REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF JEWS IN FRANCE
Role of Social Teams in the Application of Measures
The Ministry of the Interior, tasked by the Office of Chairman of the Executive Council with deportation measures, created several months ago as its subdivision a Social Service for foreigners which had the mission of improving life in the camps, but which with use actually revealed itself to be an adjunct of the Police Services that to some extent facilitated the work of preparation of lists preceding the deportations. For the sake of objectivity, it should be added that in some internment camps the assistants or social workers of that service did whatever they could to prevent injustices from being committed. However, it was not possible for them to oppose the will of the authorities, of which they were an integral part administratively.
In other internment camps, the main worry of the representatives of that service was to protect the Aryans who could have been included by error among the deportees, without worrying whether the fact of saving them ipso facto entailed the deportation of other, more interesting elements, since a fixed number of victims had to be delivered.
On the other hand, as soon as the threats of deportation were known in the unoccupied zone—it was, in particular, thanks to the reports of our staff in Vichy that we were able to be informed—it was decided that social teams be created, which were supposed to see to it that no excessively flagrant injustices would be committed and to save from deportation all those who could be saved.
A meeting took place before the creation of this social team at the headquarters of the Union of French Jews, where the decision was made to demand:
1. The saving of bearers of [valid entry] visas [of third countries],
2. The saving of children whose parents did not want to take them along.
To judge this situation, one has to refer to this period, where it was assumed that the deportations would apply to a fixed number of persons, and it became painful to designate victims indirectly while eliminating others. Experience demonstrated that since the number of these victims was not limited, all those who could be exempted from deportation were, for the time being or sometimes definitively, saved. We subsequently saw emigrants going abroad and passing through Lisbon who, without the vigorous intervention of our social teams, would today be leaving "for an unknown destination." The Union of French Jews therefore decided to create, in each selection camp, social teams made up—under the aegis of UGIF—of representatives of the HICEM,1 of the Committee of Assistance to the Refugees, of the OSE,2 of the Federation of Jewish Societies, etc.
At the Camp of Milles3 in particular—and this results from the personal testimony of the author of this report, who was a member of this social team of the Camp of Milles—it was possible to save several hundred persons thanks to the tenacity or skill of the officials of our Charities who interceded on their behalf, while the trains that carried the deportees to an unknown destination had already been formed and were sometimes ready for departure. Unwaveringly, the members of this team had made the Prefectural Authorities order the emigrants—for whom their intervention had succeeded—get off the cargo trains where convoys had already formed.
Furthermore, the role of this social team was to alleviate, with the help of Jewish chaplains, the departure of the unfortunate deportees. Indeed, given, for example, the shortage of bathroom supplies in France and the lack of passenger cars, no installation had been provided for in the cattle cars designated to carry our unfortunate coreligionists eastward. The UGIF was able to find sanitary buckets and pans, and was able to refit almost all of the cars departing for Germany. Distributions of food supplies were also made.
We also wish in this report to salute the efforts of the Quakers, who, together with the social teams of the UGIF, distributed food supplies and medicines.4
The horror scenes witnessed by our social teams did not, however, cause them to lose their composure, and on the whole, they accomplished their difficult task with a courage that it is our obligation to report. To illustrate with a single example the multiple incidents that could have occurred, we would like to recount what happened on the morning of the departure for the East of the deportees at the Camp des Milles.
Since the quota of victims was not reached, the Authorities, displeased, called the roll in the camp's courtyard and put on the train a certain number of refugees who had managed the day before to escape the riddle of the camp authorities, in the same clothes they wore without having been permitted to take along the least amount of baggage, regardless of gender. Some of them were already in their pajamas. Here again our social team, exhausted from several sleepless nights, managed, without losing much of its composure, to prevent the deportation of several persons who could be saved by the exceptions allowed at the time. Not all the errors could be avoided, but here again, the social teams did their duty.
The repercussion that the deportations could have on the possessions of the persons affected by this measure became all the more delicate when persons who were not in the camps were involved, since the police came to the home (preferably at night, as indicated by the ministerial circular) to force persons to leave their apartment, their hotel room or even their business establishment. The management of the property was to be entrusted to the UGIF, which was justifiably unwilling, from the outset and without having been forewarned, to be mixed up in an operation of which it disapproved.
On the other hand, the social teams received instructions on receiving deposits of sums of money and personal mementos, baggage of which they did not want to take charge, of emigrants destined for deportation. The teams were quite often tasked with contacting the hidden family members who had successfully escaped arrest or sweeps—not one of their least responsibilities.
Attached in the Appendix5 is [illegible] of the instructions of the Head of the Social Service for Foreigners, given to his regional delegates. These instructions are of only episodic interest, since on the whole, he did not take into account the alleviation measures provided for. The Social Service for Foreigners did not prove itself up to its task.
During a trip to Vichy by one of our delegates, we learned, through employee friends who attended a session dealing with the question of deportations, of the threat confronting our unfortunate coreligionists. We immediately unofficially alerted all the refugees by having them contacted by the respective Committees—the entities that sheltered them, to warn them of the danger.
It can be said that thanks to these efforts, the police operation ended, as already stated, in a total fiasco, since there were many of our foreign coreligionists who "dashed," despite all the difficulties involved, given the importance of provisions. The difficulty, in the course of the steps we undertook, was primarily to find the authority in charge, because first and foremost, all the Authorities denied the existence of a deportation project, and when we indicated to them that we knew about it, they would then deflect responsibility for the execution to another service.
We walked the sidewalks of Vichy for hours on end between the Office of the Council Chairman, who declared that this did not come within his purview, but within Interior's purview, and the Interior Ministry, which replied that it was a mere execution agent. It was impossible to find the person "responsible."
Since the original goal of our coming to Vichy was the request to reactivate the exit visas for our emigrants about to leave, this was the pretext under which we had meetings, first with the Chairman of the Council and then with his Minister, Secretary General in the Office of the Chairman. In the course of this conversation, which lasted 1.5 hours, we were able to verify the accuracy of our information.
In the meantime, we had been able to alert the representatives of the American charities and Christian entities who intervened in Vichy at the same time. In the last part of our report, we will return to the attitude of the Consistory on this question of deportations.
The position of the French Authorities on the question of exit visas at that time was the object of the steps we took, and we felt that this blockade was mainly aimed at keeping in France the maximum of deportable elements. When we learned of the threat of deportation, we tried to obtain exit visas for those who were able to escape deportation. This was the focus of our efforts, the precise objective of which was soon overcome by the interest we had in avoiding the maximum of deportations as much as possible.
To avoid making this report a long work whose subject matter seems to us almost inexhaustible while it has lost some of its interest with the passing of time, we attach four copies of letters we submitted in the course of our steps at the Office of the Council Chairman; they will give you a succinct picture of the state of mind in which our steps were carried out.6
To give you an idea of the tension that prevailed in our charities at that time, suffice it to say that in the course of one week, one of our colleagues spent four nights standing up in the Marseille train to Vichy and back; anyone who is familiar with the conditions of travel in France at that time could easily understand that the steps had to be taken in order for one of our colleagues to be subjected to such a physical test.
On the prefectural level, steps were taken in the major prefectures by our local representatives and in Marseille by the direction of the UGIF in communication with our Services. You will find in the Appendix a copy of a letter to the Regional Commissioner of Police in Marseille, by the Direction of the UGIF, that will give you an idea of the relations that enabled us to fulfill our role with dignity and to alleviate the fate of the unfortunate deportees.