After the Roundup is the true memoir of eleven-year-old French Holocaust Survivor Joseph Weismann, who was rounded up in Paris by the French police along with 13,000 other Jews (4,000 of whom were children) in July 1942 and held in appalling conditions in the Vélodrome d’Hiver cycling stadium.
From there, he and his family were transported by cattle car to the transit camp of Beaune-la-Rolande.
Extensive After the Roundup excerpts:
1. ARRESTING “FOREIGN” JEWS
The French police will arrest the 22,000 foreign Jews
in Greater Paris. They’ll be taken to Drancy,
Compiegne, Pithiviers, and Beaune-la-Rolande. p. 17
2. THE VELODROME d’HIVER
A storm is starting. We’ll sit here.
I don’t know how long
we’ll be staying. p. 27
ATTENTION, ATTENTION! THE FOLLOWING FAMILIES GATHER
IN THE COURTYARD. IF YOU HEAR YOUR NAME, YOU MUST
COME AT DAWN TO SIGN UP FOR TOMORROW’S DEPARTURE.
AARON, ABRAHAM, ABRAMOVICZ P. 43
What does he mean, “deported”? p. 47
5. TEARING APART P.48
Mama….Mama….MAMA!!! P. 4
WE’LL MEET AGAIN
7. Pitchi Poi…Pitchi Poi….We’ll meet again in Pitchi Poi… P. 50
8. Summer 1942. Detention camp of
Beaune-la-Rolande, France P. 1
9. FREEDOM!! P. 68
I made it! Joe, I…..
I MADE IT!!
I MADE IT!!
Really? Really truly? What do you see, Joseph? What do you see?
There’s….an open space and then a grove of trees. About
20 yards I’d say. Joe, do you think your legs will hold up?
10 THE AMERICANS! THE AMERICANS!! p. 89
RESOLVE – p 95
11. I couldn’t understand how good, honest people like my parents or innocent little girls could be murdered only because they were Jewish…..
I kept hearing names…..names of places, all of them in Poland.
On the radio, in newspapers, they spoke of….of millions.
But I didn’t want to hear.
12. Remember – Never to accept the unacceptable p 120
French Holocaust Survivor Joseph Weismann’s After the Roundup Graphic Novel
I was born in Paris in 1931. In 1942, I was eleven years old, and I wore the yellow star.
My parents, my two sisters, and I were arrested on July 16, 1942, during the big Vél’ d’Hiv’ Roundup, before being taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver cycling stadium. We stayed there five days and five nights, without food, water, or sanitation.
Then we were transferred to the internment camp of Beaune-la-Rolande, in the Loiret region of France. After being held for about two weeks, the rest of my family was sent to the Auschwitz extermination camp, in Poland.
As soon as they arrived, they were gassed and burned in the crematory ovens.
Even with the gendarmes, watchtowers, and barbed wire, I managed to escape from Beaune-la-Rolande with my friend Joe, who was as bold as I was.
Despite the collaboration of the Vichy government, the entire French population cannot be considered guilty. Of all the occupied countries, France had the smallest percentage of French and foreign Jews sent to the camps.
We should also remember that 75 percent of the Jews of France survived. In 1995, President Jacques Chirac finally acknowledged the participation of the French state in the fate of its Jews: the government had indeed abandoned to the occupier a segment of its population that it should have protected. This admission was an immense comfort to me.
Urged on by Simone Veil well before this, I began to reflect on an obligation that was mine as well after such a long silence: the duty to bear witness, the necessity to be willing to tell others about what I had lived through.
For more than forty years, I have visited countless middle and high schools in France and abroad, a commitment that led to my being named Officier de la Légion d’Honneur and to my receiving the Palmes Académiques (for distinguished contributions to education).
In Le Mans, where I have lived for decades, the Villaret Middle School became the Joseph Weismann Middle School in 2019, a source of great pride for me.
The narrative that you are about to discover inspired Rose Bosch’s film La Rafle (The Roundup), which was released in 2010. It was essential, though, to tell the rest of the story: in collaboration with Caroline Andrieu and the publisher Michel Lafon, I wrote the memoir After the Roundup, which came out in 2011.
Then a lucky coincidence put me in contact with the artist Laurent Bidot, who, along with the author and scriptwriter Arnaud Delalande, created the graphic novel that you have in your hands. After the film and the book, it was of the greatest importance that it be realized.
This book has a specific goal: the unceasing transmission, to the young as well as the old, of the memory of one of the darkest pages of the history of humanity, the Holocaust (“Shoah” in Hebrew, meaning “catastrophe”), a word that designates the murder of nearly six million European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.
I am one of its last survivors.
By means of this testimony, I wish to continue to inform people so that this tragedy never occurs again.
For my entire life, I have borne the terrible pain caused by the loss of my loved ones. But I have also developed a determination and an optimism that have succeeded in bringing down mountains, no doubt molding myself into an “example of psychological resilience,” as the psychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik would say.
I am now ninety years old.
But I can still convey one last message: never accept the unacceptable.
French Holocaust Survivor Joseph Weismann’s Story from the Original Book
We begin a methodical exploration of the camp. Only the entrance gate isn’t protected by tight rows of barbed wire, but it immediately appears impassable to us. It’s guarded by several teams of gendarmes, inside and out.
So we’ll have to deal with the barbed wire, no matter how sharp and thick it is. Going over the top of it is out of the question: First of all, it’s too high—more than two yards from the looks of it.
And it seems to extend over a long distance, so we could be seen too easily. We consider digging, but the soil, dried up by the summer heat, is too hard.
One last option presents itself to us, the one that will work: separate the metal wires to create a passage.
The camp is shaped like a rectangle, and there’s a watchtower at each corner.
At night, the police sweep the open area and the edges with spotlights, ready to fire at anything that moves. We might as well try to escape in the daytime.
“We need to choose the moment when there’s the most activity,” Joe suggests.
Together we exclaim, “Lunchtime!”
At noon, everyone assembles in front of the food shed for the only meal of the day.
Of course, no one wants to run the risk of missing lunch, so it’s there that all the guards’ eyes are focused while the food is being given out—about two hours in total.
Joe is worried. “The barbed wire is really thick … We’re gonna be skinned alive.”
“You’re right, but we don’t have any choice. We’re going to have to equip ourselves … Do you know where to find some sturdy clothes?”
He knows. The clothes left behind by everyone who’s passed through the camp have all been put in one of the barracks.
We sneak inside unnoticed. Sweaters, pants, and shirts are piled up on the bedsteads, with no regard for size or shape. No problem—we do the sorting ourselves …
Toward the end of the morning, with the August sun shooting out its hottest rays, here we are, dressed for wintertime: two pairs of underwear, two pairs of pants, two shirts, and a thick wool beret on our shaved heads, everything in the darkest colors we can find, brown and dark green.
We stay far from the others and pretend to be sleeping, leaning against the wall of one of the barracks the way so many other kids do …
I imagine that thoughts like mine are racing through Joe’s head. It’s been two days since our parents were taken away.
We haven’t even taken the time to tell each other about our lives. All I know about him is that he lives in the twentieth arrondissement and that he has no brothers or sisters.
We adopted each other spontaneously because we share the same taste for freedom and also maybe a certain clear headedness.
We don’t formulate a plan—we’re barely conscious of what we’re about to do, but we sense that we have to do it.
Something deep inside of us sets off an alarm: We have to get out of here; it’s a question of life or death.
There are no smiles on our faces at the thought of our flight. On the contrary, we’re serious, worried, and filled with emotion.
We look at the other children. Some of them aren’t even three years old, and few are as old as we are. Many are sick from what they’ve been eating for weeks, and perhaps even more from the privation they’ve endured for years now.
Some play, oblivious. The rage to live that compels Joe and me to want to escape drives them only to go running through the dust of the camp as they wait to rush into their parents’ arms.
Hope or some kind of reckless unawareness keeps them going, I don’t know. Just like Joe and me in the end, except we’re going in another direction.
They’re all like the two of us: the same yellow star sewn on their chests, the same imprisonment, the same nightmares, the same hunger gnawing at their stomachs—and, in all our hearts, the same boundless love for our fathers and mothers.
The lunch bell rings at the other end of the camp. We watch the children pop out of every corner to go get their piece of bread.
The two of us take off.
Joe goes first. Flat on his stomach, nose in the dust, he begins to separate the barbed wire to create a kind of tunnel through it on the ground.
But it takes him many minutes to disentangle even one inch because the wires are so tightly enmeshed. It’s nothing like the open wire fences surrounding fields of cows!
The wall before us seems to be made of an impossible tangle of rolls of metal wire. I heard from the grown-ups, when they were still here, that the camp was originally built to keep German soldiers prisoner.
If the security fence around the camp was judged sufficient for solid, well-nourished soldiers, it’s reasonable to conclude that two skinny runts like Joe and me have no chance of escape. Only we’re absolutely not reasonable.
Fortunately, Joe is big … After an hour of effort and perseverance, he’s succeeded in creating a passage just wide enough for someone his size, and now that it’s long enough, I slide in behind him.
We advance at the pace of a sickly snail through the mass of metallic brambles so thick that the sunlight can barely penetrate it, but we’re still moving forward. And we have plenty of time: it’s not like in school.
No one’s taking attendance, and no one’s waiting for us. And if we’re not there tonight in our dormitory for lights out, no one’s going to notice.
Even if a guard making his rounds passes by the hole we made in the barbed wire, he’ll have to bend down to see it. I wouldn’t say we were calm, but our adventure seems to be off to a pretty good start.
Joe is breathing hard in front of me. My nose is on his heels. There’s no real reason to be this close except to encourage him.
All of his precautions are in vain: protecting his hands with the sleeves of his shirt to separate the wires one by one, he still tears up his fingers.
“Ow! These damned things really hurt!”
“Joe, be quiet! You’re going to attract attention!”
“Easy for you to say. I’m bleeding everywhere.”
“It’s all right. It’s all right. We’re moving ahead.”
“Well, I can’t keep doing this. It’s your turn.”
There’s one problem: the passageway he’s made isn’t wide enough for us to pass each other, even though I’ve enlarged it a little. We crawl backward toward the camp. I get out, Joe follows me, and I creep back into the tunnel, with Joe right behind me.
We hold our breath for a few seconds. Nothing happens. There’s still the same noise, the same sobs, the same shouts of children who have lost all control of themselves.
No one saw us, no gendarme on his rounds, no policeman from his watchtower, probably because of the thickness of the barbed wire.
My index fingers and thumbs form pliers precise enough to grab hold of the wires and separate them one by one. I’m panting and cursing like my friend before me, but soon I clear a four-inch-long passage wide enough for our shoulders.
I suddenly move my head, and my beret gets stuck on the barbs. Is it lice, fleas, scabies, or scratches from the wires? I’m not sure what’s itching.
Besides, pretty soon I don’t feel anything. Neither the blood flowing down my hands, elbows, and neck nor the skin being peeled off my knees from rubbing against the ground. I hear Joe breathing behind me, but we don’t speak.
We have no need to urge each other on. And we have to conserve our strength, because this is a long–a very long–procedure.
How long has it been since we started to make our way through this mass of barbed wire? It seems like hours.
In fact, it has been hours, but we’re unaware. Once again, we’ve lost the notion of time. We have only one idea in our minds: pass under this wall of metal, make it out, and stand in the fresh air of freedom.
We have no choice: it’s not hard to imagine what would happen to us if we were to go back. We have no knowledge that elsewhere members of the Resistance are joining forces and singing “Freedom guides our footsteps.”
But it’s the idea of this same freedom that helps us to endure our painful crawl. We’re exhausted, but in no way discouraged, firmly convinced that we’re going to succeed.
We’re right. After many hours, I catch a glimpse of brighter light. I redouble my effort. Anesthetized by the pain, my hands no longer feel anything.
I pick up the pace, helped by luck: the network of metal wires is a little less dense near the outside of the enclosure. Suddenly, right in front of me, I see a hole about eight inches in diameter already formed in the wires.
Could some villager secretly have tried to create a passage into the camp to see what was going on there? Or to help prisoners escape? Who knows? In any case, he didn’t finish the job. Joe and I, on the other hand, have almost completed our work.
With my last remaining strength, I create a tunnel to the hole I just discovered. I take off my beret, and, in a gesture of rage, I throw it outside.
“Joe, my beret is free!”
“Dickhead! I don’t believe it! You still need it!”
“I don’t care. Maybe I’m not out yet, but my beret is, and I’m planning to join it!”
I hear my friend grumbling behind me. “What a moron! He’s going to cut his head open at the last minute … Whatever got into me to try this with such a halfwit?”
“Joe, keep your insults to yourself. We made it!”
“We made it? I don’t believe it.”
“It’s true, I swear.”
“What do you see?”
There’s an open space. We’re going to have to run a little to reach the trees. I’d say … about twenty yards. Are your legs still working?”
“Don’t worry—they’re fine … Get a move on, and wave to me when you’re there, OK?”
I pick up my beret and launch myself like a rocket. My shoes race forward, and my little sparrow’s feet follow them as best they can.
I squeeze my fists with all my remaining strength. It’s the most beautiful run of my life—I fly, I slide, I skid, and finally I throw myself into the ditch! I feel like shouting with joy, like dancing, like swinging from the branches like a monkey.
In a fraction of second, however, the little voice in my head brings me back to reality: Calm down, Joseph, calm down. You’re only halfway there. There’s still Joe …
No chance that I’ll forget him. I’m fully aware of the fact that I couldn’t have succeeded without him. This little, slightly chubby guy, hardly any heftier than me really, has earned his freedom as much as I have.
I lie flat on my stomach in the grass and study the space separating us. About as long as a school yard. If a gendarme, up in his watchtower, catches sight of Joe, it’s all over.
I can see only shapes up there: I can’t make out which way the guards are facing. We’ll have to take our chances. Joe is watching me, on the lookout for the slightest sign. I wave him over.
He springs up like a goat. In less time than it takes to tell about it, he’s already on the ground next to me, sweating, panting, really in bad shape but alive and free!
No troubling sounds come from the camp. The gendarmes didn’t see us, or they didn’t want to see us—we don’t care which. Joe catches his breath and extends his hand.
“We did it, Joseph! We did it!”
“We did it, but you’re a mess!”
He bursts out laughing. “Look who’s talking!”
What time must it be? We started to inch our way through the barbed wire when the lunch bell sounded. Now the sun is much lower in the sky, and it’s not as hot.
It must be late in the afternoon. So it took us at least five hours to make our way through that briar patch of metal. How many yards did we go? Fifteen, I’m sure, maybe more.
“Joseph, we can’t hang around here too long.”
“I know. But I’m exhausted.”
“Come, let’s get away from here.”