Jews detained during the Vel D’Hiv roundup in Paris, 1942. Photo: Public domain.
Say the name “Auschwittz” and most people cringe. But fewer cringe at the name “Vel’ d’Hiv” where, on July 16, 1942, a crowd of 13,152 people, 4,115 of which were children, were rounded up, kept for days, and eventually processed into places like Drancy, “the French antechambers to Auschwitz,” as described by author Tatiana de Rosnay (Sarah’s Key).
What astonished me as I read about this, and a point made again and again by the few survivors, was that the arresting officers were not German, but legitimate French police.
In this age of superhero movies, we like our villains and heroes in black and white. The good Allies, the evil Nazis. But history isn’t so easy.
How does one get from civilized to Auschwitz?
“Us and them” is possibly the most toxic concept ever adopted by humanity, whoever the “us” or “them” of the current day. “Us and them” makes “other than us” not just different, but less than. Take “less than” far enough, and you get Auschwitz. Or Vel’ d’Hiv, where people jumped from the stands just to avoid what they knew was coming.
Something to think about the next time you tip your server, look down your nose at someone, or decide on your employee’s wage.
We need difference if we are to have all the pieces to a thriving society. “Other,” that is to say “less than” is a concept that creates fear and disdain, and is one we can do without.