17, 1942, of 13,152 Jewish men, women, and children, and their ordeal on the way to extermination. Rajsfus brings this terrible experience to life with contemporary texts – high-level Franco-German haggling, detailed police instructions, eye-witness testimony, and press commentary.
– Robert O. Paxton, author of Vichy France and the Jews
This episode represents a stain on the honor of the French nation, with its principles of liberty, fraternity, and equality and, in particular, the French police as it does other complicit nations and peoples. […] As a Vél d’Hiv survivor himself, author Maurice Rajsfus has made a point of documenting, what is now effectively a trilogy, the entirety of France’s ill-starred history with respect to its responsibilities regarding Jews and others who suffered in the Holocaust.
– Thomas McClung, New York Journal of Books
A remarkable collection of primary source documents [that] arrives at a time when the United States and other Western democracies face significant decision points. […] Rajsfus’s work about the French treachery was completed years before Trump’s ascendancy to power. Its importance is to alert us to be attentive and vigilant. When must we act to save our country? […] Rajsfus implicitly warns us that there will be many fellow travelers who will follow Trump through the swamp in order to wreck the American experiment.
– Roger I. Abrams, New York Journal of Books
Rare and invaluable is the writer who can address a topic that can’t possibly withstand further scrutiny … only to produce a brilliantly original, insight-filled manifesto. Maurice Rajsfus pulls off that exact feat of magic in The Vel d’Hiv Raid: The French Police at the Service of the Gestapo. That the French lustily collaborated with the Nazis during WWII, we know from scores of trustworthy sources, but Rajsfus helps us see the implications of the othering of whole communities based on their ethnic, national, or religious origins, as we’re seeing with President Trump’s flippant rhetoric and certain autocratic European leaders.
– Foreword Reviews
Maurice Rajsfus, a French Jewish survivor who witnessed this infamous roundup, dissects it in a workmanlike book, The Vel D’Hiv Raid: The French Police at the Service of the Gestapo, which was originally published in France 15 years ago. […] Rajsfus, a former investigative reporter for Le Monde, was 14 years old when thousands of police, at Germany’s request, arrested the Jews. His parents, immigrants from Poland, were swept up in the net and sent on to Auschwitz. He discusses this personally painful and unforgettable aspect in another book, Black Thursday: The Roundup of July 16, 1942.
– Sheldon Kirshner, The Times of Israel (media-enhanced version)
Maurice Rajsfus has devoted his life to denouncing and combating racism, fascism, intolerance, and police brutality, while putting in his texts a good dose of caustic irony.
– Jakilea, Basque Human Rights Defense League
If [Rajsfus] still wishes to recall how scrupulously — and even with zeal — the French police applied Nazi orders, he also wants to warn us against certain xenophobic or discriminatory speech still heard recently that could lead to behavior of that bygone age.
– Ekaitza weekly newspaper, Bayonne, France
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maurice Rajsfus (1928–2020) was an author and activist who worked as an investigative journalist at multiple French outlets, including at Le Monde. Of his many books, many dealt with the Vichy regime and its legacy in French police culture, focusing on police violence against immigrants and people of color. He also wrote about Drancy concentration camp and Israel-Palestine, as well as co-authoring several illustrated books about history. In 1990, Rajsfus and several friends founded “Ras l’Front,” the anti-racist association of far-left-wing organizations extremely active in the 1990s against the rise of Le Pen and fascist/nationalist parties in France. They worked together and promoted leftist causes through a monthly publication as well as actions. He served as chairman from 1991–1999. From 1994–2012 Rajsfus created and circulated Que fait la police?, a “Cop Watch” bulletin with selections from his archive of over 40,000 press clippings detailing human rights abuses by French police. His books about the Vél d’Hiv raid and his experiences during WWII have been brought together to form the basis of a YA comic (Tartamudo editions) as well as a play written and directed by Philippe Ogouz, which was then adapted for film in 2010, Souvenirs d’un vieil enfant: La rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv (Memories of an Old Child: The Roundup of the Vel’ d’Hiv), directed by Alain Guesnier. Maurice Rajsfus is survived by two sons as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Read more about Rajsfus and his legacy at the link posted in our tribute.
Read Maurice Rajsfus’ May 6, 2017 statement “The Le Pen Family Are All Holocausts Deniers.”
Levi Laub (b.1938) is an activist and occasional translator who worked with the Progressive Labor Party in the United States for 15 years primarily as an organizer of immigrant labor in the California Valleys. In 1963 Laub led a group of 59 students to Cuba via Prague, violating and challenging the travel ban for US citizens that was in place at the time. Upon his return to the United States, Laub was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Riots broke out in the hearing room when Capitol police were called in to remove Laub and his supporters. Within the month, Laub and three other organizers of the Cuba trip were indicted in Federal Court for violating the Travel Ban. In U.S. v. Laub, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, considering it unconstitutional to disallow American citizens their right to free movement. He met Maurice Rajsfus in Paris while doing research into communist militancy in the French Resistance, about which Rajsfus wrote a book entitled L’An Prochain, La Revolution (Next Year, The Revolution).
Michel Warschawski (b.1949) (Mikado) is an Israeli anti-Zionist peace activist and journalist. He was born in Strasbourg, France, where his father was a rabbi. He moved to Jerusalem for Talmudic studies at age 16 and later completed a degree in philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He led the Marxist Revolutionary Communist League (Matzpen, Israeli Section of the Fourth International) until its demise in the 1990s, and co-founded the Alternative Information Center (AIC), an organization uniting Israeli and Palestinian anti-Zionist activists. His books include On the Border (South End Press) and Towards an Open Tomb — The Crisis of Israeli Society (Monthly Review Press). He is the winner of the 2002 Prix des Amis du Monde Diplomatique.