It has a curious name and it took place at a time when, officially, the French Jews, “Old Jews assimilated for a long time”, were not targeted by the Vichy government. The roundup of the notables consists of the arrest, on December 12, 1941 and by decision of the Nazis, of 743 French Jews, men only, bourgeois considered as “Influential”. In addition, 300 foreign Jews, because Berlin wants to reach the figure of 1,000 prisoners. All were taken 70 kilometers from Paris to the Compiègne-Royallieu camp. Three months later, the majority of them were deported to Auschwitz.
Anne Sinclair writes about this roundup because her paternal grandfather, Léonce Schwartz, was one of them. He fell ill and was released and taken to Val-de-Grâce. He thus escaped at the start towards the extermination camp. He died in May 1945, as a result of his weakness. The journalist’s father, who, when he joined Free France, swapped Schwartz’s name for Sinclair, didn’t tell his daughter about this episode. An investigation in the archives allows Anne Sinclair to fill her ignorance. Serge Klarsfeld also helps him a lot. He published newspapers kept by certain deportees: “Alone in occupied Europe without an active extermination policy, and where there was an almost equally educated population, Compiègne was a camp where much was written. It was one of the only ways not to go crazy. “
The roundup of notables touched liberal professions and a few traders, such as Léonce Schwartz, a lace seller on the wholesale street in Aboukir. The victims were identified thanks to the censuses of the Jews requested by the Nazis in October 1940, then in November 1941. The conditions of detention at the camp were very harsh, food was lacking and the temperature could be 20 ° C below freezing.
Among the prisoners was René Blum, brother of Leon and director of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo. He was one of “High consciousnesses” of the camp and sought to help those he believed “More unfortunate than him”. When the contingent arrived at Auschwitz, witnesses saw it “Taken alone by the Nazis to get off the train and thrown alive in a crematorium”. Tristan Bernard’s son, Jean-Jacques Bernard, was also in Compiègne. In the Slow Death Camp, he describes this place “Without forced labor, without torture, without extermination, but [où] the executioner remained invisible: it was only a question of letting his victims die of hunger little by little “.
Why were prisoners deemed too young, too old or too sick, like Léonce Schwartz, released? Because in December 1941, the Nazis still hovered between a policy of social elimination and a policy of physical elimination. The Wannsee conference of January 20, 1942 marks the switch to the second option. Anne Sinclair specifies that the survivors of the Compiègne camp took care not to compare their fate with “The absolute horror of the extermination camps […]. This was one of the reasons for their restraint on their release, when the Shoah began to be known. “ How to explain the three months which separate the arrival in Compiègne and the departure for Auschwitz, March 27, 1942? Historian Georges Wellers has made a convincing assumption that German trains were crowded with licensees during the Christmas period.
Anne Sinclair The Notable Roundup Grasset, 128 pp., € 13 (ebook: € 8.99).