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USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive: France

Established in 1994 to preserve the audio-visual histories of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust, the USC Shoah Foundation maintains one of the largest video digital libraries in the world: the Visual History Archive (VHA).


The French collection is one of the largest in the Visual History Archive. Interviewees talk about France in over 7,600 testimonies, including 4,618 during the World War II period. Their interviews were conducted in various languages - including 1,949 interviews in French - and in several different locations - 1,675 in France. Close to 1,400 interviewees were born in France.

There was a large Jewish community in France before the war, and a number of testimonies describe specific communities in locations around France. The French testimonies describe how, after Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, refugees began arriving in France in ever greater numbers, especially after war broke out.

After the French capitulation to the Germans in June 1940, many fled to the unoccupied zone in the centre and south of the country. Interviews give details of the numerous internment camps established around France, as well as in French territories such as Algeria. Near Paris, the Drancy camp became the main transit point for Jews being deported east to Auschwitz. The actions of the French police and the Milice are discussed.

A large number of testimonies have descriptions of hiding and assuming a false identity. Interviewees talk about how they were helped by, or were involved in, organizations such as the OSE (Oeuvre de Secours Aux Enfants) which were able to place children in convents, monasteries, and orphanages in rural locations (such as the Château-de-Chabannes and others), and subsequently to assist people fleeing across the border to Switzerland. Many discuss the role of the UGIF (Union générale Israélites de France), the official body for all Jewish affairs in France established by the Vichy government in 1941, and that of the Éclaireurs Israélites de France (Jewish scouting movement).

Those who fled to the zone under Italian control in the south of France generally report much safer conditions, although this changed drastically once the Germans occupied the area after September 1943.

A major topic of the French testimonies is the Maquis (the resistance movement). Many survivors were actively involved in groups such as the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, French Forces of the Interior, and others.

The testimonies give information on figures such as Léon Blum, the prime minister of France from 1936 to 1937; Varian Fry, the American rescue worker European director of the Emergency Rescue Committee; Robert Gamzon, founder of the Eclaireurs Israélites de France and of the resistance group known as La Sixième (The Sixth); Marshal Philippe Pétain; Klaus Barbie (the Gestapo chief known as the "Butcher of Lyon"); Maurice Papon, civil servant in the Vichy administration in southern France; Paul Touvier, head of the local branch of the Milice in Lyon and later found guilty of "crimes against humanity"; among many others.

A number of testimonies talk about Serge Klarsfeld, survivor and anti-Nazi activist. In addition, the archive contains the testimony of Klarsfeld, as well as that of his wife and son.


Selected Indexing Terms

Abadi, Moussa

Abbé Pierre

Armée Juive

Armée secrete

Barbie Trial (France)

Barbie, Klaus

Bénédite, Daniel

Benoît, Marie

Bernard, Paul

Bloch, Gilbert

Blum, Léon

Carmagnole-Liberté Battalion

Ceux de la Libération-Vengeance

Ceux de la Résistance

Château-de-Chabannes (France : Children's Home)

Commission Inter-Mouvements auprès des Evacués

Corps Francs (generic)

Corps Francs de la Montagne Noire

Croix de Feu

Drancy (France : Concentration Camp)

Éclaireurs Israélites de France

Entraide temporaire

Faucons Rouges

Forces Unies de la Jeunesse Patriotique

Francs-Tireurs et Partisans

French Forces of the Interior

Fry, Varian

Gamzon, Robert

Giono, Jean

Glasberg, Alexandre

Grotte de la Luire Massacre (July 27, 1944)

Groupements de travailleurs étrangers

Haguenau, Marc

Klarsfeld, Serge

Komitee "Freies Deutschland" für den Westen

La Sixième

Main Forte

Milice Française

Milice patriotique juive

Mouvement de Jeunesse Sioniste

Mouvement de Libération Nationale

Mouvement National contre le Racisme

Mouvements Unis de Résistance

Oeuvre de Protection des Enfants Juifs

Oeuvre de Secours Aux Enfants

Papon, Maurice Arthur Jean

Pétain, Marshal Philippe

Rousselle, Jeanne

Septfonds (France : Internment Camp)

Solidarité-Union des Juifs pour la Résistance et l'Entraide

Touvier, Paul

Union de la jeunesse juive

Union générale Israélites de France


Selected Bibliography

Cointet, Michèle; Contet, Jean-Paul. Dictionnaire historique de la France sous l'Occupation, Paris: Tallandier, 2000.

Klarsfeld, Serge. Vichy-Auschwitz, 2 volumes, Paris: Fayard, 1983-1985.

Marrus, Michael; Paxton, Robert. Vichy France and the Jews, New York: Basic Books, 1981.

Poznanski, Renée. Jews in France during World War II, [Waltham, Mass.:] Brandeis University Press, 2001.

Weisberg, Richard. Vichy Law and the Holocaust in France, New York: New York University Press, 1996.

Wieviorka, Annette. Déportation et genocide: Entre la mémoire et l'oubli, Paris: Plon, 1992.

Zuccotti, Susan. The Holocaust, the French, and the Jews, New York: Basic Books, 1993.

Visual History Archive Curator

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Crispin Brooks