On 16-17 July 1942, French police detained more than 13,000 Jewish men, women and children in what would become the largest mass arrests in France during World War II. The arrests, which were coordinated and facilitated by the collaborationist Vichy regime, came about two years after France surrendered to Nazi German forces in June 1940.
The roundup was originally set to take place from 13–15 July, but was moved due to concern that a public outcry would occur on Bastille Day. While the plan originally exempted children under the age of 16 from being detained, then-French Prime Minister Pierre Laval suggested for “humanitarian” reasons children be arrested with their parents.
Approximately 6,000 of those detained were immediately transported to Drancy, a transit camp in the northern suburbs of Paris. The operation is often referred to as the Vél d’Hiv Roundup, in reference to the indoor sporting arena, the Vélodrome d’Hiver, where about 7,000 of the detainees were held. The conditions in Vélodrome d’Hiver were inhumane: prisoners could not lie down and had no privacy, ventilation was cut off by the arena’s glass ceiling, making the room unbearably humid during the day and cold at night, and food and water were scarce commodities.
After five days, the Jews incarcerated at Vélodrome d’Hiver were transferred to transit camps, where they awaited transfer to concentration camps and killing centers. By the end of July, parents were forcibly separated from their children and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.
Overall, it is approximated that 77,000 Jews living in France perished in concentration camps during the Holocaust, with the overwhelming majority passing away at Auschwitz.
On 16 July 1995, the fifty-third anniversary of the Vél d'Hiv roundup, French President Jacques Chirac became the first French President to apologize for France's role in the Vél d'Hiv roundup. “France, on that day, committed an irreparable act. It failed to keep its word and delivered those under its protection to their executioners,” said Chirac.