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France remembers deportations

July 22, 2012

France's president has used a ceremony marking a black day in the country's history to pledge to crack down on all forms of anti-Semitism. More than 13,000 French Jews were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz in July, 1942.

French President Francois Hollande lays a wreath of flowers at the Jewish memorial during ceremonies to mark the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv roundup, Sunday, July 22, 2012, in Paris.
Image: dapd

French officials gathered in Paris on Sunday to remember an incident 70 years ago in which thousands of Jews were rounded up and deported to the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz.

More than 13,000 Jews were arrested by French police action on the orders of the Nazi regime and shipped off to Auschwitz between July 16 and 17, 1942.

Speaking at a cycling arena near Paris, where the Jews were rounded up 70 years ago, President Francois Hollande said that French officials alone had been to blame for the deportation.

"The truth is hard and cruel," Hollande said. "The truth is that not a single German soldier - not one - was mobilized during the whole operation."

The president also used the speech, which was attended by relatives of deportees and leaders of France's Jewish community, to pledge to crack down on anti-Semitism in the country.

Alluding to the killings of three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in southwestern France back in March, Hollande pledged to "pursue all anti-Semitic acts and remarks" with "the greatest determination."

Those killings were blamed on Mohamed Merah, an Islamist gunman, who was later shot dead after a 32-hour standoff with police.

Serge Klarsfeld, president of an association representing the children of those deported in July of 1942, also referred to the March killings.

"Anti-Jewish hatred is once again killing Jews, Jewish children," Klarsfeld said.

At the same time, though, he praised the efforts of many ordinary French citizens 70 years ago, noting that although 11,000 children were among those deported, 60,000 others were saved.

What has become known as the Vel d'Hiv roundup, named after the cycling arena where the prisoners were first held, is regarded as one of the worst cases of Nazi collaboration by the Vichy regime.

pfd/tm (AP, AFP, dpa)