16 July 1942

Vélodrome d'Hiver

"All I do is cry, I don't believe it helps me in any way, but it is stronger than I am."

On 16 July 1942, the Polakiewicz family was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity by a sympathetic policeman to escape the widespread roundup of Jews in Paris. However, they naively believed that submitting to the authorities would work to their advantage in the future, and they calmly obeyed the order to present themselves at the police station. Once inside the Vel d'Hiv, and as the horror of their predicament became gradually clearer, they realized that they had made a fatal miscalculation. Rachel, their older daughter, 20 years old at the time, wrote a letter to Mrs. Sebbane on the first day at the Vel d'Hiv:

Letter from Rachel Polakiewicz : 16 July 1942, Vélodrome d'Hiver

Paris, 16 July
Dear All,
A few words to tell you that we are all in the Vel d'Hiv (Winter Stadium), including Mrs. Zonszajn. We are all sitting around on the benches, like at a show, except that we are the entertainers. Superfluous to say that it's overcrowded. We are all in an unenviable situation.  It is mayhem here, and that's an understatement, with all these children, some get lost, some are sick, and we can hardly hear each other. We all have a crazy headache. We have just "dined" and we will try to rest a little. We're going to sleep sitting up!  We do not know how long we'll be staying here, in any case for the first day, I'm sick of it, fed up. All I do is cry, I don't believe it helps me in any way, but it is stronger than I am. I think of Armand, he will be more unhappy than I am to know that I am in a camp. And moreover, we know nothing of Sonia, and it's not encouraging. I don't think I can write to my poor Armand, who was used to having a card from me every day. When we have a fixed address, you will send me his cards as he will certainly continue to write me. Anyway, we'll see later, for the moment, keep an eye on our place, take whatever you can, search everywhere, for sure you'll find some things to eat.  Everything at Kalma's place is ours. I am signing off, I am heavy-hearted. Tonight, I can't come up to see you.  Everybody hugs you tight. Kisses from me to you all and to Maurice whom I did not see before leaving.
Your friend forever,
Rachel

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