The Shoah Memorial in Paris has acquired a series of recently discovered photographs which show in detail the first mass arrest of Jews in Paris, organized during World War II by the French police at the initiative of the German authorities.
On Wednesday, May 14, 1941, 3,700 men, mainly refugees from Romania, Czechoslovakia, and especially Poland, received a so-called “green ticket” from the Parisian police summoning them for an “examen de situation.” They were asked to bring along a relative or a friend. Having fled anti-Semitism and persecution in their native countries, enlisted in the army at the beginning of the war and fought for France, these men, many of them family breadwinners, expected a simple status review.
The “billets verts” indicated several convocation centers, including the Napoleon barracks (4th Arrondissement), the Minimes barracks (3rd), and the Japy gymnasium (11th), as well as some police stations around the city and in the suburbs.
At the Japy gymnasium, the main site requisitioned for this operation, 1,061 Jews were summoned at 7:00 a.m. Eight hundred responded. Upon arrival, they went through a checkpoint and were detained inside the gymnasium. The person accompanying them was then asked to go to the arrested person’s home and return with a suitcase containing personal effects.
That very day, 3,700 arrested Jews were transferred by the French police to the Austerlitz train station in special buses and then interned in the camps of Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande (Loiret). They were held there for over a year, and then were deported directly to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp by convoys of June 25, June 28, and July 17, 1942. Nicknamed the “Green Ticket Roundup,” this was the first large-scale operation targeting Jews in occupied France, sixteen months before the notorious Vel’d’Hiv Roundup.
On the day of the arrests, a German photographer from the Propagandakompanie (PK), a Wehrmacht unit responsible for indoctrination, was present at the Japy gymnasium. The Shoah Memorial has identified him by name: Harry Croner, a former Berlin advertising executive, who was drafted into the army and sent to occupied France. The PK employed photographers, cameramen, radio and press reporters, and was directly controlled by the German Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.
The photographer followed German officials, including Theodor Dannecker (1913–1945), head of the section in charge of the “Jewish question” at the Paris Gestapo, as well as François Bard (1889–1944), newly appointed Chief of Police in Paris. The images clearly show these “protagonists” as they discuss the operation, and allow us to retrace the progress of the roundup stage by stage.
The photographs also show the arrested men crowded in the gymnasium bleachers. This first stage of the roundup was nothing short of an ambush: the Jews were summoned only to find themselves in a mousetrap, often accompanied by their wives. Outside, other men followed in their footsteps. Their summons in hand, they were received by the police at the entrance to the gymnasium; they bade goodbye to their families, even as a line of women and children grew. The industrial neighborhood had been entirely cordoned off. Neighbors looked on from the windows. Families were huddling in the street, waiting for news of their loved ones. Their faces betrayed anguish. The police blocked off the street and then evacuated it.
Harry Croner also photographed the Jews as they left the gymnasium with their personal belongings and were escorted by the police to the buses. The detainees would be taken first to the train station—the second stage of their deportation—then to internment camps in the Loiret region, before their final destination of the extermination camps in Germany. One of these images is of particular historical value: a view of a black hangar in Pithiviers, of which no image had been available until now, and which was later to become the site where the Vel’d’Hiv deportees were registered and the following wave of deportations took place.
In total, the Shoah Memorial acquired five contact sheets from two specialized collectors. These plates, numbered 182 to 187— with plate 185 missing—add up to 98 photos. The five rolls of film present a reality very different from the handful of photos published by the collaborationist press. For the first time, the scene of the arrest is captured from several angles, and we are able to get a glimpse of the faces of the perpetrators. More importantly, the families of those rounded up, previously either dehumanized by the propaganda or totally erased from the reports, can now be seen in the photos.
"Gymnase Japy". From May 14, 2021. Outdoor exhibition organized by the Shoah Memorial and the Paris City Hall. 2, rue Japy, 75011 Paris. Upon reopening of the Shoah Memorial, the photos will be available in the reading room. 17, rue Geoffroy l’Asnier, 75004 Paris.