Over two days in the summer of 1942, French police carried out Western Europe’s largest wartime roundup of Jews, acting on orders from occupying German forces and their French allies in the Vichy Regime.

On July 16 and 17 of that year, a total of 12,884 Jews – men, women and children – were snatched from their homes in Paris and in neighbouring suburbs. Some were taken directly to an internment camp in Drancy, northeast of the capital. The rest were crammed into the Vélodrome d’Hiver, a stadium located on the banks of the Seine in the 15th arrondissement (district) of Paris, which would give its name to this sinister chapter in French history.

To mark the 80th anniversary of this tragic event, FRANCE 24 has gathered the eyewitness accounts of six survivors of the Vél d’Hiv roundup, all of them children at the time. They recall the shock and horror of those days, and the extraordinary circumstances that allowed them to avoid deportation to Nazi death camps.

Each of them presents a cherished object – a family picture, candlesticks, a wallet – invested with memories of their childhood and their loved ones.

For the longest time, survivors of the roundup kept quiet about this deeply traumatic event. Eighty years on, they have chosen to speak out and pass on their memories to ensure the lessons of history are not forgotten.

born Sieradzki, aged 6

Renée Borycki was born in Paris on July 16, 1936, to parents of Polish origin. Her father Mordka, a hairdresser, arrived in France in 1931, soon followed by his wife Bluma, a seamstress. Their lives were turned upside down in May 1941 when Mordka was instructed to report for a “status check” at a gymnasium in eastern Paris. It was a trap. Renée’s father was arrested on the spot, along with some 3,700 other male foreign Jews, in what would come to be known as the “green ticket roundup”. He was taken at first to an internment camp in Pithiviers, south of Paris, and later deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Renée Borycki pictured with her mother Bluma © Family archives

On July 16, 1942, Renée’s 6th birthday and the day before her father was deported to the death camps in Poland, she and her mother miraculously escaped the Vél d’Hiv roundup. When police came knocking on their door, Bluma and Renée managed to slip into a neighbour’s apartment, before finding refuge with a cousin in a suburb of Paris. They hid there for several days, until a woman whom they barely knew offered them shelter. For the next two and a half years, mother and daughter lived in a storage room at the woman’s home, sharing a single food voucher between the three of them. To this day, Renée bears the physical and emotional scars of her childhood as an “enfant caché” (a hidden child).

After the war, Renée was among the few enfants cachés to experience the joy of seeing a parent return from Auschwitz-Birkenau. She later worked with her father in a clothing workshop, along with her husband. Until his death in 1983, Mordka was a tireless spokesperson for Holocaust victims, working with the association “convoi n°6,” named after the convoy that took him to the Nazi camps in Poland. Renée and her son Alexandre have now taken up the baton to preserve his memory and those of the Holocaust’s countless other victims.

These are my grandparents' candleholders. It was a custom in Poland: when a young girl got married, she received candlesticks from her parents so that she could light them in turn on Shabbat and remember her family. My mother took them with her on the day of the Vél d'Hiv roundup. How did she do it? I can't say. In any case, that's what she chose to save. During the war, she sold everything to give us food, even her wedding ring. But she kept her candlesticks as a souvenir of her parents and of her native Poland. This is the only link I have today with my grandparents. When I light them for the children, I feel like they are there with us.

Renée Borycki holding her grandparents’ candlesticks from Poland © Stéphanie Trouillard, FRANCE 24

aged 12

Samuel Bliman was born in Paris on June 15, 1930. His parents, both of them Polish, arrived in France at the end of the 1920s. Izrael worked as a tailor while his wife Chawa ran a small grocery store. When war with Germany broke out in September 1939, Izrael joined Polish forces fighting on France’s side. Following the French debacle, he was demobilised and returned to Paris at the end of 1940. Just months later, he too was arrested during the “green ticket roundup”. He was sent to the internment camp of Beaune-la-Rolande, south of Paris, where his family last saw him before he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on June 28, 1942.

Samuel Bliman pictured with his mother Chawa and his younger sister Suzanne © Family archives

Just weeks later, at 7 o’clock in the morning of July 16, one of Chawa's neighbours shouted in Yiddish that the police had entered her home. Sensing the danger, Samuel’s mother ordered her two children and her sister Sylvia to hush. They remained holed up in their flat for a fortnight, despite repeated visits by the police, before an acquaintance helped them to flee Paris. Hiding in a freight carriage, they managed to reach Tarascon, in the south of France, before moving on to Toulouse. When the so-called “free zone” was also occupied by the Germans in November 1942, the family had to flee again, this time to the Isère region controlled by Italian forces. They hid in Vizille, a few kilometres from Grenoble.

The family moved back to Paris in August 1944 following France’s Liberation. Chawa resumed her catering work, waiting for her husband’s return. But Izrael never made it back. Samuel’s father was murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, along with an estimated 1.1 million people, most of them Jews. After helping his mother, Samuel went on to study physics and become a university professor.

This picture shows my mother seated and holding my little sister Suzanne, who was 3 at the time. The oaf standing behind them, that’s me, having just turned 12. You can see I’m wearing a yellow star, just like my mum. The picture was taken for my father, who was at the camp in Beaune-la-Rolande, waiting to be deported. We knew he would be sent away, but we didn’t know where. We wanted him to have an image of who we were and how much we loved him. We hoped it would help him cherish the memory of his wife and kids. The photograph was taken shortly before the roundup, in June 1942. It’s a memory of our lives before the endless escape, running away from roundups, denunciations and deportation. I cannot forget those days, it’s impossible. That’s why this picture is so dear to me; and why every time I look at it, I see everything we went through.

Samuel Bliman holds the family photo taken in June 1942, shortly before the Vél d’Hiv roundup. © Stéphanie Trouillard, FRANCE 24

born Wajnberg, aged 10

Betty Grinbert was born in Paris on May 16, 1932, shortly after her parents’ arrival from Poland. Abraham worked as a ladies’ tailor, assisted by his wife Cywia. Betty’s sister Fanny was born in January 1934, followed seven years later by their brother Paul. Cywia was at the maternity ward when Abraham was summoned to the local police station in May 1941 as part of the “green ticket roundup”. He showed up with his two daughters but was eventually sent home, the officers not knowing what to do with the girls.

Betty Grinbert (bottom right) with her father Abraham, her mother Cywia and her sister Fanny © Family archives

The family had no such luck the next year, however, when two plainclothes police officers came knocking on their door early in the morning of July 16. The officers ordered them to get ready to leave, to which Cywia answered that she would rather take her own life. Unsure about what to do, the officers went back to the police station and returned half an hour later. This time they took Abraham with them, leaving the rest of the family behind due to Paul’s young age. Betty’s father was sent to Drancy and later deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on July 22, 1942.

After her husband’s arrest, Cywia decided to leave the family apartment and move to a safer place in the Belleville neighbourhood, in eastern Paris. Betty fell ill, suffering from a heart murmur. She and her siblings were sent to the village of Chierry, in the Aisne department east of the capital, but Paul developed tuberculous meningitis and died in 1944 – far from his mother, who was unable to leave Paris and be at his side. Following France’s Liberation, Cywia and her two daughters waited in vain for Abraham’s return. Betty’s father was murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau. She decided to follow in his footsteps and open her own clothing store.

I found my father’s wallet after my mother passed away. He had his identity card with him on the day of the Vél d’Hiv roundup, but he left his wallet behind. I found a receipt for his Singer sewing machine inside. It’s all I have that’s left of him, along with two cupboards in my living room. But I love the wallet best because he carried it with him and touched it. I still like to hold it in my hands. I loved my father. I can’t explain how much I adored him. My mother used to say that I fell ill because of him, from crying so much. I never stopped grieving for my father after that day.

Betty Grinbert holds the wallet that her father left behind on the day of the Vél d’Hiv roundup. © Stéphanie Trouillard, FRANCE 24

born Psankiewicz, aged 8

Rachel Jedinak was born in Paris on April 30, 1934, the youngest of two daughters. Her parents Abraham and Chana left their native Poland in the 1920s, fleeing poverty and anti-Semitism. Her father, a carpenter, joined the French Foreign Legion when war broke out. Half of his regiment was decimated during the German invasion of the Ardennes in May 1940. He was demobilised and returned to Paris following France’s defeat. A year later, on May 14, Abraham was summoned to the Tourelles barracks during the “green ticket roundup”, then interned in the camp of Beaune-la-Rolande. He was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on June 28, 1942.

Following her husband’s arrest, Chana worked odd jobs to feed her two girls. She left them with their grandparents on the eve of the Vél d’Hiv roundup, after hearing rumours of imminent arrests. But the housekeeper reported them to the police. The next morning, Chana saw Rachel and her 13-year-old sister Louise return home, escorted by officers. All three were led to the Bellevilloise, a former workers’ cooperative in eastern Paris where Jews from the Ménilmontant neighbourhood were rounded up before being sent to the Vélodrome d’Hiver. Understanding the danger at once, Chana ordered her daughters to escape using an emergency exit. When Rachel refused to leave her mother’s side, she slapped her to ensure she would obey. Chana was sent to the internment camp in Drancy and later deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, on July 29, 1942.

Rachel Jedinak (right) pictured with her sister Louise © Family archives

Rachel and Louise were able to slip out of the Bellevilloise, aided by policemen who chose to look the other way, and run back to their grandparents. They survived another roundup on February 11, 1943, escaping from a police station. The sisters were then sent to separate hiding places in Château-Renault, near Tours, before returning to Paris after the Liberation. They waited for many long months for their parents to return, but neither Chana nor Abraham survived Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Rachel later married another son of Holocaust deportees. In the 1990s she joined the Comité Tlemcen, a charity best known for placing plaques outside Paris schools in memory of the 6,200 Jewish pupils from the French capital who were deported during the war. To this day, she continues her tireless memorial work, passing on her testimony to younger generations.

I was able to recover some pictures of my parents – without which, I would have forgotten their faces. I’m still a baby in this photograph, on my mother’s lap. My father and sister are standing alongside us. It’s a picture of happy times that has kept me in touch with my parents, despite all that happened to them. I have a vivid memory of them and it’s hugely important to me. My father used to sing opera arias and I sometimes sang along. I remember those moments very clearly.

Rachel Jedinak holds a photograph of her as a baby with her parents Abraham and Chana, and her sister Louise. © Stéphanie Trouillard, FRANCE 24

born Ruger, aged 8

Agnès Buisson was born in Paris born on September 8, 1933, to parents of Polish origin. Her father Srul and her mother Chuma left their native Warsaw in 1925, with their eldest son Victor. Srul, a printer and binder, had to switch to leatherworking in France, while Chuma found work as a seamstress. In September 1939, Srul volunteered to fight for France and was sent to the front line. He was demobilised following the armistice of June 1940, returning to his family in Paris. A few months later, Victor was detained during the “green ticket roundup” and interned at the camp of Beaune-la-Rolande. He managed to escape and reach the unoccupied “free zone” in Lyon, where he joined the French Resistance, eventually rising up the ranks to become a commander in the Francs-tireurs et partisans français (FTPF).

Agnès Buisson pictured with her parents, Srul and Chuma, shortly before the Vél d'Hiv roundup. © Family archives

Victor encouraged his parents and sister to join him, but Srul refused to believe the family were at risk in France, the “land of human rights”, which had welcomed them years before. On July 16, 1942, officers came knocking on their door. Chuma told her husband not to open, but he complied with police orders and the family were sent to the Vélodrome d’Hiver. In the waiting line, after warning her husband, Chuma managed to persuade policemen to let her step aside with her daughter, claiming Agnès had a pressing need. She then ripped off their yellow stars and they slipped away to the nearest metro station. Srul, on the other hand, walked into the Vél d’Hiv. He was interned in Drancy and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on July 19, 1942.

Chuma and Agnès joined Victor in Lyon, before going into hiding in the village of Méaudre, in the forested mountains of the Vercors, where Agnès fell into a deep silence. They moved back to Paris after the Liberation, learning upon their return that Srul had been murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Agnès proved to be an excellent student. She went on to become a doctor and raise a family. Decades later, in 2021, the primary school in Méaudre was renamed after her.

“We took this picture to send it to my brother in the ‘free zone’. We’re alive in the photo and then six months later, we’re dead. It’s an image captured in time. My father was dead just months later. [The French philosopher Roland] Barthes said photographs show that humans existed. Above all, this one shows that my father was gone. I was never able to mourn him, to get over his death. My father was always with me. He was alive. There can be no closure when there is no burial, it’s impossible.”

Agnès Buisson holding the only picture she has of her with both her parents. © Stéphanie Trouillard, FRANCE 24
Bernard Nusbaum pictured with his mother Ida. © Family archives

aged 4

Bernard Nusbaum was born in Paris on June 4, 1938, to parents who had recently emigrated from Poland. His father Matys worked in the leather and hosiery industries. During the “green ticket roundup”, Matys was arrested and taken to the internment camp in Pithiviers, where his wife and child were able to visit him until he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, on June 25, 1942.

Three weeks later, Bernard and his mother Ida were woken up by policemen who ordered them to pack their belongings and took them to the Vélodrome d’Hiver. The horror of the stadium, where some 8,000 people were crammed together for several days, would haunt Bernard to this day. Aware of the danger, Ida decided to escape at all costs. She took advantage of a change of guards to sneak out of the stadium and find refuge in a nearby café. Luckily, Ida and Bernard came across police officers who were part of the French Resistance and offered to help. The officers tore off their yellow stars and escorted them to the metro station.

From then on Bernard lived as a “hidden child” – first in rural Creuse, in central France, and then back in the Paris region, hiding in the suburbs of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Montfermeil, until the war ended. He was finally reunited with his mother after the Liberation. They waited for many months for Matys to return, but he never made it back from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Bernard later worked in the clothing industry, following in his father’s footsteps, before starting a career in politics. He is now the honorary deputy mayor of Yerres, south of Paris.

“This picture frame holds the few photographs I have. Bottom left, there’s my mother with a yellow star, by my side. There’s also a picture of my father, who was murdered in a gas chamber, with my mother. I was only 4 at the time, but I can easily recognise him. There’s also a photo of me with my little cousins Suzanne and Paulette, who never came back from deportation. It’s all I have of them. They’ll never come back again.”

Bernard Nusbaum holds a collage frame with all the pictures he has of his family. © Stéphanie Trouillard, FRANCE 24
Pictures of Bernard Nusbaum's family members taken before the Vél d'Hiv roundup. © Stéphanie Trouillard, FRANCE 24