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France’s Pride and Shame
France’s only significant feat of arms in WWII — not a war in which the French military covered itself in glory — occurred in North Africa in late May and early June, 1942, when Rommel’s motorized forces attempted to flank the British line in the run-up to the First Battle of El Alamein. Opposed by the 1st Free French Division at the fort of Bir-Hakeim, the Germans were unable to dislodge the stubborn French, despite a superiority of ground forces and control of the air. The French bought their British allies the time needed to consolidate their positions.
In commemoration, the Pont de Passy over the Seine was renamed the Pont Bir-Hakeim in 1948. The bridge bears a large plaque noting that the Battle of Bir Hakeim sent a message to the world: France was still in the fight.
However, within shouting distance of the Bir-Hakeim bridge (one might wonder why this particular bridge was renamed, and not a different one) stands another monument, one to the erstwhile presence of the indoor bicycle stadium known as the Vélodrome d’Hiver. The Vel’ d’Hiv was the assembly point for 8,451 Jewish residents of Paris (almost half of them children) who were rounded up by French police, with no German participation, on July 16-17, 1942. The Jews were held in the Left Bank stadium for eight days with little food and water, and no sanitation, prior to being sent to holding camps outside of Paris, and then on to Auschwitz. Of the 42,000 Jews sent from France to Nazi-occupied Poland in 1942, only 811 were alive at the end of the war. The stadium was demolished in 1959.
A monument commemorating France’s shameful, unforced collaboration in the Holocaust, with its reference to the Vel’ d’Hiv’s curving bicycle track and the large number of children taken in the roundup, stands in a small park next to the Seine not far from the site of the Vel’ d’Hiv.
Addendum: A reader points us to an uplifting children’s story:
Silent as a Stone memorializes the life of Mother Maria Skobtsova, an unconventional nun who aided the persecuted Jewish people in occupied France during WWII. Confronting the horror of Nazi brutality, Mother Maria devised an ingenious plan to save Jewish children destined for extermination camps: Paris garbage collectors, upon her urging, hid the children in trash cans and whisked them to safe havens outside the city. Mother Maria, for her selfless rescue activities, perished in a gas chamber in Ravensbrück camp in Germany in 1945. Today, she is among the “righteous gentiles” honored in Israel and a canonized saint in the Orthodox Christian Church.
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…
August 23, 2009
Fare Thee Well, Tom Crady
And now Dean Tom Crady has precipitously announced his departure from the College after only 20 months on the job. How to read this? By way of background, prior to coming to Dartmouth, Crady had…
May 31, 2009
Kangaroo Court, Indeed
In an interview with The Dartmouth, alumni-elected trustee T.J. Rodgers ‘70 explained his reasons for declining to participate in future evaluations of trustees up for “re-election,” namely the “kangaroo court” nature of such discussion in…