Story highlights

Francois Holland honors thousands of Jews detained in Paris 70 years ago

More than 13,000 people were detained at a Parisian cycling stadium

France's Vichy government was collaborating with the Nazis

Paris CNN  — 

French President Francois Hollande paid tribute at a commemorative ceremony Sunday to thousands of Jewish people who were rounded up and detained in a Parisian cycling stadium by the Vichy government exactly 70 years ago.

“We owe it to the Jewish martyrs of the Winter Velodrome to tell the truth about what happened 70 years ago,” Hollande said, speaking from the site where the ‘Vel d’Hiv’ or the Winter Velodrome cycling stadium, once stood in Paris’ 15th district.

“The truth is that this crime was committed in France, by France,” he said. Hollande laid a wreath during the ceremony, and a commemorative plaque was also erected.

In one of the darkest chapters in French history, more than 13,000 Jews were rounded up in their homes on July 16 and 17, 1942, and detained by police on orders of the Vichy government, who were collaborating with the Nazis. The Vichy regime was the French government at the time.

Unmarried Jews and couples without children were detained in Drancy, a suburb north of Paris. Families were detained at the Winter Velodrome in Paris for five days in insufferable conditions, with children separated from parents, before they were sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

“These women, these men, these children could not have expected the fate which was reserved for them. They could not have even imagined it. They trusted in France,” Hollande said.

Hollande also vowed to fight anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, calling for more efforts to educate younger generations about the Winter Velodrome incident.

“There cannot be a single school where this story is not fully heard, respected and reflected upon,” he said. “For the French Republic, there cannot be – there will not be – memory that is lost. I will see to it personally.”

In total, some 76,000 French men, women and children were deported to Nazi extermination camps during World War II, Hollande said. Only 2,500 came back to France.

CNN’s Ines de la Cuetara contributed to this report.