Vel d’Hiv Roundup of Paris Jews … 75 years ago … and Dr Petiot …

On July 16 and 17 – Sunday and Monday – this year of 2017, France commemorates what was, for the French, the most horrendous episode of WW2. But only after the war had been, had ended, and they thought back to the years from June 1940 to August 1944 when Nazi Germany occupied France, in […]

Hitler with Petain, head of the pro-German collaborationist government of France.

On July 16 and 17 – Sunday and Monday – this year of 2017, France commemorates what was, for the French, the most horrendous episode of WW2.

But only after the war had been, had ended, and they thought back to the years from June 1940 to August 1944 when Nazi Germany occupied France, in other words when the Germans were the masters in Paris.

On those two warm and sunny summer days, 75 years ago – Thursday and Friday, July 16 and 17, 1942 – men swept down on the 9th, 10th, 11th, 18th, 19th and 20th arrondissements (districts) of Paris arresting Jews for deportation from France.

‘Arrest’ though is too decent a word!

The Jews – men, women and children of all ages – were grabbed from their homes, even grabbed off the streets, and marched to neighbourhood schools, cinemas, theatres and police stations – any large space, in fact – there to stand and wait for buses to draw up to take them a step further on what for the majority of them, and certainly for all the children, was the second stage of a journey of death.

The buses were not of the luxury, airconditioned kind with toilets one sees on Paris’s boulevards today taking tourists around, but were ordinary Paris transport buses, the green and yellow ones with the little platform at the rear. (This type of bus was replaced in the 1970s by a more modern version which no longer had the little platform at the rear.)

Those Paris transport buses drove the Jews, many of them crying, not knowing where they were being taken, but knowing why – just because they were Jews – to an indoor bicycle stadium in the capital’s 15th arrondissement, the Eiffel Tower not so far from it. The stadium was the Vélodrome d’Hiver. The Cycling Track of Winter.

Altogether 13,152 Jews  – 1129 men, 2916 women and 4115 children – were thus rounded up and taken to the cycling track. There, they were held without food, water, and there were no sanitary facilities. After four days the same ones who had arrested them transported the adults on to detention camps close by – mainly to Drancy in the northern suburbs of Paris, and next, from there in rail cattle cars to the concentration and death camps in Poland and Germany for detention or death. The little children left behind had to tend for themselves without food, water or sanity facilities, until the buses had returned a few days later to drive them to a railway station to be transferred to rail cattle cars for the journey to Auschwitz and death.  Not one of those 4115 children survived.

This episode of WW2 and the German Occupation of  France are known as the Rafle du Vel d’Hiv – the stadium was always affectionally called the Vel d’Hiv – the Vel d’Hiv Roundup.

Who were those grabbing the Jews from their homes, or off the streets of Paris?

No, not the Gestapo.

No, not German Wehrmacht soldiers.

But French police.

The roundup which had begun at 4 a.m. that Thursday morning of July 16, 1942, was code-named  Opération Vent printanier (“Operation Spring Breeze”).

At the start of the Occupation in June 1940 France’s police force had been given the choice of resigning or working under German orders. It had chosen the latter. The French police was therefore not independent: it took orders from Hitler. France’s judges too had lost their independence.  In June 1940 they had been ordered to swear allegiance to France’s new collaborating head of state Marshall Philippe Petain, in other words to Hitler. Only one judge, Judge Paul Didier, had refused to do so. His punishment was deportation to a German concentration camp. He would survive the camp and after the war he would return to France.

 (WW2 had begun in September 1939. Eight months later, therefore in May 1940, the German Wehrmacht having already defeated and invaded the Netherland, Belgium and Luxembourg, the Germans also defeated the French army up in Northern France, and pushed south towards Paris. The Germans reached Paris a month later, therefore in June 1940 and the Occupation of France by Hitler’s Germany began.)

The yellow Star of David the Nazis made Jews wear

For today’s (Sunday, July 16, 2017) commemoration, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahou will join France’s President Emmanuel Macron for the solemn remembrance ceremony in Paris. President Macron will inaugurate a memorial garden – the Jardin Mémorial des Enfants – created on the original site of the Vélodrome d’Hiver on Rue Nélaton in the 15th arrondissement.

I wrote in a book DIE INPARIS about three Jews who had had the good fortune to escape the Vel d’Hiv Roundup.

My book DIE IN PARIS – the cover(Copyright Marilyn Z Tomlins)


They were Kurt and Greta Kneller, and their seven-year-old son René.

They were German Jews from Breslau who had fled to France believing that they would be safe from Hitler and his Nazis in the land of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood.

Having heard that a roundup of Jews was under way in Paris, they had gone to hide with a French (and not Jewish) friend.

However, they had not escaped the murderous hands of Dr Marcel Petiot, a resident of Paris.

Dr Marcel Petiot in court on trial for murder

Dr Petiot, by all appearances a kind family doctor, loving husband and father of a teenage son, had put the story out that he was a member of the French Resistance and that he headed a resistance cell which helped people escape from Occupied France. The escapees had to pay the resistance cell for its escape route. The amount each had to pay varied according to who they were, their financial situation, and how desperate they were to escape from the Nazis. Some had thus handed over hundreds of thousands of Francs. On top of his fees he had gone to the homes they had abandoned to cart away whatever they had left behind. He had also advised them to bring along all their valuables, and this they had done.

The Knellers had paid him 150,000 francs. They too had taken what valuables they had with them, and he had also gone to their abandoned apartment with a cart to fill it up with what he could find.

Dr Petiot’s resistance cell did not exist and thus the escape route was bogus. It began and ended in a townhouse in Paris’s chic 16th arrondissement close to the Arc de Triomphe which he had bought at the outbreak of the war to open a mental clinic after the war – or so he had claimed – but which he had then used as his murder house.

Yes, he had murdered his victims.

Not all of them were Jews though.

He was guillotined after the war for the murder of 26 people, but the police chief, judging by the amount of human remains found at the townhouse at No. 27 rue le Sueur, said that there had been very many more victims. He thought two hundred, but he said: “To be on the safe side, I will settle for one hundred and fifty.”

It was on this street and on this spot that Petiot murdered.(Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

He had kept the bodies of his victims in the townhouse until March 1944 when he began to try to destroy the bodies by burning and  with quicklime.


On Saturday, July 18, in other words two days after the Vel d’Hiv Roundup he had fetched Kurt Kneller, and the following day, Sunday, July 19, he had fetched Greta and little René.

On Saturday, August 8, a bargeman saw that some bags had been caught in bushes on the bank of the River Seine at Asnières, ten kilometres north-west of Paris. He poked a stick into one of them. It contained body parts. He lifted the bags onto the deck of his barge. His mate helped him.

The two summoned the police.

The bags contained the legs, feet, arms, and upper part of the torso of a child, and the head, one arm and the lower part of the torso of a woman.

The police took the remains to the Médico-Légal Institute.

The institute’s chief, Dr Albert Paul, examined them. He informed the police that the child was male and about seven years old. The woman was middle-aged. Because of the advanced state of decomposition, it would be impossible for him and his team to determine the date or method of death.

A few days later another bargeman found the head of a man at the same spot.

Dr Paul said he was not even going to attempt to guess the man’s age.


I wrote a book DIE IN PARIS about Dr Petiot. You can buy it on any amazon website.




A translation to French of the book – Docteur Petiot le Diabolique is currently with French publishers.

This is what I write about how the remains of what could be regarded as those of the Knellers had been found.

Le samedi 8 août, un marinier aperçut des sacs pris dans des broussailles sur une rive de la Seine à d’Asnières-sur-Seine, à 8 kilomètres de Paris. Il piqua l’un d’eux avec un bâton. Il contenait les restes d’un corps humain. Aidé par son compagnon à bord, il tira les sacs et les mit sur le pont de sa péniche.

            Ils prévinrent la police.

            Les sacs contenaient les jambes, les pieds, les bras, le haut du torse d’enfant, et la tête, le bras et le bas du torse d’une femme.

            La police transféra les restes humains à la morgue de Paris.

            Le docteur Charles Paul de la morgue les examina. Il informa la police que l’enfant était un garçon d’environ sept ans. La femme était d’âge moyen. En raison de leur état de décomposition avancé, il leur était impossible, à son équipe et à lui, de déterminer quand et comment ils étaient morts.

            Quelques jours plus tard, un autre marinier trouva la tête d’un homme au même endroit.

            Le docteur Paul disait qu’il ne tentait même pas d’estimer quel était son âge.


Should you be a French publisher and you think you would like to read my manuscript, do contact me either on this site, or on

1940: Hitler visiting conquered Paris.

The ashes of Petiot’s victims.








Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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