Amid right-wing resurgence, ugly memories stir in France Wartime lists of Jews surface, as do questions

November 20, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Paris Bureau of The Sun

PARIS -- The secret was buried 47 years ago, amid the confusion surrounding the liberation of Paris after World War II. In the rapid political about-face, yesterday's collaborator had become suddenly accountable.

In the summer of 1944, nearly 150,000 cards naming the Jews of Paris and their addresses -- the record of Vichy France's first singling out of Jews for the Nazis -- were quietly carted off to an obscure department at the Ministry of Veterans Affairs. There the cards remained hidden, despite years of inquiries by Jewish organizations seeking the files.

Suddenly, the lists surfaced last week, and with them the memories and questions surrounding France's complicity in the Final Solution and the silence that followed.

The find comes amid a right-wing resurgence in Europe. In Germany and Austria, violence against foreigners is growing common, and in Poland anti-Semitism is openly expressed. Last week in Madrid, Spain, neo-Nazis from around the world gathered to deny the Holocaust's death toll of 12 million, 6 million of them Jews.

"It's because of these records that the Germans were able to round up the Jews for deportation," explained Beate Klarsfeld, the Nazi hunter who tracked down Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo chief in Lyon, France. Barbie was found in Bolivia.

Mrs. Klarsfeld's husband, Serge, a lawyer who also concentrates on the Nazi period, traced the files to the ministry.

Last week, Mr. Klarsfeld and Jean Kahn of the Representative Council of French Jews demanded an inquiry into why the government consistently denied the existence of the files.

Veterans Affairs Minister Louis Mexandeau said they were discovered during a 1990 inventory of his agency, which had been using the cards all these years to award government pensions to war victims.

Jewish leaders appeared relieved that the existence of the cards finally had been confirmed and said they wanted to take possession of them as a record belonging to the Jewish community.

Nearly 80,000 of the people registered were rounded up by police, loaded into freight trains and sent to concentration camps of the puppet Vichy government at Drancy, Beaune-La-Rolande, Pithiviers and Compiegne. From there, the Germans took over and transported them to the death camps of Poland.

Henry Bulawko remembers when he and the other Jews of Paris were called in to register in October 1940, shortly after the Germans entered the city.

Some Jewish families thought of not registering, but this required money and connections that many lacked. Anyway, people were not really afraid yet, he recalled.

To allay French fears, the Germans had put up posters showing German soldiers carrying children and giving them food. Christians seemed to have accepted this, and Jews felt they had little choice but to go along, he said.

When they went to register, they saw French police officers at French police stations and were not afraid, Mr. Bulawko said. Many of the Jewish men pinned to their coats the medals they had collected fighting in the last Great War.

"They figured, 'We're good Frenchmen. We'll show them,' " he recalled.

Their neighbors walked by the long lines that snaked out of the precincts and could see which Jews had registered and which had not. Those who were not in line became vulnerable to LTC informants.

Foreign Jews, like the Bulawko family that came from Lithuania in 1925, were less trusting. Most had left East European countries, where the roots of anti-Semitism ran deep. They recognized persecution's first signs in the sudden requirement to identify themselves as Jews.

Mr. Bulawko was deported to Auschwitz in 1943. He escaped only as the German SS marched the prisoners toward Germany shortly before the Soviets liberated the camp.

Now president of the National Association of Jewish Deportees, Mr. Bulawko has been searching for the card files for 20 years.

In supplying the Germans with the names and addresses of all Jews, the Vichy police saved the Nazis an enormous and sticky task that could have slowed the genocide.

The cards meant the Nazis didn't have to go door-to-door to get the information. Registering the Jews also sent the Germans their first, clear signal that Vichy France would carry out the anti-Jewish policies of Berlin.

In fact, Vichy France went further than Berlin had dared ask. It was the French, for example, who in 1942 requested permission from Berlin to deport Jewish children, who until then had been exempt.

Mr. Bulawko acknowledged last week that the Vichy government could not have known in 1940 that the names and addresses it collected would be used to kill off France's Jewish population.

"If this ignorance was valid in the first instance, it was no longer at the second and the third," he said.

"When French police were rounding up women and children, they knew it wasn't normal. When they were packing families into freight cars, they knew they weren't going to Club Med."

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