The Holocaust in France
The German Occupation
In May of 1940 Germany invaded France, and within a month it had occupied the northern and western parts of the country. France was now ruled by a nationalistic and antisemitic puppet government, which collaborated with the Germans – the “Vichy regime”. Under German auspices, the Vichy regime nominally controlled all of France, even after the Germans broadened their occupation to include the southern areas, in November 1942. The regime limited Jews’ freedom of movement, isolated them from French society, undertook an exact registry of their persons, deprived them of their livelihood, confiscated their property, incarcerated many of them, and finally deported them to the sites of their murder, in full collaboration with the German authorities.
In July 1940 the Vichy regime passed a law calling for the reexamination of the citizenship status of immigrants. The main victims of this statute were Jews. In August, a census was taken of all the foreigners living in Paris, and in September a statute was published calling for another census which would also include French Jews. Synagogues were ordered to hand over the lists of their members to the French authorities. A census of Jewish traders was conducted, and Jewish businesses were marked with bilingual signs in French and German, indicating their Jewish ownership. Many Jewish shopkeepers hung their medals of honor, received for service in the French Army during the First World War, next to these signs, in an attempt to emphasize their loyalty to France.
In October 1940 the Vichy regime published a “Jewish Statute” which revoked the citizenship of all French Jews, who were divested of their property, fired from the Civil Service, and forced to close their businesses. Tens of thousands of businesses and thousands of apartments were confiscated from the Jews. The “Crémieux Decree” of 1870, which had granted French citizenship to 118,000 Algerian Jews, was revoked. The medical licenses of Jewish doctors were withdrawn, and they were forbidden to practise. The Jewish Statute was in fact more stringent than the German decrees published in the Occupied Zone only a week previously, as the German decree defined "Jewish" according to racial criteria, while the French decree did so in terms of religion, thereby encompassing a greater number of people.
In the winter of 1940-1941 the Germans and the French sent tens of thousands of Jews to detainment camps in the south of France. Most of them were refugees and immigrants. Over time, these camps would claim the lives of some 3,000 Jews, the first victims of the Holocaust in France. Throughout 1941 there were several waves of Jewish arrests.
In March 1942 all the Jews – including Jews with French citizenship – were required to register their children with the police. From June 1942 all Jews in France were required to wear the yellow star. In July, Jews were barred from entering businesses and public institutions. On the 16th of July, 1942, the French police began implementing mass arrests of Jews living in Paris, and sending them to the extermination camps. The detentions broadened to encompass all of France, including the so-called Vichy regime “Unoccupied Zone”. In November 1942, the Germans occupied the territories of the Vichy regime and continued the ongoing actions to arrest Jews and deport them to their extermination.
In June 1944 the Allies invaded the coast of Normandy in Northern France. In August 1944 Paris was liberated, and by the end of the year almost all of France was free. By this point the Germans had sent some 78,000 Jews to the extermination camps, about a quarter of the total number of Jews in France.