After the French armed forces and national government quickly collapsed when Nazi Germany invaded in May 1940, the conquerors divided France into a German-occupied area in the north and a pro-Nazi Vichy regime, the “Free Zone,” in the south. In both regions, French police and gendarmes were zealous in rounding up Jews for deportation “to the East,” a euphemism for German death camps.
A horrific example of French collaboration with the Nazis was the July 1942 roundup in Paris of 8,160 Jews. Before being deported, they were incarcerated for five days under appalling conditions at the Velodrome d’Hiver, an indoor sports stadium. The roundup shocked many people because it included women and children; fewer than 100 survived the war.
Semelin, an expert on the Holocaust and civil resistance, focuses on how Jews “survived” the Holocaust by devising strategies and actions, such as fleeing Paris and moving to the sparsely populated countryside in the Free Zone, acquiring false names and identity papers, posing as Catholics, being hidden by non-Jews, and “blending in” with the general population.