Commemoration of the Rafle du vel d’hiv
There was every reason to expect the July 16th commemoration of the Rafle du vel d’hiv to be limited to the usual concern for the dead. It does not take a gigantic soul to condemn retrospectively the arrest, deportation and extermination of more than 13,000 Parisian Jews, including over 4,000 children. Since 1995, when President Jacques Chirac placed responsibility for the irreparable crime on France, subsequent presidents have followed suit. But the Front National candidate Marine Le Pen dissents. During the presidential campaign she vehemently rejected this misguided repentance: France was in London, the Vichy government was not France. Her international anti-jihad supporters didn’t even notice let alone understand this reassertion of the founding values of the party she inherited from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen.
dozen members of the Truth and Justice for Sarah Halimi committee, meeting a few days before the commemoration were resigned to the certainty that it would be restricted to the historical past. The Crif, they supposed, would maintain its lay-low institutional role and not make waves or in any way embarrass the president who, at this stage, had shown absolutely no interest in the case and its broader implications. One member suggested they wear white armbands, a knotted piece of torn sheet like the ones handed out at the recent demonstration of cyclists for Sarah.
The ceremony kicked off early in the morning on July 16th with a walk around the memorial garden guided by Serge Klarsfeld who has tirelessly unearthed and published information about the exterminated children one by one. For security reasons, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu did not accompany the small group. The Vel d’hiv ceremony was a striking contrast with the pomp and circumstance of the 14th of July parade with honored guest President Donald Trump, protected by the most imposing security detail known to man. The magnificence of French architecture, French style, French ceremony, the Champs Elysées, the mounted Garde Républicaine, combat planes with their red white and blue plumes, military cadence, well-rehearsed exactitude, the first ladies and their wardrobes (no one can compete with Melania Trump). The back-slapping shoulder-tapping good hearted-hugging friendship between the Trumps and the Macrons was almost comical…and almost sincere.
The site where the infamous winter velodrome stood until it was demolished in the mid-fifties is surrounded by nondescript buildings. The modest ceremony was held before a small audience under a pitched tent roof in the presence of a handful of survivors, a bouquet of children, a sprinkling of descendants of righteous gentiles. Brigitte Macron, contrary to what had been announced, did not attend. The commemoration, broadcast live by BFM TV, LCI and, of course, i24 news French channel, was followed by ample media commentary. As far as I could tell CNN Intl. did not cover or even mention the ceremony.
Rabbi Oliver Kaufman chanted El Mole Rachamim, Raphael Esrail recited the kaddish, followed by a minute of silence, the Marseillaise…but no Hatikvah. And then, Crif President Francis Kalifat stood upright and articulated forthrightly the message that Jews and non-Jews have been trying to communicate to French society and authorities over the past seventeen years. Yes, Jews and non-Jews. One of the ploys used to stifle this message is the constant repetition of “the Sarah Halimi murder has dismayed French Jews, the Jewish community is distressed by the failure to investigate the anti-Semitic motive of the suspect,” etc. as if it were a narrowly Jewish issue pushed by parochially Jewish worry warts and exploited to attract attention to their minority concerns.
Crif President Francis Kalifat
Francis Kalifat begins with a sober résumé of the facts. Seventy-five years ago, a special unit of the French police made up entirely of volunteers arrested thousands of Jews in Paris on orders from the Vichy government, “armed wing of the Nazi occupation.” Held for three days and three nights in the hell of the vélodrome d’hiver, dispatched to French internment camps, the men separated from their families, the mothers separated from their children, 13,152 Jews were turned over to the Nazis, 3894 children sent directly to the gas chambers. “What did they understand of their tragic destiny? What can we understand? The stinging question of the Shoah will forever haunt us.”
Honoring the contributions of Serge Klarsfeld, the CRIF Memory Commission, the righteous gentiles “spark of humanity in the Nazi night,” Kalifat pivoted on a citation from Vladimir Jankelevitch to focus sharply on the present day. “The extermination of the Jews was not a sudden flare up of violence; it was based on a philosophically elaborated, methodically prepared, systematically perpetrated doctrine.”
From Ilan Halimi to Sarah Halimi Jews are murdered in France today, he continued, because they are Jewish, and this new wave of anti-Semitic acts is the fruit of an articulated, shared, exacerbated ideology. We can no longer accept the excuse of madness. When a supposedly mad killer recites koranic verses as he tortures Sarah Halimi, knowing she is Jewish, and shouts allahu akhbar as he throws her to her death, we must hear this murderer expressing the antisemitism that rages in the heart of ‘radicalized sectors’ of our society.”
The president of the Crif, dismissed before the fact by many that assumed he would hold his tongue and protect his privileges, turned to the president and said the anti-Semitic motive should be included in the charges against the murderer of Sarah Halimi.
Taking care to mark the distinction between the state antisemitism that led to the Shoah and the state today that protects Jews, Francis Kalifat had harsh words for UNESCO resolutions that deny Jewish rights to our sacred sites and so doing amputate Christianity from its origins. To those who contest the presence of the Israeli Prime Minister, the president of the Crif responds that Israel is a haven for Shoah survivors and a rampart for Jews everywhere against a repetition of the tragic events commemorated here.
The fate of the Jews, concludes Kalifat, is intimately linked to the fate of French democracy endangered by fanatical obscurantist Islamism. Reaffirming the loyalty of French Jews to the Republic, he honors the presence of President Macron upholding the commitment to truth and justice established in 1995. [This echo of the demand for Truth and Justice for Sarah Halimi would imply that the République is faced with another moment of truth, more difficult than acknowledging past crimes.]
In a poignant illustration of the limits of noble discourse, Sarah Halimi’s brother William announces in an exclusive Times of Israel interview [http://www.timesofisrael.com/seeking-justice-brother-of-sarah-halimi-sees-warning-for-french-jews-in-grisly-slaying/] that he and his nieces are making Aliyah with their families this summer. In fact, Kobili Traoré was questioned on the 10th of June and charged simply with voluntary manslaughter and sequestration (of the Diara family). If and when he is released from the hospital, he will await trial in prison. From excerpts of the interrogation published in L’Express weekly (that had access to the notes) it is cleverly self-serving. What does the 27 year-old criminal have to say about the hard facts contained in the police report? The crushing blows and unspeakable acts unleashed on the defenseless woman for more than 30 minutes? A seemingly offhand admission: “It was horrible, I shouldn’t have done that.” Traoré denies that he held the Diara family hostage before breaking into the apartment next door and murdering Sarah Halimi. And he denies the anti-Semitic motive though admitting he knew she was Jewish from the way she dressed and because her sons wore the kippa. But he didn’t target her because she was Jewish. “It could have been anyone.” One bizarre detail speaks volumes on the nature of a new antisemitism that is, in fact, traditional Islamic Jew hatred. He claims he broke into the apartment but didn’t know where he was until he saw the “torah” and the “lady that woke up.” He says he told her to call the police “we’re going to be massacred.” And then beat her with all his might with the telephone and his fists. He doesn’t know what came over him. He threw her out the window. He doesn’t remember shouting allahu akhbar. He felt like he was in danger. The anxiety crisis started the day before. He smoked hashish, went to the mosque [reportedly the radical Omar mosque, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud], argued with the caregiver of his handicapped sister, went to sleep, woke up at 3:30 am, went to the apartment of his good friends the Diaras. Halimi family counsel, Maîtres Buchinger and Goldnadel, observed that Traoré seems to have based his answers on what was being reported in the press.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
I come from Jerusalem, eternal capital of the Jewish state, with my wife Sarah who lost all her family in the Holocaust. The words of the Israeli Prime Minister fit hand in glove with the address of Francis Kalifat and smoothly introduced what would follow from “his friend” President Emmanuel Macron.
From beginning to end of the commemoration, honor was rendered to righteous gentiles, résistants, ordinary people who helped save Jews. [Though no mention was made of the large proportion of Jews in the résistance.] Adopting President Macron’s favorite triplet, Netanyahu declared, “the acts committed here 75 years ago brutally crushed the values of the French Republic, liberté, égalité, fraternité. There is courage in combat on the battlefield and the courage of ordinary families that saved the honor of France by protecting Jews. We honor Simone Veil, arrested by the French police in Nice and delivered up to the Nazis, a courageous survivor who reconstructed herself, like the Jewish people have reconstructed ourselves and established the state of Israel. Today the forces of radical Islam are trying to destroy the Jewish people, the Jewish state, and everyone on their path. They want to destroy Europe. Israel is the first target because they see it as a bastion of our shared values. France is a target, says Netanyahu, and he names the Jewish victims from Ilan Halimi to Sarah Halimi. [I wish this roster would begin with Sébastien Selam]. Your combat is ours against the zealots of radical Islam. We must not forget the past if we are to protect the future.
President Emmanuel Macron
The French president’s declaration harmonizes with what had been said before. Adopting the solemn but emotional tone he favors, he rejects attempts to backtrack on Jacques Chirac’s acknowledgment of French responsibility for the crimes of Vichy, dismissing, without naming Marine le Pen, the subtle distinctions of negationism. “Vichy was not all of France,” says the president, “but it was France.” Going one step further than his predecessors, Macron maintains that the Vichy government was not an ex nihilo aberration, not a parenthesis but the fruit of 3rd Republic antisemitism going back to the Dreyfus affair and persisting after the Nazi defeat. The administration, the elites, political leaders, journalists, collaborators, Darquier de Pellepooix, Céline’s Bagatelle pour un massacre, Pierre Laval “gave free rein to vices already at work in the 3rd Republic.” Savagery is forged first in the spirit. Hitler began with Mein Kampf. A nation is not humiliated by repentancethe admission of when and how it failed. The French president, too, paid tribute to the righteous gentiles and the résistance, our “national pride.” But this corruption of the spirit is present today. Racism and antisemitism lead to acts of extreme violence. The president lists Jewish victims of this antisemitism, from Ilan Halimi to Sarah Halimi, adding: “Despite the murderer’s denials, the court must shed light on the death of Sarah Halimi.” the admission of when and how it failed. The French president, too, paid tribute to the righteous gentiles and the résistance, our “national pride.” But this corruption of the spirit is present today. Racism and antisemitism lead to acts of extreme violence. The president lists Jewish victims of this antisemitism, from Ilan Halimi to Sarah Halimi, adding: “Despite the murderer’s denials, the court must shed light on the death of Sarah Halimi.” President Macron, too, named distinguished survivors of the Shoah—Simone Veil, Samuel Pisar, Elie Wiesel—and countless anonymous heroes who showed courage and humanity to the very end. Then he rose to lofty eloquence, rising to heights of humanity, inspiring citizens to enlist in the combat for goodness on every front, for refugees, against discrimination, for culture and education, against climate change, terrorism, obscurantism, the despair, discrimination, and second class citizenship that breeds hatred and the reinvention of antisemitism that is anti zionism,. He poetically evokes the children, victims of the rafle du vel d’hiv, that wanted to live, and were exterminated so cruelly. And he solemnly promises to make France a country where they would have wanted to live and where their memory will live forever.
End of ceremony, enter harsh reality
And here is the tragic reality. If the descendants of those children lived in France today, they might have to hide their kippot and Magen Davids, they might be harassed out of schools and neighborhoods, beaten up in the métro, accused of genocide against the Palestinians. If the descendants of those children lived in France today, the children hunted like animals by the French and exterminated by the Nazis, the children whose parents were forced to flee the Arab-Muslim countries, they might be assassinated at a Jewish school in Toulouse, their lives might be shattered by the savage murder of their grandmother in Paris in 2017. And who would be persecuting them? The descendants of immigrants and refugees from Arab-Muslim countries, the underprivileged victims of discrimination that President Macron vows to protect. By taking them out of their ghettos and giving them the social mixity that will soothe their souls. The tender consideration that put a Kobili Traoré in the apartment downstairs of Sarah Halimi. Without first making sure he had integrated the values of the Republic.
The French police did not pound on the door and drag Sarah Halimi from her home in the middle of the night. The police stood down, waiting interminably for reinforcements, while Kobili Traoré beat, smashed, and exterminated a defenseless Jewish woman.
The courage and lucidity to acknowledge the French crimes of the past falters in the face of French crimes of the present. Not all French, but some French. These allahu akhbar killers are French, born in France or welcomed as immigrants. Their genocidal hatred is not a parenthesis, it is ideological, scriptural, historic. When jihad violence is hypocritically minimized as hit or miss criminality, the present borrows from the shameful past.
A two-hour meeting at the Elysées
Apparently Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Macron went straight from the commemoration ceremony to a working session with their respective teams without even stopping for lunch. Two hours later, they emerged for a brief declaration to the press. Before outlining plans for an upcoming visit to Israel in a context of increased friendly high-tech startup cooperation on civilian and anti-terrorist enterprises, President Macron found it necessary to repeat the two-state solution platitudes dear to French foreign policy. Stop that nasty colonization and give us a Palestinian state tout de suite s’il vous plait, with Jerusalem as its capital.
On July 14th, three Arab Israelis came roaring out of the Temple Mount like missiles and fatally shot two Israeli policemen in the back.
Nidra Poller is an American-born writer who has lived in Paris since 1972. She is author of works of fiction in English and in French, and has published in many venues, including the Wall Street Journal Europe, Family Security Matters, New English Review, Times of Israel (French), Commentary, Midah. She is the author of literary-political books testifying to the Troubled Dawn of the 21st Century (her latest release).