In the Shad­ows of Paris: The Nazi Con­cen­tra­tion Camp That Dimmed the City of Light

Anne Sin­clair, San­dra Smith (Trans­la­tor)

January 13, 2021

A per­son­al jour­ney into a family’s his­to­ry grad­u­al­ly becomes a his­tor­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tion into the less­er known tragedy of the Nazi’s mass arrests of promi­nent French Jews and their impris­on­ment at the camp of slow death” just fifty miles from Paris.

This sto­ry has haunt­ed me since I was a child,” begins Anne Sin­clair in a per­son­al jour­ney to find answers about her own life and about her grandfather’s, Léonce Schwartz. What her trib­ute reveals is part mem­oir, part his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion of a less­er known chap­ter of the Holo­caust: the Nazi’s mass arrest, in French the word for this is rafle and there is no equiv­a­lent in Eng­lish that cap­tures the hor­ror, on Decem­ber 12, 1941 of influ­en­tial Jews―the doc­tors, pro­fes­sors, artists and oth­ers at the upper lev­els of French society―who were then impris­oned just fifty miles from Paris in the Com­pieg­ne-Roy­al­lieu con­cen­tra­tion camp. Those who did not per­ish there, were tak­en by the infa­mous one-way trains to Auschwitz; except for the few to escape that fate. Léonce Schwartz was among them.

Discussion Questions

Dran­cy: The place instills dread and hor­ror. Roy­al­lieu-Com­piègne: The name con­jures a roy­al estate in the coun­try. In fact, Roy­al­lieu-Com­piègne is the lit­tle-known site of Frontsta­lag 122, the con­cen­tra­tion camp run by the Wehrma­cht an hour from Paris and the place to which Anne Sinclair’s mater­nal grand­fa­ther, Léonce Schwartz, was forcibly tak­en on Decem­ber 12, 1941. In her deeply affect­ing mem­oir, Sin­clair, a well-known and respect­ed French jour­nal­ist, bril­liant­ly cap­tures what her grand­fa­ther endured at Roy­al­lieu-Com­piègne, a sto­ry she hopes will fill the void of lost memories.”

Léonce Schwartz was one of 743 influ­en­tial, assim­i­lat­ed French Jews tak­en in the rafle (roundup) on that fate­ful Decem­ber day — a full six months before the infa­mous Rafle du Velo­drome d’Hiver. Many of those arrest­ed had served France in World War I and were dec­o­rat­ed for val­or. Despite her metic­u­lous research, Sin­clair finds scant doc­u­men­tary evi­dence of her grandfather’s hor­rif­ic expe­ri­ence at Roy­al­lieu-Com­piègne; instead, she unearths the sto­ries of hun­dreds of oth­ers con­tained in French Holo­caust archives and in the jour­nals of Schwartz’s fel­low pris­on­ers. Sinclair’s grand­fa­ther remains a soul who pass­es through” her evoca­tive mem­oir. In the Shad­ows of Paris reminds us of how lit­tle time is left to gath­er every one of these sacred stories.