Holocaust Pla

Drancy Today

Drancy today has been reconverted to its original purpose - an apartment complex. The same buildings that were used as makeshift shelters for thousands of children and adults are now inhabited by working - class renters. All the same, several memorials at Drancy attest to the ongoing controversy about the complicity of the French themselves in the roundups and deportations.

In 1973, a sculptural memorial was designed by the artist Shelomo Selinger and installed at the open end of the U-shaped apartment complex. Selinger's memorial was the winning design in an international nongovernmental competition in 1973 which was sponsored by the French Association of Jewish Deportees (AADJF) with the backing of the communist mayor of Drancy, Maurice Nilès. Unfortunately, there is no documentation at the site explaining the profound symbolism of Selinger's work.

The three granite columns represent the Hebrew letter shin with its multiple meanings - it can stand for the name of God, "shaddai," and for the flame of divine revelation; it is the symbol used in the mezuzah that is affixed next to the doors of Jewish homes. The seven steps leading up to the columns represent the elevation of the souls of the victims, and also the seven degrees of hell that they had to undergo before they can pass through the gates of death, which are symbolized by the two lateral columns. In the center column, the tortured human figures number exactly 10 - the number required for a minyan, or quorum for prayer, while the head, coif, and beard on the two frontal figures are meant to make up the Hebrew letters lamed (30) and vav (6). These numbers make up the number 36, which Jewish tradition associates with the number of just people necessary for the continued existence of the world. A figure in the center wears a special accoutrement for prayer (Tefilin) on his forehead (see Felipe Ferré , "Mémorial National du camp de Drancy," based on comments by the sculptor). Consulted in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Library.

In 1988 a solitary train car of the type used in the deportations was added in the center of the U-shaped complex, with a rail leading down from Selinger's memorial. This car attests to Drancy's place, in the words of filmmaker Cécile Clairval, as "the last stage before the abyss." Inside the car are informational exhibits about the deportations. The car can be visited by school groups and others by appointment.

In the 1990s, commemorative plaques were installed that finally mentioned the complicity of the French State. In 1993, a plaque was installed by the Union of Jewish Students in France (UEJF) that names "the French State of Vichy" as responsible for the deportations of "thousands of Jews, Gypsies, and foreigners." In July 1993 another plaque commemorated the first celebration of "the National Day of Commemoration of the Racist and Anti-Semitic Persecutions Committed under the de facto Authority called 'Government of the French State' (1940-1944)."

Within the U complex, a door opens into a small room that functions as a makeshift museum which, however, posts no regular hours.

Today, as already happened after the war, the families of survivors still visit the site for commemorative ceremonies.

Selinger's sculpture illustrates both the strengths and the weaknesses inherent in the project of creating memorials in order bring the remembrance of the Holocaust forward into the present as a "living memory," one that has some of the freshness of lived experience, even though it is not a personal memory. The visitor coming from Paris has to expend a considerable effort to get to Drancy and once there, to experience its message in a context that is often incomplete. There is no documentation at the site explaining the profound symbolism of Selinger's work. For instance, the three granite columns represent the Hebrew letter shin with its multiple meanings - it can stand for the name of God, "shaddai," and for the flame of divine revelation; it is the symbol used in the mezuzah that is affixed next to the doors of Jewish homes. The seven steps leading up to the columns represent the elevation of the souls of the victims, and also the seven degrees of hell that they had to undergo before they can pass through the gates of death, which are symbolized by the two lateral columns [Figure 1]. In the center column, the tortured human figures number exactly 10 - the number required for a minyan, or quorum for prayer, while the head, coif, and beard on the two frontal figures are meant to make up the Hebrew letters lamed (30) and vav (6). These numbers make up the number 36, which Jewish tradition associates with the number of just people necessary for the continued existence of the world. A figure in the center wears a special accoutrement for prayer (Tefilin) on his forehead.

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