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CULTURE

Vel d’Hiv: France marks 80 years since notorious round-up of Jews in Paris

This weekend marks 80 years since the 'rafle du Vélodrome d'Hiver' - the roundup of Jews in Paris during World War II - here's what happened and how France will mark the event.

Vel d'Hiv: France marks 80 years since notorious round-up of Jews in Paris
A ceremony commemorating the 76th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv round-up in Paris at the memorial garden. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

On July 16th and 17th, of 1942, French police rounded up 13,152 Jewish people in Paris and its immediate suburbs, taking them to the Vélodrome d’Hiver sports stadium, where they would be kept in crowded and unsanitary conditions.

They were then deported, first to French internment camps before many were sent to Auschwitz and murdered.

This year marks 80 years since the horrific event, and in the place of the former Vel d’Hiv, as it is popularly known, now stands the ‘Jardin du souvenir,’ (remembrance garden) which French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne will visit this weekend.

The Prime Minister will remember the tragedy and its survivors in a ceremony on Sunday, July 17th – the ‘National Day of Remembrance.’

PM Borne, whose father survived the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, will first go to the memorial garden at the former site of the Vél d’Hiv, and then she will lay a wreath at the Square of the ‘Place-des-Martyrs-Juifs-du-Vélodrome-d’Hiver.’

The tragedy will also be remembered in a photography exhibit at the Jardin de Luxembourg. Titled “Lest we forget,” the exhibit will include 42 portraits of Holocaust survivors, which will be hung on the gates of the garden, with a QR code under each photo, allowing you to learn the individual story and testimony of the person in the image. 

You can also view the portraits and read the stories by going to https://lestweforget.crif.org/

The exhibit, which will run until August 7th, was curated by German-Italian photographer Luigi Toscano, who has already made portraits of over 400 survivors across the world.

The legacy of the Nazi occupation and war crimes in France has been a complicated one and it was not until 1995 that then-president Jaques Chirac acknowledged the complicity of the French Vichy government in Nazi atrocities such as the deportation and wholesale murder of Jews in France.  

In 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron admitted the responsibility of the French state in the Vel d’Hiv roundup, saying in a speech that “It was indeed France that organised” the roundup.

Over 77,000 French Jews died in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. 

Speaking on the 75th anniversary, Sarah Lichtsztejn-Montard told French media France 24 how she survived and escaped from the Vél d’Hiv, describing how that day began with Sarah and her mother being driven to a garage on the corner of Belleville and Pyrénées streets, and then later down to the 15th arrondisement, to the Vélodrome d’Hiver, just a ten minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. 

Sarah died, aged 93, in February. 

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CULTURE

French MP abandons bid to ban bullfighting

A bid to ban bullfighting in France has been abandoned, to the relief of lovers of the traditional blood sport and dismay for animal rights' activists.

French MP abandons bid to ban bullfighting

The 577-seat National Assembly had looked set to vote on draft legislation that would have made the practice illegal.

But the MP behind the bill withdrew it after lawmakers filed more than 500 amendments, many of them designed to take up parliamentary time and obstruct the vote.

“I’m so sorry,” Aymeric Caron, a La France insoumise (LFI) MP and animal rights’ campaigner, told the national assembly as he announced the decision in raucous and bad-tempered scenes.

Though public opinion is firmly in favour of outlawing the practice, the bill had already been expected to be rejected by a majority of lawmakers who
are wary about stirring up the bullfighting heartlands in the south of the country.

“We need to go towards a conciliation, an exchange,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday, adding that he did not expect the draft law to pass. “From where I am sitting, this is not a current priority.”

His government has urged members of the ruling centrist coalition not to support the text from the opposition LFI, even though many members are known to personally favour it.

During a first debate of the parliament’s law commission last week, a majority voted against the proposal by Caron, who denounced the “barbarism” of a tradition that was imported from Spain in the 1850s.

“Caron has antagonised people instead of trying to smooth it over,” a lawmaker from Macron’s party told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The bill proposed modifying an existing law penalising animal cruelty to remove exemptions for bullfights that can be shown to be “uninterrupted local
traditions”.

These are granted in towns such as Bayonne and Mont-de-Marsan in south west France and along the Mediterranean coast including Arles, Beziers and Nîmes.

Around 1,000 bulls are killed each year in France, according to the Observatoire National des Cultures Taurines.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: Could bullfighting finally be banned in France?

Many so-called “bull towns” depend on the shows for tourism and see the culture of bull-breeding and the spectacle of the fight as part of their way of life – idolised by artists from Ernest Hemingway to Pablo Picasso.

They organised demonstrations last Saturday, while animal rights protesters gathered in Paris – highlighting the north-south and rural-versus-Paris divide at the heart of the debate.

“Caron, in a very moralising tone, wants to explain to us, from Paris, what is good or bad in the south,” the mayor of Mont-de-Marsan, Charles Dayot, told AFP recently.

Other defenders of “la Corrida” in France view the focus on the sport as hypocritical when factory farms and industrial slaughter houses are overlooked.

“These animals die too and we don’t talk enough about it,” said Dalia Navarro, who formed the pro-bullfighting group Les Andalouses in southern Arles.

Modern society “has more and more difficulty in accepting seeing death. But la Corrida tackles death, which is often a taboo subject,” she told AFP.

Previous judicial attempts to outlaw bullfighting have repeatedly failed, with courts routinely rejecting lawsuits lodged by animal rights activists, most recently in July 2021 in Nîmes.

The debate in France about the ethics of killing animals for entertainment is echoed in other countries with bullfighting histories, including Spain and Portugal as well as Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.

In June, a judge in Mexico City ordered an indefinite suspension of bullfighting in the capital’s historic bullring, the largest in the world.

The first bullfight took place in France in 1853 in Bayonne to honour Eugenie de Montijo, the Spanish wife of Napoleon III.

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