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Convoy 6

History of the convoy 6


On 20 January 1942, senior Nazi party officials met at Wannsee to discuss the implementation of the final solution. Following this conference, the deportation of Jews from all over occupied Europe to the extermination camps intensified. Ten days later, Adolf Hitler explained his intentions towards the Jews in a speech in the Sportpalast in Berlin: “This war will not turn out as the Jews imagine it will, namely that the peoples of Europe will be annihilated, but on the contrary, the result of this war will be the annihilation of the Jews”. In France, the deportations that began in March 1942 reached their peak in the summer of 1942.

On 11 June 1942, a conference was held in Berlin under the leadership of Adolf Eichmann, head of the Office of Jewish Affairs at the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, Reich Central Security Office). The heads of the Jewish affairs offices of the Sipo-SD in France, Belgium and the Netherlands are present. At this meeting, plans for the final solution of the Jewish question are put in place. It was established that for military reasons it would no longer be possible to send Jews from Germany to the East during the summer. In order to complete the workforce needed at Auschwitz, Jews would have to be deported from South-East Europe or the occupied territories in the West. The guidelines specify that Jews (of both sexes) aged between 16 and 40, of whom up to 10% are unfit for work, may be deported. For France, it is agreed that 100,000 Jews would be deported from both areas. General Kohl, head of the ETRA (Eisenbahntransport, rail transport section), is in charge of the technical aspects of the convoys. He will acquire the equipment necessary for the departure of three convoys per week, from 13 July 1942. The suggested number of 100,000 deportees to France was quickly revised. On 18 June Theodor Danneker, head of the Jewish Affairs Department at Sipo-SD in Paris, indicated that since the French authorities had not confirmed the number of Jews who could be arrested in the unoccupied zone, the deportation of 40,000 Jews would be carried out initially.

Although the deportations planned at the June 11th meeting targeted rather employable Jews, the possibility of deporting entire families was presented a few days later. On 15 June, Theodor Dannecker sends a telex to the head of the Sipo-SD in France, Helmut Knochen, concerning the practical implementation of these convoys. Dannecker indicates that in order to avoid any confusion with the action “French Workers for Germany” as well as with convoys that may contain whole families, the designation “transplantation of Jews” should be used for this kind of deportation. Dannecker also specifies the rolling stock to be provided: a locomotive, three passenger wagons for escort, and 20 freight wagons.

On 26th June, Dannecker imposes new directives for the next deportations. The targeted persons must be between 16 and 45 years of age. It then lists the objects that the deportees must have: clothing necessary for work, including work boots, work clothes and bedding. In addition, each deportee must be provided with food for three days. Each deportee is allowed to keep a suitcase or backpack. They are forbidden to take animals and valuables with them except for their wedding rings. Dannecker insists that one Jew per wagon be designated responsible for maintaining order and order during the journey and for cleaning the wagon on arrival. A hygienic bucket must be provided per wagon.

During a two-day visit to Paris at the beginning of July 1942, Eichmann and Dannecker met to ratify the plans for the mass deportation of Jews from France, which had been drawn up at the meeting on 11 June. Although some technical aspects concerning deportations from the unoccupied zone had still not been finalised, it was confirmed that deportations from the occupied zone could be carried out quickly and without difficulty. Eichmann insists that a rate of three convoys per week be established as soon as possible in order to “liberate France completely and as quickly as possible from its Jews”. A schedule of six convoys was established, with departures planned from the provincial regions around Paris.

On 2 July 1942, negotiations took place between Carl Oberg and René Bousquet, Secretary General of the National Police. During this meeting, the question of the role of the French police was discussed. Bousquet reported that the French government was ready to take charge of arrests, provided that only foreign Jews were targeted. The deportation of foreign Jews from the two zones was confirmed the next day at the meeting of the Council of Ministers convened by the head of government, Pierre Laval, and the French head of state, Philippe Pétain. However, as the planned convoys could not be filled exclusively with foreign Jews, it was decided to cancel the first convoy that was due to leave Bordeaux on 15 July. This revocation deeply frustrated Eichmann and German officials in France therefore hastily organised another convoy. On 11 July, a new schedule was established for the next departures, including a convoy from Pithiviers on 17 July.

This convoy, Convoy 6, includes 928 Jews. Three quarters of them were foreign Jews who had been arrested in Paris on May 14, 1941. Six thousand four hundred and ninety-four Jews had been arrested by the French police following the request of the German authorities to reduce the number of foreign Jews in the occupied zone. They were interned in one of five centres (the Napoleon and Minimes barracks, 52 rue Edouard-Pailleron, 33 rue de la Grange-aux-Belles, and the Japy Gymnasium). Most of them are Polish Jews (3439) in addition to 3 Jews of Austrian nationality and 157 of Czech nationality. They are taken by bus to Austerlitz railway station. At the station, French police officers supervise the boarding with German officers of the military police, the Feldgendarmerie. Of the Jews arrested, 1693 were transferred to the Pithiviers camp and 2000 to the Beaune-la-Rolande camp.

While most of the detainees arrested in May 1941 were deported in the 2nd, 4th and 5th convoys that left France in 1942, the others were deported on 17 July from Pithiviers. Most of the deportees were already interned in this camp at the time of the deportation. However, 214 men, held in the Beaune-la-Rolande camp, were transferred to Pithiviers to be part of this convoy. In order to increase the size of the convoy, 150 additional Jews, working on farms in Sologne, were transferred to Pithiviers on 13 July. Despite these transfers, the number of Jews available for deportation from the Pithiviers camp only reaches 600. In order to reach the required number of 1000 Jews, arrests were organised in the area around the Pithiviers camp. Limits on the age and nationality of arrested Jews are not respected. These arrests are largely carried out by the French police, according to the agreement between Oberg and Bousquet of 2 July.

In the Burgundy region, 193 Jews are arrested on the orders of the Kommander of Dijon. These arrests took place in different departments: In the department of Nièvre, 32 Jews were arrested on July 13th.

The commander of the gendarmerie in the administrative capital of Nevers, receives the following orders for arrests: All Jews between the ages of 18 and 45 inclusive, of both sexes, of Polish, Czechoslovakian, Russian, German and previously Austrian, Greek, Yugoslav, Norwegian, Dutch, Belgian, Luxemburgish and stateless persons are to be immediately arrested and transferred to the concentration camp of Pithiviers. Jews who are visibly recognised as crippled and Jews from mixed marriages should not be arrested. The arrests are to be carried out in full by 8 p.m. on 13 July. Arrested Jews must be delivered to the concentration camp by 8 p.m. on 15 July, the last deadline. Further instructions follow, detailing the items that each deportee had to take with him, identical to the items listed by Dannecker in his note of 26 June. On 13 July a telex was sent to the prefect of Nevers indicating that the children of the detainees and the crippled Jews left behind could not be taken care of by the Red Cross or any other French charitable organisation. Only the UGIF (l’Union Générale des Israélites de France) could receive these Jews. All the detainees were transferred to the school in the Park and stayed there at night. The next day, they left Nevers for Pithiviers.

In the department of Yonne, 42 Jews were arrested and taken to the detention centre of Auxerre on 12th July. Two days later, the commander of the gendarmerie designated the Jews who were to be deported from Pithiviers and gave instructions concerning the transfer from the detention centre to the station. He requested that the vehicles be ready at the Burgundy depot at 6.45 am for the transfer of the deportees from the detention centre to the Pithiviers camp. The bus was to follow the following route : Auxerre, Sens, Montargis and Pithiviers. Instructions identical to those sent to the prefect of Nevers were received by the prefect of Yonne. The latter repeated that any negligence in the execution of the order by the gendarmes would result in their immediate dismissal.

At Monceau-les-Mines in the Saône-et-Loire, 35 Jews were apprehended and taken to the camp at Pithiviers on 14 July. The arrests are made by Police Commissioner Marcel Dives and Captain Hellio of the gendarmerie. Several children are among the detainees, including a 1-month-old infant. Children who had not been taken in by relatives are taken to UGIF headquarters in Paris. Apprehended adults are transferred to the Pithiviers camp and deported on July 17.

In the Côte-d’Or department, 21 Jews are arrested and temporarily transferred to the municipality of Dijon. They are transferred to the Pithiviers camp on 15 July.

In the Territory of Belfort, 12 Jews of Polish nationality are arrested on July 12th. They leave 28 children behind who are taken into care by the UGIF. A report prepared by the OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants) concerning the arrests in Belfort reports that after the arrest of the adults, the children were left alone in abandoned flats. According to this report, the UGIF had difficulty in gathering them together. A two-month-old infant was found after two days.

In the central region, 42 Jews were arrested on the orders of the Kommander of Orleans. On the morning of 13 July, in Blois in the department of Loir-et-Cher, the Feldgendarmerie arrested five Jews; two men and three women, one of whom was a French citizen. The police commissioner’s report for the prefect of Loir-et-Cher reports that these Jews were taken to the police station where they waited for their transfer to a destination unknown to the commissioner.

On 15 July, the instructions for the convoy planned for 17 July were sent to the prefect of the Loiret department, where the Pithiviers camp is located. According to the orders, the transfer of the Jews from Pithiviers was to take place at 6.15 am. Boarding was to take place on 16 July between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., in the presence of the German authorities. In addition, 200 Jews from Dijon and 50 from Paris, whose transfer to Pithiviers was scheduled for 15 and 16 July, were to be part of this convoy. The prefect requested a detachment of guards to supervise the transfer from the camp to the Pithiviers station. He specified that a gendarmerie detachment was to provide ten gendarmes to guard the train and that they would work in shifts during the night jointly with the German gendarmes.

The train left Pithiviers station on 17 July 1942 at 6.15 am with 928 Jews. While awaiting departure, the deportees spent the whole night in the train. According to the schedule sent for the first deportation from Pithiviers in June 1942, the train probably took the following route: after its departure from Pithiviers, the train passes through Malesherbes, Montereau, Flamboin, Troyes Brienne-le-Château, Valentigny, Montier en Der, Eclaron, St-Dizier, Révigny, Bar-le-Duc and Lérouville until it reaches the border. The head of the convoy is Lieutenant Schneider, responsible for escorting the convoy to the border. In November 1943, the Reichsbahn (the German national railway company) confirmed the timetable for transport from France. We do not have any documents relating to transport schedules from the French-German border before this date, but in all probability they were very similar. Therefore, previous convoys, including the one of 17 July 1942, probably took the following route once they crossed the French-German border: Saarbrücken, Frankfurt-Main, Dresden, Görlitz, Nysa, and Katowice before arriving in Auschwitz.

On 28 July 1942, Heinz Röthke, who had replaced Dannecker in the Jewish Affairs Section of the Sipo-SD in France, sent new directives to the head of the Sipo-SD in France Helmut Knochen and his deputy Kurt Lischka, with the timetable for the next 13 convoys, stating that: “German goods vehicles must be used for deportations, as has been the case up to now. “Although the carriages are German, the locomotive of the train is provided by the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français) and its staff escorts the train to the border at Novéant (Neuburg). This was confirmed by SNCF historian Christian Bachelier. At the border, the engine equipment is replaced by a German locomotive and the French staff by German personnel.

The convoy of 17 July 1942 was the first to include a high number of women: 119 women were part of this convoy. Most of the deportees were foreign Jews, mostly of Polish nationality. At least 16 French citizens were included in the convoy, despite the agreement with the French authorities that only foreign Jews would be deported. Several children under the age of 16 were also deported. Among these children are Marie-Louis Warenbron (age 12) and Rebecca Nowodworski (age 14).

Berek Wancier, who was among the deportees arrested in Paris in May 1941, recounts his experience in the convoy: “On 17 July 1942, the gendarmes put us in the cattle wagons, we were very tightly packed in this wagon. We told ourselves: ‘they won’t eat us, they’re going to make us work, that’s all’. There were 70 or 80 of us in this wagon without water or anything to eat. It was very hot. We thought we were going to Germany, but not to death. The “journey” lasted three days. We defecated in a corner of the wagon where there was a bit of straw. Several people started to vomit, it smelled very bad. Some were throwing out letters. At one point the door opened a bit and they gave us a bucket of water, but the whole wagon was so thirsty that everyone wanted to drink right away and half the bucket spilled”.

Jukiel Obarzanek wrote one last letter to his family before he was deported: “My dear family, I have come to tell you that I am leaving today evening. I think we are leaving for work. Don’t worry about me, because I am brave. There are women among us too, about a hundred of them, and they are also very brave”. Among the deportees is Irene Nemirovsky, a Russian immigrant and famous author. She had written many novels before the outbreak of the war and was completing a new book before her deportation in July 1942.

Upon arrival in Auschwitz on 19 July, all deportees were selected for forced labour. Men are tattooed with the numbers 48880 to 49688 and women are given the numbers 9550 to 9668. According to the historian Serge Klarsfeld, there were 45 survivors of this convoy in 1945, but following extensive research carried out by our association by cross-checking different files such as those of the Hotel Lutetia or the Red Cross, we have found 99 survivors to date.