What happened at the Vel d’Hiv?


The Vel d’Hiv was the name given to the Velodrome d’Hiver (Winter Cycling Track). This was the site in Paris where between 7,000 and 13,000 foreign and stateless Jews were concentrated following citywide roundups on 16-17 July 1942 by French police and officials. After five days, the detainees were transferred to transit camps and then to Auschwitz, where the vast majority of them were killed.

Measures against Jews in France intensified in 1942. In May, Jews were forced to wear the Yellow Star, and in June the SS met with French officials to coordinate nationwide roundups. René Bousquet, chief of the French police, and Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, the Vichy Commissioner for Jewish Affairs, were involved in preparation, and secured German approval to change the date of the roundups from Bastille Day (14 July) to 16 July. On 13 July, Emile Hennequin, the Paris police chief, sent detailed plans for the operations to the prefecture [police district]. Tasked with rounding up 28,000 Jews in the Paris area, police were instructed to make hourly reports.

By the end of 16 July, Paris police, French officials and members of the antisemitic and fascist political party Parti Populaire Francais, led by Jacques Doriot, had rounded up over 11,000 people, including 3,625 children. 6,000 were sent immediately to the transit camp at Drancy. The remainder were kept in the Vel d’Hiv for the next five days. Some estimates suggest the total number imprisoned reached 13,000.

Inside the Vel d’Hiv, the glass ceiling had been sealed and painted blue to comply with blackout regulations, which meant temperatures rose rapidly in the summer heat. With inadequate sanitation and no food and water other than that provided by the Red Cross and Quakers, conditions inside deteriorated rapidly. Sarah Lichtsztejn-Montard, then 14 years old, described conditions for French television in 2017: “There were already 5,000 people in there. It was dreadful. There was a horrible hubbub. Children were running around, but the parents in the stands were silent. There was an atrocious smell. The few toilets were quickly clogged. I saw adults go to the bathroom everywhere.” After five days, the detainees were sent to transit camps at Drancy, Pithiviers, and Beaune-la-Rolande. The adults were separated from their children and deported to Auschwitz. The 3,000 children were deported to Auschwitz some months later and murdered. In all, some 77,000 Jews from French territory were killed in concentration camps and killing centers.

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