German Occupation

Bagnolet, France

After returning home to Bagnolet, Leo would learn that France was under German occupation and it would lead to Jewish persecution.

When Leo and his brother returned home to Bagnolet the German army had taken over Paris, which happened on June 14, 1940. The French and German government signed an Armistice Agreement on June 22, 1940, which Bergen illustrates as, "Under the terms of the armistice the Germans divided France into two parts: an occupied zone and an unoccupied zone known as Vichy France because its capital was located in the small, southern city of Vichy. Much of the French army entered prisoner of war camps, whereas the navy remained intact.” (Bergen, 175).

With the establishment of the Vichy government, there would need to be a new head of the government. Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain (hero of World War I) was chosen for that position. (Bergen, 176). Along with the head of the Vichy government a new Prime Minister would have to be chosen as well and that job went to Pierre Laval. The Vichy Government would work together with the Northern occupied zone of France, which was under the control of the Germans, but some Frenchman like General Charles de Gaulle would become the leader of the Free French forces that were working out of London. (Bergen, 176)

Now that the Vichy Government was running the southern-part of France there needed to be a decision made about all of the refugees who had been put into different camps before the war broke out. "Vichy authorities incarcerated many of them in Gurs, Riversaltes, and other camps in France. They also sent foreigners, including Jews, who had volunteered for and fought in the French army against Germany to work camps in Algeria and Morocco.” (Bergen, 176) There were three reasons why the refugees needed to be taken care of in the eyes of the Vichy Government. First, was the fear that French citizens would not gain employment because of the refugees. Second, French culture would start to disappear because of all the immigrants and lastly it made France nervous because it might be involved with international matters. (Marrus and Paxton, 36)

Another law that was enforced on October 2, 1940, was the Statut des juifs (Statute on the Jews). The law states, “It assigned on the basis of race, an inferior position in French civil law and society to a whole segment of French citizens and to noncitizens and foreigners living on French soil. …defining who was Jewish in the eyes of the French state, and then excluded those Jews from top positions in the public service, from the officer corps and from the ranks of noncommissioned officers…” (Marrus and Paxton, 3) This was the start of the persecution towards the Jews of France and Paris where Leo lived.

After returning home to Bagnolet, the French authorities under the Vichy government required that all Jews register at City Hall. (Abrami, 10) Along with registering with the government for being Jewish there were several ordinances that were passed by the Vichy government. Leo describes them by stating, “We were not allowed to walk in the streets of certain neighborhoods, to enter movie theaters, concert halls, museums and sports arenas, or travel outside the city without a permit. We could enter shops only at specific hours: food markets between eleven and twelve in the morning, and other stores between three and four in the afternoon (when much of what one could buy with or without ration coupons had long since been sold).” (Abrami, 11)

By December of 1941, General Otto von Stülpnagel suggested to the Vichy that all French Jews be required to wear a star. (Marrus and Paxton, 227) Leo was already wearing a yellow star with the word Juif, “Jew” printed in black and attached on the left side of his garment by orders of the government in Paris. (Abrami, 85) Life in France was becoming extremely difficult and Leo’s mother decided that in order to protect her sons she would go to a Catholic priest, who was compassionate and was willing to write baptismal certificates. After the certificates were issued, Leo’s name was changed to Michel Léon. (Abrami, 69) It was the only thing that they could do to not stand out as Jewish and Leo’s mother hoped that this would keep them safe.

"In early June of 1942, arrests of Jews in Paris and its surrounding areas increased dramatically, for in May the Nazis had appointed Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, a notorious anti-Semite, Commissioner for Jewish Affairs. Among his first acts was to set higher arrest quotas for Jews.” (Abrami, 81) At this point, Leo’s mother took a different approach to find somewhere for her boys to hide.