Tuesday, April 14, 2009

France: Holocaust Monument at Drancy (Paris) Vandalized

France: Holocaust Monument at Drancy (Paris) Vandalized

by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) Various news reports describe the vandalism of the Holocaust Monument at Drancy (now a northern suburb of Paris, midway between the city center and Charles De Gaulle airport), France, on April 11, 2009. A video surveillance camera filmed the act and the perpetrators.

Drancy was the primary point of collection and deportation of over 67,000 (some estimates cite 77,000) French Jews (and some others) to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor, from where few returned. Approximately 3,000 prisoners died at Drancy from malnutrition and mistreatment.

Today, a memorial consisting a large sculpture by Shlomo Selinger and a small exhibition located in a former transport boxcar was established in 1976.

A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust describes the monument as follows (with extensive photos):

Sculpture: The two blocks to the side of the central sculpture symbolize the doors of death. Drancy was considered to be the anteroom of death. The central sculpture is composed of 10 people, representing the number of people necessary for collective prayer (Minyan). On the front of the central sculpture a man and a woman embody suffering and dignity. In the center, the head of a man wearing the ritual cube (Tefilin) symbolizes prayer. Below, two inverted heads symbolize death. The Hebrew letters "LAMED" and "VAV" are formed by the hair, arms and beard of the two people at the top of the sculpture. These two letters have the value of 36, which is the number of righteous men in the world according to Jewish tradition

The interior of the boxcar is used as a museum about the camp. It includes a display of photographs, documents, and texts depicting the horrible living conditions and events that took place at Drancy.

The existence of the camp, established by the French Vichy government in 1941 as an internment camp was not officially acknowledged by the French government until 1995. According to the website of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, "Until July 1, 1943, French police staffed the camp under the overall control of the German Security Police. In July 1943 the Germans took direct control of the Drancy camp and SS officer Alois Brunner became camp commandant."

The camp was a multistory U-shaped building that had served as a police barracks before the war. Barbed wire surrounded the building and its courtyard. The capacity of the camp was 5,000 prisoners. Five subcamps, used primarily as warehouses for personal property confiscated from Jews, were located throughout Paris: at the Austerlitz train station, the Hotel Cahen d'Anvers, the Levitan furniture warehouse, the wharf in Bercy, and the Rue de Faubourg. Approximately 70,000 prisoners passed through Drancy between August 1941 and August 1944. Except for a small number of prisoners (mostly members of the French resistance), the overwhelming majority were Jews. A few thousand prisoners managed to obtain release during the first year of the camp's existence.

According to reports, Raphael Chemouni, responsible for maintaining the memorial, said it was the first time that it had been a target. "Until now there has been a very great respect for this monument," he said. There was some previous vandalism reported in 2005.

According to the JTA the train car" and a stone pillar, were daubed with swastikas. Shopfronts in the towns of Drancy and Bobigny were also attacked, according to the police." Lucien Tismander, from the Auschwitz Memorial Association, said this weekend's vandalism was particularly hurtful because of Drancy's symbolic importance in the history of France. "This monument is in a sense the tomb of the 76,000 French deportees and it has been sullied," he said.

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