Battle of Marseille

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The Battle of Marseille (22–24 January 1943) was a roundup that took place in the Old Port of Marseille under the Vichy regime during the German occupation of France. Assisted by the French police, directed by René Bousquet, the Germans organized a raid to arrest Jewish people. The police checked the identity documents of 40,000 people, and the operation sent 2,000 Marseillese people first to Fréjus, then to the camp of Royallieu near Compiègne, in the Northern Zone of France, and then to Drancy internment camp, last stop before the extermination camps. The operation also encompassed the expulsion of an entire neighborhood (30,000 persons) before its destruction. Located in the Old Port, the 1st arrondissement was considered by the Germans to be a "terrorist nest" because of its small, windy and curvy streets[1] For this occasion, SS leader Karl Oberg, in charge of the German Police in France, made the trip from Paris, and transmitted to Bousquet orders directly received from Himmler. It is a notable case of the French police's wilful collaboration with the German occupiers.

Destruction of the Old Port[edit]

The old neighborhood, seen from the transporter bridge

The operation was intended to reshape the area of the Old Port, a popular neighborhood whose small, curvy and windy streets were considered dangerous by the German authorities. The Germans used for this an urbanist plan prepared by French architects who supported the ideology of the "National Revolution" (Révolution nationale) supported by Vichy. They decided to almost totally destroy the 1st arrondissement of Marseille. According to Himmler's orders the arrested population was to be evacuated to the concentration camps in the Northern Zone of France, in particular Compiègne. The Old Port itself was to be searched house by house by the German police, assisted by their French counterparts, and then the buildings dynamited.

Mandated by the head of Vichy, Pierre Laval, Bousquet demanded on 14 January 1943 that the operation be postponed for a week to better organize it and have reinforcement from police force. Furthermore, while the Germans were about to limit themselves to the 1st arrondissement of Marseille, Bousquet spontaneously proposed to extend the operation to the entire city. According to historian Maurice Rajsfus, he also requested complete freedom of action for the French police, which he obtained from SS Karl Oberg.

Evacuation of the Old Port

According to historian Jacques Delarue, who was a witness of the operation, 200 police inspectors from Paris and elsewhere, 15 compagnies of GMR (the ancestors of the current CRS anti-riot police), and squads of French constabularies (Gendarmerie) and of mobile guards (guardes mobiles) were brought to Marseille for the operation. In total, "approximatively 12,000 police men found themselves concentrated in Marseille.".[2] On 22 January 1943 the Old Port was completely locked-out. The city, except for the more wealthy, residential, neighborhoods, was searched house-by-house over a period of 36 hours. "In total, following tens of thousands of controls, nearly 2,000 Marseillese... found themselves in the death trains." wrote historian Maurice Rajsfus. 1,500 buildings were destroyed.

The Prefecture of the Bouches-du-Rhône published a public statement on 24 January 1943:

For reasons of military order and to guarantee the safety of the population, the German military authorities officially ordered the French administration to proceed immediately with the evacuation of the north end of the Old Port. For its part, the French administration decided on the grounds of internal security to carry out a vast police operation to rid Marseille of certain elements whose activities posed great risks to the population. The French administration worked hard to avoid mixing up the two operations. Sizeable police forces carried out numerous searches in the quarter. Entire neighbourhoods were surrounded and identity checks were made. More than 6,000 individuals were arrested and 40,000 identities were checked.[3]

The newspaper Le Petit Marseillais of 30 January 1943 added:

Let us be clear that the operations for the evacuation of the Old Port were carried out exclusively by the French police and that they did not give rise to any incidents.[4]

German newspapers also acclaimed the operation. Walther Kiaulehn wrote in German military newspaper Signal:

In the future, when we shall write the history of Marseilles, we will underline this remarkable feat that by having evacuated the old patrician neighborhood, which had been dishonored by the 20th century, the operation had used French and German policemen, as a group of engineers and physicians.[5]

French police head René Bousquet, in fur-trimmed coat, posing with Nazi German officials

A photo taken during this operation, and known since the beginning of the 1980s, shows head of French police René Bousquet posing with regional German police head Bernhard Griese of the SS, a high level officer of Totenkopf, regional prefect Marcel Lemoine, and Pierre Barraud, delegate prefect to the prefectoral administration of Marseille.[6]

While 30,000 were expelled from their neighborhood, people from the criminal underworld, such as Paul Carbone, had voluntarily surrendered in the beginning of the week, to be jailed while the "horrible show" happened[7] Several hundreds of Jews of Marseille, whether French or foreign, were first sent to Fréjus, than to the camp of Royallieu near Compiègne, and finally to Drancy internment camp, from where they were sent to the extermination camps. In total, 2,000 Jews were put on the death trains. On 23 March 1943, Röthke of the SS noted that the French Jews arrested in Marseille were almost all "criminal scoundrels" ("canaille criminelle"), "as the French police repeatedly told me without being asked for", and that "when they were transferred from Compiègne to Drancy, they first had to be submitted to a special cleaning operation because they were so dirty and flea-bitten that the French direction of the camp judged an immediate intervention necessary to avoid epidemics in the camp".[8]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Maurice Rajsfus, 1995, La Police de Vichy. Les forces de l’ordre françaises au service de la Gestapo, Le Cherche Midi éditeur, 1995, p.210
  2. ^ Jacques Delarue, Trafics et Crimes sous l’Occupation (Livre de Poche, 1971), p.262
  3. ^ Quoted by Maurice Rajsfus, 1995, p.213. French: « Pour des raisons d’ordre militaire et afin de garantir la sécurité de la population, les autorités militaires allemandes ont notifié à l’administration française l’ordre de procéder immédiatement à l’évacuation du quartier Nord du Vieux-Port. Pour des motifs de sécurité intérieure, l’administration française avait, de son côté, décidé d’effectuer une vaste opération de police afin de débarrasser Marseille de certains éléments dont l’activité faisait peser de grands risques sur la population. L’administration française s’est efforcée d’éviter que puissent être confondues ces deux opérations. De très importantes forces de police ont procédé dans la ville à de multiples perquisitions. Des quartiers entiers ont été cernés et des vérifications d’identité ont été faites. Plus de 6 000 individus ont été arrêtés et 40 000 identités ont été vérifiées.»
  4. ^ French: « Précisons que les opérations d’évacuation du quartier Nord du Vieux-Port ont été effectuées exclusivement par la police française et qu’elles n’ont donné lieu à aucun incident.» (ibid.)
  5. ^ Quoted by Rajsfus, p.213. French: "Dans l'avenir, lorsque l'on écrira l'histoire de Marseille, on soulignera ce fait remarquable qu'en faisant évacuer le vieux quartier patricien déshonoré par le XXe siècle, l'organisateur avait utlisé des policiers français et allemands, comme un groupe d'ingénieurs et de médecins."
  6. ^ Rajsfus, p.215
  7. ^ Jean Bazal, Marseille Galante (Tacussel, 1989), quoted by Jean-Louis Parisi in Une ville en fuite, Marseille (éditions de l'Aube, 1992), p.132, himself quoted by Rajsfus, 1995, p.216
  8. ^ Quoted by Rajsfus, 1995, p.212

Sources[edit]

  • Maurice Rajsfus, La Police de Vichy. Les forces de l’ordre françaises au service de la Gestapo, 1940/44 (Le Cherche Midi éditeur, 1995 - in particular chapter XIV, La Bataille de Marseille, pp. 209–217)

Further reading[edit]