According to Dr. Richard Korherr’s report of March 1943 (NMT Document NO 5193-5196), there had been 280,000 Jews in France in 1937. In the first phase of the World War, Jews from other countries, especially Poland and Belgium, took refuge in France. The Wannsee protocol gives 865,000 as the number of Jews in France in 1942 – probably greatly exaggerated. Nearly all Jews who were French citizens born in France were left unmolested, but 75,000 mostly foreign Jews were deported from March 1942 onwards. Some of the deportees were registered in Auschwitz, some not. Apart from this registration, almost nothing is known about their fates. The accepted idea has been that 97% of them died – mainly gassed to death. The following article analyzes the tenability of this claim. It is based solely on generally recognized sources.
During the Second World War about 75,000 Jews of various nationalities were deported from France by the Germans. Their names and dates of birth are known and listed in a book published by Serge Klarsfeld. This book gives the number of known survivors as 2,566, which is the number determined by the Ministry of War Veterans, to whom all the surviving deportees from France were supposed to report in 1945. However, Serge Klarsfeld believes that
“for example Polish Jews or stateless Jews living in Belgium and later deported from France where they had sought refuge, would not have gone to the French authorities after the liberation.”
In spite of this, he estimates that the total number of survivors in 1945 did not exceed 2,600. For each convoy the Klarsfeld book gives the number of those who got tattoo numbers at Auschwitz on their arrival. The others are placed under the heading “Number Gassed on arrival at Destination” (Table III).
In this article we will analyze how the survival rates of various groups are related to the absence of tattoo numbers and to the nationality of the deportees. However, it seems practical to start with looking at the deportations in relation to the German warfare and labor force policy in general.
The deportations of Jews from France started two months after the notorious policy conference on the Final Solution that was held at Gross‑Wannsee in January 1942. At this stage of the war there was no acknowledged shortage of manpower that would have required tampering with recent decisions about exterminating certain groups of people. On 15 March 1942, Hitler stated that the German Army had endured its strongest winter ever, and he was looking forward to the final crushing of the “Bolshevist Monster.” Certainly the Gross‑Wannsee policy decisions were still in force on 27 March when the first convoy with 1,112 male Jews left France for Auschwitz. We notice that every one of the 1,112 was tattooed on arrival with a personal number, running from 27,533 to 28,644. Serge Klarsfeld therefore terms them as “Selected for work at destination.” It is indeed likely that they were set to work since they were all between 18 and 60 years old.
But work or no work, the numbering certainly indicates that it was not prescribed that the majority of deportees from every convoy should be gassed to death on arrival. After this first convoy there followed an interval of two months before the deportations from France were taken up again. From 5 June to 28 June 4,000 more Jews were shipped from France in four convoys. Again all deportees got tattoo numbers, including the 66 women in Convoy No. 3. After a 16 day pause a systematic process of large scale deportation started on 17 July and continued until 30 September 1942. During these 11 weeks, about 33,000 Jews of both sexes were deported from France. In the first eight of these convoys less than 8 percent were received at Auschwitz without being given a tattoo number. However, from 3 August the numbering practice was more or less reversed. Only 37 percent of the 33,000 were numbered on arrival at Auschwitz. Table III in the Klarsfeld book states that the rest – about 20,800 men and women – were “gassed on arrival.” But in a note to the same Table III we read that during part of the period in question, “the selection [for work] of most of the able-bodied men took place before the arrival in Auschwitz.” Thus, a group of 3,056 deportees in 1942 were given Auschwitz numbers only on 1 April 1944 (numbers 176,512 through 179,567). In other words, these 3,056 Jews survived a detention of about 18 months before they eventually were registered as Auschwitz internees. Obviously, we cannot know how many deportees without numbers survived one, two or even 30 months and were not given numbers at all before they perished or were released.
At the beginning of October 1942, the Germans apparently ran out of Jews already arrested. It would have been necessary to step up arrests of French Jews in order to keep the tight schedule. Laval refused and the Germans acquiesced. Consequently the deportation process lost speed. During all the rest of the war fewer Jews were deported from France than those already taken before October 1942.
At this time, the manpower situation in Germany had not changed markedly. Nothing had happened after July 1942 to justify a waste of usable manpower. Prudence would still have called for the exploitation of all able-bodied men and women whether they were intended for ultimate extermination or not. Only about 4,000 out of the 33,000 deported during the “boom” were of an age above or below what could be considered fit for work. Considering all these circumstances, it seems highly improbable that the Germans should suddenly start killing deportees on their arrival at Auschwitz. And if the numbering of detainees had meant selection for work, we would have expected 88 percent numbered (29,000 out of 33,000) instead of 37 percent. Certainly there can be reasons for skipping tattoo numbers other than impending gassing to death.
Beginning from October 1942 and till the end of the occupation of France, the rate of deportation was down at less than two convoys a month on an average. But at the same time the manpower situation rapidly deteriorated and actually became critical in January 1943, when the loss of the entire Sixth Army at Stalingrad was imminent. On 28 January 1943, Hitler inaugurated compulsory work for all German men and women between certain years of age. A month later he proclaimed “total mobilization” of the labour force of all occupied countries except Denmark. This officially acknowledged shortage of manpower would have been a strong reason to alleviate any rigorous orders for immediate extermination that may have resulted from the Gross‑Wannsee conference. If tattoo numbers hade been used exclusively for those selected for work we would have expected a larger proportion of tattooed from February 1943 onwards. Nothing of the sort happened. On the contrary, we notice an extremely low percentage (10 percent) of tattoo numbers in February and March. This should be compared with the 93 percent tattooed in the previous spring when the manpower‑situation still was considered nothing to worry about.
The entire pattern of distributing tattoo numbers at Auschwitz in 1942 and 1943 speaks strongly against the theory that lack of a tattoo number meant gassing on arrival. Maybe the unnumbered people were simply sent to some of the smaller forced labour camps that were subordinate to Auschwitz or in some cases perhaps even to such “protection camps” as the one where Viktor Frankl was sent from Auschwitz after a “selection” of sorts. Frankl says his comrades deplored his leaving, thinking that he was sent to a gas chamber.
Anyway it is well known that some Auschwitz detainees were sent to these subordinate camps after some days or weeks at Auschwitz. The sub‑camps could hardly have been filled up to capacity with only those few who were transferred after a term at Auschwitz. The expedient procedure would certainly have been to send deportees there directly, or after a summary selection on the Auschwitz railway platform.
The untenability of the theory that lack of tattoo number meant immediate gassing is acknowledged also in the Klarsfeld book, on page xxvii:
“The Auschwitz calendar shows no women selected for work [i.e. no women given numbers] from Convoy 71, indicating that all women were gassed. However we counted 70 female survivors from this convoy, including Simone Jacob, later Veil.”
Let us now take a look at the nationalities of the Jews deported from France at various stages of the process.
As we can see in Table 1, the tattooing practice underwent a marked change after the first 13 convoys with their 13,000 deportees. The change was from tattooing in almost full numbers to numbering only a minority of those shipped to Auschwitz. The treatment of the deportees seems to have undergone another change later on. After the three months’ deportation break in spring 1943, we notice a marked increase in the numbers of known survivors – from 1.5 percent to 6.9 percent of convoy members. However, this does not necessarily mean a corresponding change in actual surviving rates. As Klarsfeld has stated, there were certainly Polish and other survivors who did not report to the Ministry of War Veterans after the liberation. The change may therefore have something to do with this phenomenon.
Concluding from what the Encyclopaedia Judaica reports about Auschwitz and its inmates about 15 percent of the registered detainees would have survived both the camp and the evacuation from it. Here we are dealing with 28,754 out of the 400,000 registered at Auschwitz from all countries. But instead of the expected 15 percent survivors we find only 8.9 percent – assuming now that only registered inmates could survive. The assumption is not, as we have seen, a likely one. We have reasons to think that the unregistered deportees were treated more or less in the same way as the registered ones. If all survivors had been registered Auschwitz prisoners, they would have made up 40.8 percent of all the tattooed women in the late 23 convoys (Group III, Table 1). Such a high proportion of survivors is unheard of in the case of Auschwitz. We must necessarily look for another explanation, an explanation that allows for the obvious occurrence of survivors among the unregistered deportees as well as among those with the notorious tattoo number.
Table 1: Fate of Jews deported from France to German concentration camps
Number of none-registrees
column 4 in % of column 3
column 4 in % of Column 1
|I (Mar. 27, 1942
Jul. 7, 1942)
|II (Aug. 3, 1942
Mar. 25, 1943)
|III (Jun. 23, 1943
Aug. 17, 1944)
We have already noticed Klarsfeld’s mention of the probability that Polish Jews may have behaved differently from French Jews after the liberation. But altogether there were about 52,000 foreign Jews among the 75,720 that were deported from France. Only about 24,000 were French citizens. If 15 percent of both categories survived (as they probably did), it would make 7,800 and 3,600 respectively. What would they have done after the liberation? The foreign Jews did not, in many cases, expect to find a home in France anymore. They had certainly heard a lot about confiscations of Jewish property. Nor did they expect to find relatives and friends in France – such people had mostly been deported like themselves. And finally, France was the country where they had sought refuge from the Nazis, and this same country had surrendered them to the enemy. Certainly there were better countries for them than France, after what had happened. It seems reasonable to expect 90 percent, or thereabout, out of the foreign survivors to go to other countries than France. Therefore, we can hardly expect to find more than about 10 percent of those foreigners who actually survived, to be known survivors, i.e. known to the French authorities and thus to Serge Klarsfeld.
And what about the French survivors, what would they do after the liberation? Some of the French citizens among the deportees were in fact children of foreign parents. Their formal citizenship was due to the fact that they had been born in France. If such children survived the deportation, they naturally went with their parents. Many adult Jewish Frenchmen may also have chosen to look for a new domicile after the war. They too had been betrayed by the French government, and some of them may have been embittered towards France because of that. Besides that, many French Jews were not born French; they had just immigrated early enough to become French citizens before the German occupation. They had changed their nationality once already, why not do it again? Considering all these aspects, it seems reasonable to assume that only something like half the number of the French survivors would report to the Ministry of War Veterans in 1945.
Therefore, if 15 percent of all deportees actually survived, we should expect to find 7.5 percent of the French deportees and 1.5 percent of the foreign deportees among the reported survivors. That would make 1,800 and 776 respectively, or 2,576 altogether. The Klarsfeld book reports 2,566.
This almost exact agreement between expected and reported numbers is, of course, pure coincidence. As soon as we count percentages of known survivors for the three main periods, we find a less regular pattern, see Table 2. The members of the early and late convoys obviously had a far better chance of survival than those deported between August 1942 and March 1943. So far, we have no explanation of this irregularity. All we can say is that extremely few returned alive (and reported) out of those sent to Majdanek and Sobibor, but that does not explain all of the difference. A few Auschwitz convoys had equally low figures of known survivors (about 0.5 %). On the other hand, it is possible to check the assumption that French Jews were five times more likely than foreign Jews to report as survivors after the war. It happens that seven of the 13 convoys in the early group (Group I) contained only foreign Jews, and out of these exactly 2.15 percent reported as survivors after the war. This requires that 8.7 % of the French deportees in Group I must have reported as survivors in order to make up for the figure of 344 known survivors altogether. Consequently the preponderance for the French to return to France seems to have been fourfold rather than fivefold as compared to the return tendency among foreigners. However, the presumed general pattern is confirmed by this observation irrespective of the precise numerical values.
Table 2: Jews deported from France by nationality and known survival
|of which French
(French. & foreign.)
|I (Mar. 27, 1942
Jul. 7, 1942)
|II (Aug. 3, 1942
Mar. 25, 1943)
|III (Jun. 23, 1943
Aug. 17, 1944)
|: The hypothetical percentages of columns 3 and 5 were selected in a way to yield the numbers in column 6. In so doing it was assumed that 7.5% of all French and 1.5% of all foreign deportees reported back to the French authorities and that the same ratio (5:1) is given for all three subgroups in this table. The actual ration of French: foreign was 4:1 for the first group (unkown for groups II and III).
The general conclusion is that almost everything speaks against the theory that many (or even some) of those deported from France were executed on their arrival at Auschwitz. The low number of known survivors probably depends primarily on the fact that a large part of the actual survivors opted for another country than France after the liberation. The general death rate among the deportees from France was in all likelihood about the same as among Auschwitz detainees in general – which was very high indeed. The various causes of this high death rate – including executions – cannot be determined by means of such statistical methods as those dealt with in this article.
First published as “Was geschah den 75.000 aus Frankreich deportierten Juden?,” in Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung 1(4) (1997), pp. 248-251.
|||Serge Klarsfeld, Memorial to the Jews Deported from France 1942 – 1944 / Le Mémorial de la Déportation des Juifs de France, Paris 1978.|
|||V. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Beacon Press Boston 1962.|
|||Later Simone Veil became France’s Secretary of Justice, and in 1979 she became the first President of the European Parliament.|
|||During that time a disastrous typhus epidemic raged in Auschwitz, killing tens of thousands of inmates. Editor’s note.|