This post is part of a series about genealogy in France. You can read the complete series HERE.
Between 1880 and 1939 more than 110,000 Jews migrated west from central and eastern Europe. They settled, creating a thriving, yet crowded community in the fourth district of Paris. Here they embraced their Jewish religion, culture and traditional life. Jewish trade unions were active, as the local population comprised of many artisan workers, mainly in the textile industries.
In 1940, France fell to the German military who almost immediately took control of a modern high rise residential apartment block, known as La Cité de la Muette (“The Silent City”). Initially the Germans used the site for a police barracks, but it was later converted to a detention centre for holding Jews and others who were labelled as “undesirables” before deportation. The site was built to hold 700 detainees, but the site, at its peak held at least 7,000 people.
On 20 August 1941, the French police, at the demands of the German authorities. conducted raids through the Jewish quarter of Paris, where they arrested around 4,000 foreign or stateless Jews who were the first intake of individuals to Drancy, The site was under control of the French police, where it remained so until July 1943. Drancy itself also contained five subcamps which were located around the capital, three of which were the Austerlitz, Lévitan and Bassano camps.
On 16 July 1942 most of the Jewish families in the area were rounded up by 4,500 French police, continuing the demands of the German authorities. More than 11,000 Jews were arrested and initally confined in the Vel d Hiv (velodrome) or Winter Stadium, as it is known. The conditions were crowded, with very little access to water, food and sufficient sanitary facilities, families were at this point able to stay together, unlike at Drancy. Within a week the number had swelled further, to around 13,000 of which 4,000 were children. There was also almost 5,000 that were immediately sent to Drancy.
On 19 July 1942 the Jews began to be transferred to transit and Concentration camps located outside Paris. Families were taken to Austerlitz railway station where sent to camps in the Loiret region. Some were transferred to Drancy, and then onward to Auschwitz. The journey from France was brutal, five days in a cattle train. On arrival, many were murdered as soon as they arrived.
In November 1943, around 350 Jewish refugees, many of whom had left France for Italy in an attempt to escape persecution, and had been arrested in Italy following the Italian surrender, arrived at Drancy from Borgo San Dalmazzo camp in Italy, before onward travel to Auschwitz.
Drancy was liberated by the Allies in August 1944 and immediately handed to the French Resistance and a Swedish Diplomat who were responsible for the care of around 1500 people who remained detained there. Following the war, until 1946, those who collaborated with the Nazi’s were interned at Drancy.
More that 76,000 French Jews perished during the war.