A Description of the Paris Round-up of and of Life in the Drancy Camp
The roundup of the 11th district [arrondissement] on August 20-21, 1941 took effect both in the street (in the form of request for identity papers and then, in the case of Jews, arrests) and in the homes. The district was already surrounded at dawn. The first arrests were made from 4 o'clock in the morning. The French police, under German surveillance, arrested the Jews according to lists. If the Jew in question was absent, another member of the family was taken. The policemen went from house to house, street by street. The metro stations were closed in the entire district, initially until 1 o'clock in the afternoon, and subsequently indefinitely. Police barrages were placed at all points of exit from the district, usually reinforced by soldiers of the occupation army.
The house-to-house searches were almost entirely completed in the morning.
The arrested Jews were first taken to the police stations, then rapidly transported by bus to Drancy. Most had taken nothing with them (having been told that it was merely a matter of verification of papers). The families of some favored prisoners were allowed to bring belongings and food to the police station for them. In the various police stations, the prisoners were rapidly identified, no distinction being made between native French, naturalized French, non-French, ex-servicemen, etc. ... A few arrested women were almost immediately released.
The police did not return to the homes of Jews who were absent when they first arrived but rather left an order for them to appear at the police station. Certain Jews were saved in this way.
According to French policemen and inspectors, the district police stations were alerted only during the night, receiving an order to arrest 4,000 Jews, a number that was reached on the first day.
Towards 5.00 p.m. everything went back to normal. A few arrests were still made in the street, mainly at the Place de la Republique under the direction of Captain D. [Dannecker].
On August 21, fifty lawyers from the Paris Bar Association were arrested and taken to Drancy as hostages.
On August 22, the buses arrived from all the Paris districts. The passengers waited two or three hours before they were taken off. They had all spent the night at the different police stations, having been arrested for no reason the previous evening between 5 and 9 o'clock in the street, in cafes, in restaurants and in any other public place. None had been allowed to go home and take any item of clothing or personal belongings; they were all in summer dress, in casual or working clothes, or in jackets with no coats. Nobody had any toilet articles.
Towards 11 a.m., they were lined up next to the barbed wire, right in the sun; at 1.00 p.m. they were given hot soup, a mere food can for each group of about 20.
Thanks to the leniency of the policemen in most of the police stations, they nonetheless all received food.
Towards 3.00 p.m., they were rounded up in small groups. They passed before a series of young inspectors who demanded their identity card and their ration card. Then they were allocated to a room. Through the kindness of some friends but with difficulty, they found this room, where they received a hostile welcome, since all the beds were taken. They had to squeeze together, two in the lower bed and one in the upper bed. There was still not enough room, so it was necessary to put two in the upper bed as well; those who came last had to make do with the table and then with the cement floor. They were plank-beds with no mattresses.
There were 80 people in a room.
The soup, or rather the hot water, arrived. The head of the room did not yet know all the roommates. He called them by numbers. Only a quarter of them, however, responded ... This led to incredible confusion: some received hot water three times; others received nothing. It was time to go to bed. Somehow, everyone managed to get half a blanket by sharing with their bed-mates. Obviously, everyone rose very early; nobody had slept.
A little water splashed over faces, one piece of soap for ten people, a comb for twenty, a toothbrush for five, a razor for ten, a mirror for the entire room. The taps either did not work or could not be turned off.
The next day passed in roll calls. No room head knew exactly how many men were in the room; some were counted twice, others not at all.
The chores were organized gradually, beginning with the soup distribution: one large pot or two per staircase. As soon as one room finished, the pot had to be passed to the next room. Thus the distribution lasted about two hours.
A broom was made with a piece of wood and bits of straw, for 4 rooms. It was never lent out, for fear of it being lost.
Nobody was willing to clean the stairs.
The police lieutenant that, with an internee of his choice, ran the camp effectively, tried to bring a little order to this chaos. He had the best of intentions but no resources at his disposal.
The room-heads gave lists to the staircase-heads, so that the daily roll calls (at 8.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m.) could take place in the yard. These were very protracted affairs (lasting for at least one hour). The internees were lined up outside according to staircase. The policemen checked the rooms to make sure that nobody had remained there. In the first days, no allowances were made for sick people.
Workers, generally volunteers, were selected. Masons, locksmiths, heating mechanics, carpenters, etc. undertook different works demanded by the police lieutenant. In general, however, there were no materials.
Somehow everyone found an old food tin left behind by the French and British prisoners. Thus everyone had a receptacle to drink from, and they ate the 2 or 3 carrot slices with their fingers.
The lengthy chore of vegetable peeling was also organized. Only those possessing a penknife could do this, since there were no knives.
For three days nobody had eaten; hunger was making itself felt. The kitchens did not have enough soup. In the rooms, hungry men lost control, and fights broke out because one man had received three turnip slices both at midday and in the evening. Policemen guarded the kitchens; the frugal nurse did not allow second helpings.
Clothing or food packages were implacably refused, and the families were seen leaving with their arms loaded with their packages. No correspondence was allowed. The only subject of discussion was hunger.
The soap ran out; the same clothes had been worn for eight days. Because of the cinders, the clothing was alarmingly black. Shirts were washed without soap in cold water and worn while they were still wet the following morning. Many internees did not undress. Lice began to appear.
The "vegetable peeling" chore was in great demand. Instead of peeling, the men ate as many raw turnips and carrots as they could. Two gendarmes with ready bayonets were stationed to prevent the internees from eating the raw vegetables.
In the garbage bins, the internees fought to collect the peelings mixed with refuse and cinders.
An epidemic of dysentery and urinary incontinence broke out. Three quarters of the camp were affected. Seven to eight times a day, even as many as fifteen to twenty times, people had to run to the "red palace" where there were only 60 stalls. They queued up. Some, unable to constrain themselves, did not make it in time: the stairs and the yard were covered with filth. There was no broom to clean it up. A pestilential stink began to pervade everywhere. Everyone lost weight; everyone was repulsively dirty.
Harassment: no two lawyers were allowed to be in the same room; it was forbidden to go from one staircase to the other.
Finally, on the fifteenth day, the clothing parcels were accepted. However, they were first ruthlessly searched by the gendarmes, who removed all food, tonics and cigarettes. For the internees, dying of hunger, it was like Tantalus torment to see from afar the gendarmes removing all the food, eating and smoking.
The health of the internees was greatly impaired; many could no longer leave their beds except when obliged for the roll cal. They went down, supported by their comrades. Some collapsed in the rows; comrades held them up, since the officers did not hesitate to kick anyone who fell down. Especially the old men and the very young could not support this regime.
Edemas began to appear. The dysentery continued. Some of the inmates swelled up, while others grew thinner daily. All had a waxen complexion. The sick bays were full; no evacuation was allowed.
The police lieutenant alerted the camp commander, a 3rd class police inspector who never set foot in the camp. Concerned, he agreed to inform Captain D. [Dannecker], who replied: "Let them all die".
In principle, the police lieutenants, out of pity, allowed the sick to remain in their rooms during the roll calls. There was one, however, who made everyone attend. He held general roll calls, and veritable corpses were taken from the sick bay to the yard for the roll call.
The Red Cross was notified and sought to intervene. Presence of the Red Cross was authorized from September 20. A social worker was appointed to receive the internees and to act as liaison with the outside world through the French Red Cross.
Since parcels were not allowed, the Red Cross brought collective food supplies (and continued its aid until November 1, at which time the families were authorized to send parcels).
Towards October 20, some deaths occurred. Public rumors began to circulate the doctors at the Police Headquarters were informed. Panic-stricken by the sight that met them, they sent for the German doctors. Taking advantage of D.'s [Danneckers] absence, one of them obtained the liberation of 1,500 internees. Many died following their return home. Between October 20 and November 6, there were some thirty deaths at the camp.
From November 1, food parcels were at last allowed: a weekly parcel of 3 kg was henceforth accepted, which saved the lives of the remaining inmates. The Red Cross was responsible for centralizing the parcels and transporting them to Drancy.
It also organized the exchange of dirty and clean linen in premises that it rented in Paris.
On November 12, 750 more inmates, from the letter A to the letter K, were freed. The next day, another 150, chosen by a German doctor from L to Z, were to be released. At 11 o'clock, a telephone call put a total stop to the releases, and no further internee was released until July 16.
However, the camp became organized. The internees, assisted by the police officers, set up the different services, which were headed by trustworthy, responsible people. In general, reserve officers were chosen: the steward's office, the postal service and the food parcel service were staffed. The showers finally worked, and the internees could scrub themselves clean with hot water.
A normal prison camp life developed. All the internees who so wished found a job: butcher, shoemaker, carpenter, plumber. The camp began to function like a small town.
The admirable social worker sent by the Red Cross maintained contacts with the families.
Even the few Germans remaining at the guard post had disappeared, and only the French gendarmes remained. They, too, had mellowed.
Suddenly at three o'clock, on December 12, Captain D.[Dannecker] appeared: "In 10 minutes' time I want everyone outside with their belongings". The buses arrived at the same time. Everyone, including the sick bay patients, came down to the yard, and to the great surprise of all, only 300 men were called, selected at random by D. [Dannecker] from among the non-manual workmen. The others had to leave the yard immediately.
The 300 departed. Those with two suitcases had to leave one behind, no matter which one; it was brutally snatched from them by D. [Dannecker], who oversaw the operation. If anyone tried to take something from the remaining suitcase, the two suitcases remained behind. Under pointed machine guns and a rain of punches and kicks, they boarded the buses.
Two days later, in the morning, the German authorities reappeared. They called 12 internees, who were never seen again. In the afternoon, the same scenario was repeated: 7 internees were called, dignified men this time: lawyers, men of letters, etc. ... We later learnt that they had been taken to Compiegne.
Things went back to normal, and camp life resumed. Depending on the police brigades, it was easier or tougher, but never unendurable.
On January 15, there was a call for 50 volunteers to go and work. They left on the 30th, with the head of the camp .... Their heads were shaved prior to their departure.
On February 6, there was another departure of 50 volunteers. These two groups were to remain at Compiegne until March 27.
On March 27, a departure of 1,000 was announced. For the first time the Police for Jewish Affairs intervened. This service was directed by an anti-Semite Its ranks were filled by young thugs recruited through advertisements in the Pilori. After having their heads shaved, the departing internees, isolated from the others, were searched by these thugs.
This search was carried out in the most scandalous fashion: the internees were left with nothing. Knives, money, jewelry, watches, glassware, thermoses, clothing - everything to which these Gentlemen took a liking was seized with laughter, sarcasm, kicks.
Everything was thrown carelessly into suitcases, which were purportedly delivered to the National Assistance. These Gentlemen, however, had previously confiscated anything that took their fancy.
The internees spent the night in groups of 100 to a room. They had a latrine that was too small at the foot of the stairs. They could leave the room only to relieve themselves.
The roll call for the departure began at 4.00 a.m. and lasted until 8.00 a.m. They left in the buses; only one suitcase was allowed.
On April 29, there was another departure of 1,000.
On June 22, there was another departure, made up almost exclusively of ex-servicemen of both wars, mutilated, with military decorations and military crosses.
Departure conditions: a train made up of 30 cattle cars, sealed, without straw; 50 internees per car; 2 slop pails filled with water (10 liters); food for the journey supplied by the Paris Police for 3 days: 1 kg of bread, 1 slice of meat, 1 tin of food, a little cheese, 3 lumps of sugar.
Late January, February, March, April: each day the German authorities took away about fifteen internees who were never seen again. In general, those taken were former members of the Third International.
Source: Yad Vashem