Tour de France snubs velodrome Holocaust memorial

By Michel Zlotowski, July 12, 2012
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The Vel d'Hiv full of Jews about to be deported in July 1942

The Vel d'Hiv full of Jews about to be deported in July 1942

The Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which runs the Tour de France, has said it is not the business of a sports organisation to commemorate the 1942 round-up of Paris’s Jews, despite the involvement of the cycling body’s former director in the mass-deportation.

Jacques Goddet, director of the ASO from 1936 to 1986, was responsible for the Paris velodrome into which 8,000 Jews were herded by French police acting on Nazi orders.

Goddet handed over the keys of the velodrome, the Vel D’Hiv, to the French police, although the exact circumstances under which he did so are unknown.

Despite this history, the ASO has never taken part in any event commemorating the Vel D’Hiv deportation, and refuses to take part in the upcoming 70th anniversary event on July 16 at which French President François Hollande is due to be make a speech.

Philippe Sudres, head of press for the Tour de France, said: “ASO will not take part in the upcoming commemoration of the Vel d’Hiv round-up. As a sports organisation, ASO has no legitimacy whatsoever to be present.”

Before the Nazi invasion, ASO leased the Vel D’Hiv stadium to France’s Fascist party, the Parti Populaire Français (PPF), for rallies. More than 3,000 PPF members helped the Nazis round up Paris’s Jews. This week, the French police exhibited documents revealing the extent of their collaboration with the Nazis in the mass arrests.

Although a variety of official bodies and groups have asked for forgiveness for their attitude during the Second World War, Goddet never did and, in his autobiography, L’Équipée Belle, he barely mentioned the Vel d’Hiv episode.

As well as overseeing the Tour, Goddet also edited sports daily L’Auto in the 1930s and 1940s. After the Nazis invaded, he refused to run the race when the Germans invited him to, but L’Auto printed news favourable to the occupiers and many of its shares were held by Nazi sympathisers. Furthermore, Goddet was a well-known backer of Philippe Pétain, the head of Vichy France.

In contrast with Goddet’s murky past, Emilien Amaury, the publishing magnate whose family owns ASO, had an impeccable track-record in the French Resistance.

The French authorities did not acknowledge their role in the arrest and deportation of the Jews until 1995. The then president, Jacques Chirac, said of the Vel D’Hiv events: “These black hours will stain our history for ever and are an injury to our past and our traditions. That day, in the capital, France committed the irreparable.”

The Vel d’Hiv was torn down in 1959, one year after the then Paris police chief, Maurice Papon, used the premises to hold arrested Algerians.

An insurance company, Mondiale, bought the plot of land and built offices that were used by the French police until recently. These are due to be demolished, and a new building erected. Mondiale said: “The plaque commemorating the event of the Vel d’Hiv will be integrated into a redesigned plaza to give it the dignified character it deserves.”

Mondiale said it had initiated contacts with the Association of Sons and Daughters of the Deported, chaired by anti-Nazi activist Serge Klarsfeld.

Last updated: 3:45pm, July 12 2012