Meyer Harroch

Remembering the Vel d’Hiv’ Roundup: The Quiet Memorial by the Seine

Vélodrome d’Hiver, New York Jewish Travel Guide
Vélodrome d’Hiver, New York Jewish Travel Guide

Tucked away near the Pont de Bir-Hakeim on the Seine’s 15th arrondissement bank in Paris, there lies a memorial that honors the Jewish victims of the Vel d’Hiv Roundup. Although it holds profound historical importance, the memorial is subtly nestled within a tranquil garden adorned with trees, and it might escape the notice of those just passing through. The site provides a scenic view of the Seine, set against a contrast of contemporary skyscrapers and the famed Eiffel Tower in the distance. It stands not far from the original location of the Velodrome d’Hiver, serving as a somber testament to history, even though the velodrome no longer stands. The Square de la Place des Martyrs Juifs du Velodrome d’Hiver is often referred to as just the Square Velodrome d’Hiv, or in English, the Winter Stadium Square, yet it is also known as the square of the Jewish Martyrs as well.

The Vél d’Hiv Roundup, occurring in July 1942, stands as one of the most tragic events in French history during World War II. Named after the Vélodrome d’Hiver, where thousands of Jewish men, women, and children were detained before deportation, it marked a peak in collaboration between the French authorities under Nazi occupation and the German regime. Approximately 13,000 Jews, including over 4,000 children, were arrested and subsequently deported to transit camps such as Drancy, from where they were sent to extermination camps like Auschwitz.

A celebration of the National Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Racist and Anti-Semitic Crimes of the French State, as well as a tribute to the “Righteous” of France, takes place annually on the first Sunday after July 16, featuring the reading of the list of victims.

Vélodrome d’Hiver, New York Jewish Travel Guide

At the heart of the memorial is a sculpture that viscerally captures the anguish of those who suffered. It portrays children, an expectant mother, and an ailing man, all bound together in a moment of shared distress and uncertainty. The sculpture is mounted on a base shaped like a velodrome track, a stark reminder of the dreadful conditions endured by the detainees prior to their deportation.

Engraved on the memorial is an inscription that reads: “In homage to the victims of racist and anti-Semitic persecutions and crimes against humanity perpetrated under the so-called ‘Government of the State of France’ from 1940 to 1944.” This inscription is a solemn acknowledgment by the French Republic of the heinous acts and the profound loss of life during this bleak segment of French history, as well as a recognition of the nation’s involvement in the Vel d’Hiv Roundup.

Vélodrome d’Hiver, New York Jewish Travel Guide

France’s acknowledgment of its role in the Vél d’Hiv Roundup came gradually after World War II. President Jacques Chirac’s apology in 1995 marked a significant step forward in acknowledging the country’s responsibility for the deportation of Jews. President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed this acknowledgment in 2017, emphasizing France’s commitment to confronting its historical truths and ensuring that such atrocities are never forgotten.

Holocaust survivor Walter Spitzer and architect Mario Azagury designed the memorial, which stands not only as a tribute to the victims but also as a commitment to preserving the memory of the Holocaust for future generations. The site serves as a place of remembrance and education, hosting annual ceremonies and events that honor the victims and reinforce the values of tolerance and human dignity.

Vélodrome d’Hiver, New York Jewish Travel Guide

The memorial near the Pont de Bir-Hakeim stands as a profound testament to the enduring legacy of the Vel d’Hiv Roundup. Its serene setting belies the profound tragedy it commemorates, urging visitors to contemplate the depths of human suffering and the resilience of the human spirit. As we stand in this tranquil garden, overlooking the Seine River with the Eiffel Tower in the distance, we are reminded that remembrance is not merely about honoring the past but also about shaping a more compassionate future. This memorial challenges us to embrace tolerance, reject bigotry, and uphold the dignity of every human life. It serves as a solemn vow that the lessons of history will forever guide us toward a world where justice and compassion prevail.

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Story by Meyer Harroch, New York Jewish Travel, and New York Jewish

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About the Author
Meyer Harroch is the founder and travel writer of the prestigious New York Jewish Travel Guide, a digital Jewish travel publication established in 2013 that promotes Jewish travel, Jewish heritage destinations, international hotels, dining, and airlines, as well as tourism. Also, Meyer publishes the New York Jewish Parenting Guide, the New York Jewish Guide, the New York Jewish Chamber of Commerce, and the New York Jewish Event Guide.
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