Published on 22 July 2019

Crif/Vel d'Hiv - The highlights of the national ceremony commemorating the Vel d'Hiv roundup

The national ceremony in memory of the victims of racist and anti-Semitic crimes and tribute to the Righteous of France, commemorating the Vel d'Hiv roundup, took place on Sunday, July 21st. French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly was the guest of honor.
"Every year, we meet here, to remember and recall the Vel d'Hiv roundup of July 16th and 17th, 1942 but also to fix the symbolic boundaries that prevent forgetfulness." President of Crif Francis Kalifat said at the beginning of his speech.
On July 21st, we were hundreds, on the Quai de Grenelle, to prevent ourselves from forgetfulness.
To prevent forgetfulness, and to remember those days and nights of the month of July 1942. To remember these Parisian families, awakened in the early morning by the French policemen. To remember the 4115 scared children, screaming to stay close to their mothers.
On the occasion of a ceremony jointly organized by Crif and the Ministry of the Armed Forces, France paid tribute to the 13,152 men, women and children arrested during the infamous Vel d'Hiv roundup.
The commemoration began at 10 boulevard de Grenelle, in front of the plaque paying tribute to the victims of the Vel d'Hiv, with Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, and Francis Kalifat, Serge Klarsfeld, Raphael Esrail, and Pierre-François Veil.
They then went to the Garden of Remembrance, inaugurated in 2017 by Serge Klarsfeld, before heading to the Jewish Martyrs square of the former winter velodrome where the public ceremony took place.
After the Jewish prayers led by Chief Rabbi Alain Goldmann and Chief Rabbi Olivier Kaufmann, the French hymn 'Marseillaise' sounded, finding a special echo in the hearts of the many Holocaust survirors present that day.
Several deposits of flowers followed, adding the solemnity to the moment. Mr. Eugène Daumas, President of the French Union of Gypsy Associations; Mr Joel Mergui, President of the Central Consistory and Consistory of Paris; Mrs. Annette Zaidman and Régine Lippe, for the association of the Sons and Daughters of the Jewish deportees of France; Mr. Raphaël Esrail, President of the Union of Deportees of Auschwitz; Mr. David de Rothschild, President of the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah; Mr. Francis Kalifat, President of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (Crif); Mr. Jérémy Redler, Regional Councilor of Ile de France; Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, and Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces deposed flowers for remembrance.
Eugène Daumas delivered his speech, followed by Raphaël Esrail and Serge Klarsfeld.
With a determined step, Esther Senot then approached the stage and delivered the very moving testimony of what she experienced, at the age of 15, during these dramatic days of July 1942. Esther Senot told, with her words, the sequence of risky episodes that allow her to escape the Vel d'Hiv roundup. She also explained the following months of wandering, her arrest in Paris, then her internment in Drancy camp and departure to hell... Esther Senot stayed 16 months in Auschwitz-Birkenau. She then undergoes the "death march" before arriving at Bergen-Belsen camp. Few weeks later, she is deported to Mauthausen camp before returning to France at the end of May 1945.
Her honest and modest testimony paid a strong tribute to those who will never have the opportunity to testify. Recalling the promise made to her sister in the camp, Esther Senot solemnly declares: "I will testify until the end".
Pierre-François Veil, President of the French Committee for Yad Vashem, then took the floor and recalled the commitment of Yad Vashem for the Righteous among the Nations. Madame Blandine Orvoën, granddaughter of the French Righteous among the Nations Rémy Dumoncel, then delivered a vibrant tribute to the courage of her grandfather and all the French righteous.
The ceremony continued with President of Crif Francis Kalifat' speech.
After highlighting the importance of memorial ceremonies, to fight forgetting and honor the duty of remembrance, Francis Kalifat hailed the presence of the Holocaust survivros present today and paid tribute to all the victims of Nazi barbarism. President of Crif recalled the heroic acts of the Righteous among the Nations, highlighting the courage and commitment of leading figures.
Francis Kalifat lamented the proliferation of antisemitic acts in France and reiterated his demand for real and serious judicial sanctions. He echoed the recent court order to abolish the suspect's discernment in the Sarah Halimi case and emphasized his misunderstanding.
Before the end of the ceremony, the French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly delivered a particularly moving speech. She began her speech by recalling the terrible days that were July 16 and 17, 1942.
Florence Parly then insisted strongly on the responsibility of France in the  Vel d'hiv roundup. "The raid Vel d'Hiv is the only work of the French government, accomplished by the French, and has become the symbol of all persecutions," she said.
Florence Parly stressed the importance for France and the French armies to look at their story right in the eye. Recalling the debacle of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, she announced that she wanted to personally ensure its total rehabilitation. "120 years after the Rennes trial, the Armies must look their story in the face.It is still time that the Armies give back to Alfred Dreyfus all the honor and all the years that have been taken away. " she said.
At the end of the ceremony, everyone walked back home through the Paris streets of the 15th district bathed in sunshine. Everyone was able to hear the laughter of little Parisians melt into the murmur of the city. And everyone can felt somewhere in their heart the names of some other little Parisians, awakened at dawn on a morning of July. We shall never forget them.
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