Velodrome d'Hiver: A History


Velodrome d'Hiver: A Forgotten History

On Saturdays, I usually write about tourist sites in Paris and their history. But today I'm choosing to write about one that no longer stands and that not many people visit. So on a Sunday afternoon, when it was actually sunny for once, I decided to take a walk to pay my respects. Maybe it's because I plan on visiting Auschwitz in a few weeks, or maybe because the site is a fifteen minute walk for my apartment. Either way I decided that I had to learn more about the Velodrome d'Hiver, the holding place that the Nazis used before sending the Parisian Jews to Drancy, then Auschwitz.

The World's Fair

The Velodrome d'Hiver was built for the World's Fair in 1900, which seems to be the reason to build most things in Paris. It was used to display the industrial works. It was then turned into a track where sporting events could take place. For many years, it hosted a six day race for bicycles, among boxing events. The bike races were so famous that even Ernest Hemingway attended them.

The Olympics

In the 1924 Summer Olympics, the Velodrome d'Hiver was used to house a few sporting events. Boxing, fencing, weightlifting, and wrestling all took place in the arena. After the olympics, the velodrome continued to be used for the six day race, though its conditions began to get worse.

What stands above the Velodrome today

The Roundup

Since the Velodrome d'Hiver could be hired, members of the Nazi party used it as a holding place for the 1942 summer roundup of the Parisian Jews. Over 13,000 people were kept in the velodrome for five days. The windows were closed shut and painted black to avoid bombings but to also prevent escapees. There were no bathrooms and the only food and water was brought in by the Red Cross and Quakers. Eventually they were deported for Drancy then to Auschwitz, with only 400 surviving.

Down in Flames

The Velodrome d'Hiver, after being the holding cell for 13,000 people, continued to be used for events, but none as horrific as the roundup. In 1959, the already deteriorating building saw its final showcase, done by Salvador Dali. After the building caught fire (some days after Dali's exhibition) the rest was completely demolished. Today it is the location for the Ministry of the Interior.

Memorial Site

In 1993, Francois Mitterand commissioned a memorial monument to be placed on the site of the Velodrome d'Hiver. Walter Spitzer, the sculptor of the project, was a survivor of Auschwitz. On the exact location, a plaque is placed to commemorate those murdered by the Nazis and the acting French government. It is currently under reconstruction to make it a small park. On the promenade along the Seine is Sptizer's work. It states "the French Republic in homage to the victims of racist and antiseptic persecutions and crimes against humanity committed under the authority of the so-called 'Government of the State of France.'" The sculpture depicts children, and old man, and a pregnant woman waiting.

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