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On the Threshold of the Holocaust

Anti-Jewish Riots and Pogroms in Occupied Europe: Warsaw – Paris – The Hague – Amsterdam – Antwerp – Kaunas


Tomasz Szarota

In the early months of the German occupation during WWII, many of Europe’s major cities witnessed anti-Jewish riots, anti-Semitic incidents, and even pogroms carried out by the local population. Who took part in these excesses, and what was their attitude towards the Germans? Were they guided or spontaneous? What part did the Germans play in these events and how did they manipulate them for their own benefit? Delving into the source material for Warsaw, Paris, The Hague, Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Kaunas, this study is the first to take a comparative look at these questions. Looking closely at events many would like to forget, the volume describes various characters and their stories, revealing some striking similarities and telling differences, while raising tantalising questions.
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Chapter 2 Paris


Anti-Semitic propaganda and first anti-Jewish incidents at the threshold of the occupation

The German army entered Paris on 14th June 1940. The French capital surrendered without struggle, but the town was depopulated. Out of its almost three million pre-war inhabitants (within the limits of the city’s twenty arrondissements), only a few hundred thousand remained. Aware of how the German occupiers were treating the people in Poland, the French were escaping as they expected a barbarian invasion, as well as retaliation for Germany’s defeat in World War One. But the victors behaved in Paris quite appropriately, sometimes even cordially and with sophisticated kindness. All the sources concerning the beginnings of the occupation are unanimous in this respect. One thing definitely stood out: their never-saturated will to shop. The shop owners, who thus found the way to sell off their slower-moving commodities and trashier goods, were naturally delighted; unlike the local clientele, as attested by the nickname they bestowed on the Germans – les doryphores (“potato beetles”).

As was the case with Poland, the occupiers’ propaganda was targeted primarily against the English. Posters put up in Warsaw and in Paris laid the blame on them for the military defeat of the Poles and the French and for the devastations and human sufferings.110 These posters were designed by the same artist, Theo Matejko, which is not a well-known fact. No anti-Semitic accents appeared during the first two weeks of the occupation in Paris. No public assaults of Jews,...

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