Say her name. Dites son nom. Say the names of Jewish children — more than 4,000— who were taken 80 years ago this weekend from Paris apartments in the 9th, 10th, 11th, 20th arrondissements. They were separated from their mothers, their fathers who were also corralled in the Velodrome d’Hiver near the Eiffel Tower, en route to concentration camps. There are placards on the streets of neighborhoods — trendy rue de la Roquette, for example — with pictures of the kids in their bows and best dresses, their faces of trust. In a recent documentary, one of the few women who survived said, we had faith; this was the land of Voltaire and Diderot.
With foreboding in the air, breakdown of norms and language, with the rattle of war, it’s essential that the French et al pay attention to this anniversary of so-called “La Rafle du Vel d’Hiv.” Podcasts, documentaries, museum exhibitions are revisiting the targeted and choreographed swooping of French gendarmes to arrest, in two days in 1942, 13,152 Jews. The roundup started with immigrants from Eastern Europe, but grew to include French Jews. Collaborist Vichy government was making “good” on promises to Gestapo, which had occupied the zone since 1940.
An exhibition of Cabu, the beloved cartoonist who was killed in terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, is especially powerful. A student of both Rembrandt and Goya, he imagined scenes that had been meticulously researched and documented for the groundbreaking 1967 book “La Grand rafle du Vel d’Hiv” by Claude Levy and Paul Tillard. Cabu’s original ink drawings are forcefully imagined, a child being a child against a well-uniformed mob, not a single German ever involved.
The shock and denial of French involvement has worn off; the difficulty is in keeping shock alive. Paris is beautiful now, but beauty isn’t a place of escapism from reality. It’s a real garden if and because it voices the reality of suffering.