Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup

by Belinda Munoz on July 18, 2011

July 16 and 17, 1942 were dark days in French history when the French police arrested thousands of Parisian Jews, including thousands of children born in France. They were detained at the Rafle du Vélodrome d’Hiver (an indoor cycle track) in Paris where they endured unimaginable, inhumane conditions. A few days later, they were sent to internment camps and many, ultimately, were transported to Auschwitz for extermination. This event became known as the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, known to its organizers as Opération Vent Printanier or Operation Spring Breeze.

This past weekend was the 69th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Coincidentally, I finished reading Sarah’s Key this past weekend, a book borrowed from my mother-in-law’s library. It’s a novel by Tatiana de Rosnay that intertwines the story of a young Jewish girl named Sarah who was arrested along with her parents during the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup and that of Julia Jarmond, an American reporter grappling with marriage and motherhood in modern-day Paris who investigates Sarah’s whereabouts.

I don’t know if the chance of my finishing this book on the anniversary of Vel’ d’Hiv has any significance. What I do know is, though I have my share of unspoken dark days from my own specific cultural history, I need neither to be French nor Jewish to care about Vel’ d’Hiv. Innocent people were persecuted for no good reason, basic rights were severely violated, wrong was allowed to reign. These remain, as they were then, an affront to humanity.

One of the reasons we study history is to learn about the mistakes we’ve made in the past in order to keep from making the same ones going forward. As I understand it, Vel’ d’Hiv was not talked about and was not part of the French curriculum for a significant period between the time it took place until the 70s and the 80s. Now that it’s become public knowledge worldwide, thanks to this book, I for one am grateful to learn about this piece of history.

And yet we all know that we humans have difficulty learning from history. Sure, we can all remember important dates, events and figures from the past. But learning from our history is another. Whether our struggle with this is due to our refusal to acknowledge and remember traumatic and painful events, or our resistance to connect the dots between our past, present and future, or our inability to grasp our equal capacity for good and evil remains in the unfolding stage of humanity’s evolution.

Can humanity learn from history in such a way that we never make the same grave mistakes in the future?

In the words of Sarah: Zakhor. Al Tichkah. Remember. Never forget. Perhaps this is the first step to this conundrum.

Incidentally, I just found out that Sarah’s Key has been turned into a motion picture and will be released on July 22.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrew Olson July 18, 2011 at 6:47 am

That was an atrocity, to be sure… and there are atrocities being committed today as well. Future historians will probably look back on today with disgust, while they’re committing their own atrocities for the next generation to look back on.

Can we make progress? Or, have we have progress? Maybe, but nothing measurable. We just like to think that our generation is better than those previous. It reminds me of a very sobering quote:

“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.” -Aldous Huxley


2 ayala July 18, 2011 at 7:04 am

What a great post, Belinda. As you know my dad and family were survivors of the holocaust. As you express we must never forget these crimes toward humanity, thank you for bringing this to us today.


3 Kristen @ Motherese July 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I studied and taught European history for years and had never heard of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup until I read Sarah’s Key. I would like to think that casting light onto the darkest corners of history would help prevent us from repeating the mistakes of the past. As you say: Remember. Never forget.


4 Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri July 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Insightful post and important words Belinda. I am familiar with Sarah’s Key, but have not read it. Based on your recommendation, it will certainly be one of the next books I read. Thank You.


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