July 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Part 6

(Continued from last week)

In July 1942 the remaining refugees in Gurs were transferred to Rivesaltes, at the eastern end of the Pyrenees. It took 24 hours including an hour-long march in the hot sun with their luggage. The camp looked even worse than Gurs. It was on a plateau that was treeless, devoid of grass and with strong winds blowing. Surrounded by barbed wire, it had a cluster of barracks as far as the eye could see.

In 1942 it was still possible to get from France to the U.S., but it was a dangerous trip with Spain and Portugal closed. They had to take a ship from Marseilles to Oran in Algeria, then travel 600 miles overland to Casablanca, from where they could get another ship to the U.S. But few ships were still willing to make the dangerous Atlantic crossing.

When I write here about the many difficulties encountered by the German refugees in trying to get out of Europe, I must again compare our own “so easy” trip out of Germany in early 1941 flying out of Germany via Lufthansa to Lisbon to catch a ship to the U.S.

The greatest difficulty was to be able to give to the U.S. consul the name and departure date of the ship from Casablanca, which left at irregular intervals and without much notice. By the time one heard of the name and departure date it was too late to arrange for departure from Marseilles.

On July 14,1942, an SS captain by the name of Theodor Dannecker arrived in Vichy with the order to deport all Jews to the east. The policy of emigration had changed from emigration to annihilation. He demanded that Vichy turn over 10,000 Jews, with foreign-born Jews going to Auschwitz first. It took Vichy only three days to cancel the exit visas for all foreign-born Jews. The last escape route from Europe was closed.

Dannecker was disappointed not to be able to fill his quota of deportable Jews. As a result, on July 16, some 16,000 foreign-born Jews were arrested in Paris without any prior warning and taken to an internment camp at Drancy, where parents were separated from their children before all were shipped to “unknown destinations.”

In early August, police cleared all Marseilles hotels of Jews and shipped them to Les Milles by truck, where the refugees found the camp now run by a French, steel-helmeted, black-uniformed paramilitary police force. In a few days the transport in cattle cars to Drancy would begin. The 500-mile trip to Drancy took almost 24 hours. In Drancy the refugees were loaded into different cattle cars bound for Auschwitz.

In Washington the bureaucracy was unaffected by what was going on in France. They issued permits and rejections to refugees who no longer were available to receive them and beyond all rescue. They had disappeared in the gas chambers and ovens in Auschwitz.

I have read the last few pages of the book only partially and therefore reported on it only briefly. I found it just too difficult to read again about the behavior of the French police and others toward the Jews. Yes, they were under pressure from the Germans to perform and to carry out their instructions. Yes, they would have to comply sooner or later, but it seems to me that they complied with too much enthusiasm, complied with a speed that made it impossible to try to rescue at least the children, and if not all the children, maybe at least some, or at least rescue the babies. Bad enough what the Nazis did to the Jews, but I expected the cultured French to bend over backwards to help if they could, and not to carry out the instructions of the also “cultured” Germans as efficiently as their task masters.

About the blame against the U.S.? This country of ours gave my family a new home in 1941. This country of ours has enabled me to get an education. This country of ours has given me the opportunity to earn a living. This country of ours has made it possible for me to help my family and others for all these years. I will not criticize my country. I have written the facts as they happened in those years as described in the book that I had mentioned earlier. Could the U.S. have helped more in the rescue? Could FDR have taken action to rescue more Jews? Let the reader be the judge.

By Norbert Strauss

 

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