Film Confronts France's Wartime Roundup Of Jews

France is confronting its role in the wartime deportation of 76,000 Jews thanks to a new film. La Rafle is the first graphic telling of the roundup of 13,000 Jews in Paris 1942 by French police. The Jews were held in a sports stadium for four days before being sent on to French camps and eventually Auschwitz.

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A subject that was once taboo is now playing on the big screen in France. A new film portrays one of France's darkest episodes from World War II. It depicts the largest roundup of Parisian Jews, not by the Nazis, but by the French police. Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: The film "La Rafle," or "The Roundup," opens in 1942 in Nazi-occupied Paris. Despite the occupation, life is still relatively good. No one can imagine what's in store for the city's Jewish population.

(Soundbite of movie, "La Rafle")

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Although they're wearing yellow stars, Jewish children play happily in the streets of Montmartre. But behind the scenes, German officials are demanding that the Vichy-collaborationist government hand over 25,000 Jews from the French capital.

(Soundbite of movie, "La Rafle")

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The raid begins in the wee hours of July 16th, 1942. French police storm through apartment buildings, rousing families from their bed.

(Soundbite of movie, "La Rafle")

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The 13,000 Jews caught in the snare are held for four days in an indoor bicycle racetrack in Paris, known as the V�lodrome dhiver. There is no food or water and sanitary conditions are appalling. Eventually, they're transferred to French transit camps, and then to Auschwitz. Filmmaker Rosalyn Bosch sys she felt compelled to make this movie.

Ms. ROSALYN BOSCH (Filmmaker, "La Rafle"): (Through translator) I wanted to take the audience to the V�lodrome and to those French camps, because there are no real photos or films from that time that document it. This film is like a cause for me, because no one has confronted this head-on before.

BEARDSLEY: The movie is based on the memories of 79-year-old Joseph Weisman, who was 11 at the time, and one of only two of the 4,000 children held at the V�lodrome, to survive. He escaped from one of the French camps.

(Soundbite of movie, "La Rafle")

(Soundbite of screaming)

BEARDSLEY: The film includes wrenching scenes where children are torn from the arms of their parents by French guards. Of the 13,000 Jews held at the V�lodrome dhiver and then sent to Auschwitz, only 25 would survive.

After the war, French governments denied or played down French complicity in the roundup. Andre Juso(ph), a historian of Vichy era, says the film is important for the images it provides.

Mr. ANDRE JUSO (Historian): It's a question of contemporary culture. When an event is not represented in cinema or in the movies or in the TV, it doesn't exist for many people. Now, we have a kind of reference.

BEARDSLEY: The story is not all dark. The film also deals with the often heroic behavior of many Parisians at the time. More than 10,000 Jews were warned or hidden by their neighbors and friends.

Ez Monso(ph), who just saw the film, says she's alive today because of their courage.

Ms. EZ MONSO: (Through translator) My father's family was saved by a French policeman, a commissioner who was friends with my grandfather and warned them, that on that day, they had to get out of Paris.

BEARDSLEY: In the two weeks since the film was released it has generated huge public interest. Janene Fergo(ph) emerges from the cinema, her face buried in a handkerchief. She says it wasn't an easy film to watch.

Ms. JANENE FERGO: (Through translator): I'm so ashamed. I always heard about this, but I never really imagined it. And the children - how could they do that to the children?

BEARDSLEY: The V�lodrome was torn down in 1959. Today, there's a memorial to the deportees in its place. The inscription reads: France pays homage to the victims of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the French state. We will never forget.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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