An unsparing indictment of Paris police during the Nazi occupation.
On July 16, 1942, 14-year-old Rajsfus was among thousands of Jews rounded up in Paris in compliance with German orders. Most were interned and deported, never to return, but he was fortunate enough to be released. In honor of his entire family, who were killed by Nazis, the author emotionally recalls that Black Thursday, which forms half of this book; he precedes it with Operation Yellow Star, based on newspaper reports and official papers, documenting the eagerness of French policemen “to take part in all repressive operations.” Loyal to the Vichy government, Rajsfus asserts, “the police got behind the racist ideology and imposed the laws that were those of a totalitarian state.” One of the major laws mandated that all Jews wear a yellow star, making them easily identifiable and subject to accusation, detention, and arrest. Sympathizers who took up the star themselves, as an expression of solidarity, were arrested, too. A few prominent cultural figures and wives of government loyalists were given exemptions, Rajsfus discovered, but when the writer Colette asked for an exemption for her Jewish husband, she was denied. The author’s memory of July 16 is harrowing: the family was awakened before 5 a.m. and told to pack in five minutes. Although arrests throughout Paris had been occurring for more than a year, still the family was surprised. Flanked by police, they were taken to a squalid house that served as a makeshift prison. Suddenly, an officer announced that all children 14 or older would be released if their parents agreed, and Rajsfus and his older sister found themselves alone on the street. They returned to their apartment, where, months later, they received a note from their father: “We are leaving for Germany.” Besides commemorating his family’s murder, Rajsfus raises awareness about how “the enemies of human rights are once more gaining ground,” spouting xenophobia that is easily transferable to any minority group.
A heartfelt, timely plea to remember past atrocities.