In the early s, most people in France did not understand the specificity of Jewish deportations or repression; rather, they assimilated it to other forms of repression throughout France, not least of communists, members of the resistance and workers. The story of rescue in the deportations must, therefore, be considered with this in mind.
Second, although the two biggest data works on the deportations from France during the Second World War make a clear distinction between group deportation transports of Jews and non-Jews, experiences of deportation were not so neatly divided. Indeed, approximately thirty convoys seem to have been organised in conditions similar to the Jewish ones, convoys of between deportees packed into sealed carriages with no distribution of food or water. This naturally affects the availability of testimonies and memoirs.
As this study will argue, what comes across in the archives is that cheminots reacted to Jewish and non-Jewish deportations in very similar ways: whilst most were horrified by the deportations, there are no records indicating any actual intervention or sabotage of these transports, no matter who they were carrying. The polemic around the indifference of French railway workers to Jewish convoys is thus a question of memory, not of history.
Instead, it reveals the many realities which the railway community faced during the war, and how this shaped, or limited, their reactions to the railway deportations. Second, it outlines the reactions of railway workers to the deportations, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
Indeed, although cheminots did not sabotage the trains or make grand rescue gestures during the deportations themselves, an enumeration of small gestures show a level of humanism, empathy and even at times rescue amongst the community. Finally, this article shifts its focus to actual rescue operations on deportation trains. How frequent were such operations? Who carried them out? Were railwaymen involved? The case under discussion will highlight the complicated logistical and diplomatic processes necessary behind such operations, processes which were beyond the control of railway workers.
To what extent did they differentiate deportations linked to volunteer or forced labour, and deportations linked to Nazi policies of persecution, repression and genocide? It is perhaps not so surprising, therefore, that it is these deportations which saw the most popular active resistance.
Before the departure, local people had spread a number of tracts and fliers to protest against this deportation.
While the protestors were singing patriotic songs and shouting slogans, dozens of designated forced labourers managed to escape from the train. Wehrmacht officials eventually arrived at the station, and the crowd dispersed immediately, leaving a handful of deportees in the train which began its journey eastwards. In fact, it is well known that the Jewish deportations of the summer of caused a wave of popular unrest. The prefect reports in particular show grass-roots disapproval over the deportation of children during that terrible summer.
Indeed, in that summer alone, 45 of the 79 Jewish convoys left France. In contrast, the forced labour transports and non-racial deportations significantly intensified after the summer of Numerically, the intensity of the deportations had shifted, and it is prehaps less surprising that the non-Jewish deportations — especially of the STO — would be the ones to grip popular attention from then on.
Indeed, it is absolutely fundamental that one recognises the lack of a clear understanding of the Jewish specificity amongst the processes of persecution in Vichy France. Of course information, news, and most of all rumours penetrated France far and wide about anti-Semitic persecution. Indeed, the subjects raised in the tracts were aimed to touch on the immediate and intimate issues of its audience, issues which were often linked to locality, class, or profession. Poznanski further underlines that the authors of these tracts and publications wanted to avoid sensitive subjects which might divide rather than unite opinion.
In that case, why not link the deportation of Jews to the deportation of workers?
It was, after all, a means to an end. All the same, one should not overestimate the links between these deportations; more often than not, the cheminot press was referring exclusively to the STO deportations. But knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust in the early s is a very tricky issue. People knew Jews were being deported; the large majority could not begin to imagine the nature of concentration and extermination camps. Was it to know that they left towards the East in atrocious conditions? We must also place these questions back into the unique geographical context of Western Europe.
It was thereby much more common to have a basic understanding of the fate of the Jews depending on geography. Some might have been more acute to the dangers faced by Jews, if they lived in Paris, for instance, or witnessed roundups first hand. But still the risks faced by Jews were assimilated to those faced by other persecuted groups, and the specificity of the Nazi racial plan was largely unknown.
Indeed, the large majority of railway workers would never see a deportation train within their lifetime. First, the percentage of deportation convoys was very low in comparison to the total traffic flow of the railways.
Amidst this body of transport, the Jewish convoys were a drop in the ocean. Secondly, the convoys tended to take almost the same trajectory each time. As such, the same cheminots, in the same stations, would be the only ones to truly see what was happening.
This considerably limits the number of cheminots who came into contact with the Jews in cattle cars. One rare testimony highlights the difficulties cheminots had in approaching the deportation convoys and the deportees.
Empty freight cars were ordered from other depots, and cheminots had to sort through the new arrivals and choose the sturdiest cars to use for the convoy. They placed barbed wire over the windows, on order of the Germans. In the town a slow procession of a thousand Jews, including women and children, would appear walking through the silent streets, encircled by Vichy or German police. Once on the platform they were ordered to climb into the freight cars with their luggage and food parcels.
With everyone compressed in the cattle cars, the doors were slammed shut and sealed. The cheminots would thus start up the engine and drive the train until they reached the German border. The Frenchmen headed back towards Paris. When preparing the convoys, cheminots were under constant German supervision. The two unarmed cheminots who drove the deportation convoys were escorted by a minimum of 16 heavily armed Germans. By a wall of sentinels would form around the train to make sure people did not approach it within metres.
The very idea of the univers concentrationnaire was unheard of. Catherine de Bechillon, the daughter of Henri Lang a highly ranked SNCF engineer deported in the first convoy to Auschwitz , declared that even if cheminots had a clearer idea than most about what was happening, their knowledge remained very vague.
They heard rumours of camps, saw people being put into cattle cars, as well as armed German guards, and that was it.
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At all levels of society, the French were too preoccupied by their immediate circumstances to get overly involved in the potential massacre happening on the other side of Europe. As she explained in her interview, her daily concerns and struggles took up most of her time and energy, and there was little sense in asking too many questions in this period of occupation and supervision.
The most commonly cited gesture was picking up the scraps of paper which internees slid through the cracks of the cattle cars as they passed through rail stations. Indeed, once the train was out of sight, cheminots would approach the tracks and pick up these scraps of paper on which were scribbled messages of hope and love. However, memoirs of both Jewish and non-Jewish survivors are extremely useful when trying to get a clearer picture of what was happening in those first moments of deportation.
The memoirs conserved there were written by both Jewish and non-Jewish survivors, and almost two dozen of them mentioned the infamous railway journeys from France to the concentration camps. Indeed, survivors remembered with horror the indifference and sometimes even cruelty of passers-by, Gendarmes , or the Germans. In , there were fifteen escape attempts on the Jewish convoys from 9, 11 and 13 February, nine of which were successful.
First of all, they caused delays to the train schedule. Secondly, they undermined the effectiveness of German authority and security. After three consecutive reports gave details of the escapes in February, they began to elaborate new plans for the organisation and preparation of the trains. Overall, the intensification of security measures considerably worsened the conditions of deportation. Passengers were separated from their luggage so they could not retrieve tools to help them escape.
Because men showed more audacity, they decided to mix the men with women and children rather than divide them in the transports. Moreover, all deportees were searched before boarding the cars. English die dado. Context sentences Context sentences for "accident de parcours" in English These sentences come from external sources and may not be accurate.
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