On July 16, 1942, at the height of World War II, thousands of French police officers raided apartments belonging to Jews in occupied Paris and ordered them to pack up their belongings. It was around 4 am when the stunned Jews were transported to the Vélodrome d'Hiver – an indoor cycle track at the corner of the boulevard de Grenelle and the rue Nélaton in the 15th arrondissement of Paris. From there the Jews were taken to the internment camp at Drancy. The next stop was Auschwitz.
According to police records, 12,884 Jews – mostly women, children and elderly people without French citizenship - were rounded up during the operation.
The mass deportation was planned by the SS commanders and French collaborators, who were led by Pierre Laval, who served twice in the Vichy Regime as head of government, and Marshal Philippe Pétain, who served as Chief of State of Vichy France from 1940 to 1944.
Throughout the years France refrained from dealing with the tragic event, which came to be known as Vel' d'Hiv (or in French: Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv), but now, the French film "La Rafle (The Roundup)", which will open the Jerusalem Film Festival on Thursday, retells the 1942 "Vel' d'Hiv Roundup" and the events surrounding it.
The movie, written and directed by Roselyne Bosch and produced by her husband Alain Goldman, will hit Israel's movie theaters a week later.
'Apocalyptic day in French history'"The Vel' d'Hiv expulsion was an apocalyptic day in French history," Goldman said. "Granted, every Jew in Paris has had to face the demons of that event, but no one dared touch the subject in film. By making this movie we wanted to help people understand why Israel has to exist and tell them: Don’t forget what happened," he said.
"For nearly 70 years this day was given only three lines in (French) textbooks," Bosch added. "The French kept it secret, and they had good reasons for doing so – the French police carried out the Germans' work, but this did not satisfy them. After the roundup at the stadium they sent the families to camps in which the conditions were terrible. The fact that 200 camps were set up in France is unknown, because France has tried to conceal it since the days of Charles de Gaulle's regime."
In "La Rafle" Bosch chose to focus on the fate of the Jewish children. "In 1942 the Germans had not yet completed the construction of the crematoriums, and they were not prepared to absorb the children; 8,000 children were held by French authorities until the Germans were ready to receive them," the director said.
"The French government did a horrible thing. It told the Germans 'Take the children'. The parents were deported, and teenagers under 15 years of age were left alone in the camps. Later they were sent to the concentration camps in Poland. Most of them died during the war. Only 25 returned," she added.
Bosch, a former investigative journalist, researched the subject thoroughly before filming began. "During my research I discovered that the French authorities were anti-Semitic and that the French government cooperated with the Nazis - but the citizens were different. Some of them saved their Jewish neighbors.
Bosch based her script on actual events.
How was the film received in France?
"It was a huge success. Three million viewers. This number is usually generated by successful comedies. We also got a few phone calls of the 'dirty Jews' type."
For Goldman, "La Rafle" is much more than another project, as his family escaped the roundup. "My father, who was a teenager during the war, ran away and hid in the area in France that wasn't occupied. When he was informed by members of the resistance of the planned roundup of Jews he returned to Paris, warned his parents, and using forged documents smuggled them to a ranch in the free zone, where they hid until the war ended. However, one of my aunts was caught during the roundup and sent to Auschwitz, but she managed to survive and return. A number of years ago her daughter died in a suicide bombing attack on a bus in Jerusalem."
So, it comes as no surprise that the film's screening at the Jerusalem Film Festival has a special meaning for Goldman, who will be accompanied by his parents, who are now over 80 years old.
'Father would have said I'm crazy'
"Had I told my father in 1942, 'Don't worry, your son and his wife will make a successful movie and it will open a film festival in the Jewish state', he would have said to me, 'Go see a doctor, you are a crazy – you come from Mars'. This is why the screening in Jerusalem is very important and symbolic," the producer said.
Goldman and Bosch - a half Spaniard, half Italian raised in Provence – met on a train traveling from Paris to the Alps. "It was love at first sight," Goldman said. Following that romantic encounter the two became a couple and today are raising 10-year-old twins and cooperating on many projects. Their first collaboration was "1492", a movie written by Bosch and directed by Ridley Scott about Christopher Columbus starring Gérard Depardieu.
Goldman has a strong connection to Israel and he is considering dividing his life between Paris and Jerusalem. "At 18 I was a new immigrant and I studied economics and business administration at the Hebrew University at Mount Scopus, and despite returning to France after my studies, I think of Israel all the time."
As Israel is always on his mind, Goldman even plans to move some of his activity to the region. "I am planning to produce an international television series based on Michael Bar Zohar's new book about the Mossad, which will be published soon," he said. "It's an important project, because people need to understand the necessity of the Mossad for Israel's existence."
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