France must do more to fight Jew hate, says Shoah survivor 80 years after Vel d'Hiv roundup

Joan Salter MBE was in Paris just before the mass arrest and narrowly escaped deportation


A Holocaust survivor who narrowly escaped the Paris mass round-up of Jews exactly 80 years ago has told the JC that France today must do far more to combat antisemitism.

Joan Salter was two years old when on 16th and 17th of July 1942 more than 13,000 Jews were arrested en masse in the French capital and held in shocking conditions at the d’Hiver Velodrome, before being deported to Auschwitz.

Of the 3,900 children sent to the Nazi death camp just six survived. 

Born in Brussels to Polish parents, Ms Salter was in Paris at the time with her mother. Thanks to a tip off from a sympathetic policeman, they were able to flee the city hidden in a laundry van before the mass arrests began. 

Speaking in London at a Holocaust Education Trust conference on Thursday, Ms Salter said: “The Nazis did terrible things but they couldn’t have done it on their own.”

While Paris was under Nazi occupation, she explained, deportees were arrested by French authorities.

When it came to rounding up Jews, “the French were proactive,” not merely complicit, she added. While Adolf Eichmann, the arch-bureaucrat of the Holocaust, reportedly did not want to deport children, the Vichy insisted upon it, she said.

For decades, French authorities refused to recognise their nation’s role in the extermination of French Jewry, maintaining that as the French state had been abolished during the war the Republic could not apologise. 

It was not until 1995 that President Jacques Chirac made an admission of guilt on behalf of the country, saying: “These black hours will stain our history forever and are an injury to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal madness of the occupier was assisted by the French, by the French state….

“France, home of the Enlightenment and the Rights of Man, land of welcome and asylum, France committed on that day the irreparable. Breaking its word, it delivered those it protected to their executioners.”

In 2017, speaking at the 75th anniversary, President Emmanuel Macron said: "I say it again here. It was indeed France that organised the roundup, the deportation, and thus, for almost all, death.”

Speaking to the JC, Ms Salter said there was still “so much” antisemitism going on in France. 

The attitude to anti-Jewish racism is still too often, “well you know it’s the Jews, it all happened a long time ago,” she added.

Ms Salter continued: “There’s a lot of hatred about Palestine… there’s a lot of hatred towards Israel, as though anyone needs an excuse [to be antisemitic]... Marine le Pen, all of a sudden she’s a moderate, what can you say? The world keeps on going back.”

She was born Fanny Zimetbaum in Brussels in 1940. Soon after, her father Jakob was arrested and imprisoned in France for six months. While being deported to an internment camp he managed to jump from the train and escape, before hiding with a cousin in Paris.

Ms Salter, her sister Lilane, and her mother, Bronia, also then moved to Paris to live with family. In 1941, Jakob fled south to Lyon, and a year later - after narrowly escaping the d’Hiver Velodrome roundup - his wife and daughters travelled to join him.

Jakob eventually managed to escape France to Spain and then Portugal, before joining the British Pioneer Corps.

In 1943, Bronia and her daughters managed to also cross over the Pyrenees into Spain. Ms Salter and her sister were then able to travel to America, but had to leave their mother behind. 

Addressing the HET conference, Ms Salter said, “Our past was wiped out.” She was fostered, her name and language were changed, and she lost touch with her parents until 1947.

But, she added: “I’m a survivor and nobody’s going to walk on me again.”

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