Hard to believe? Not really, when you think about Paris Past.
Though the city is spectacularly the stuff dreams are made of, some of its
most unforgettable history includes staggering specters of hell on earth.
A stroll down avenue Foch is all it takes to recall the
loathsome voices from its sickening past.
One of the wealthiest streets in Paris, avenue Foch is lined with posh
19th century mansions and rows of sky-high chestnut trees.
These days, this affluent status-driven address is a virtual walk in the park,
famously known as the widest avenue in Paris.
What you see now is prestige and dignity,
privilege and power -- but that's only part of the story.
As so much in life, not everything is a bed of roses.
This same street has thousands of yesterdays.
You can almost "see" the old ghosts, the haunted campus
filled with heartbreak, evil and shame.
You see, throughout the German occupation, avenue Foch was
one of the most notorious streets in Paris.
The Sicherheitsdienst* -- SD for short -- moved into
one of the most regal mansions on the story-book street.
*What a mouthful! The SD (Sicherheitsdienst) was a particularly fearsome wing of the notorious SS.
Number 84 avenue Foch proved to be the undoing
of many French Resistance warriors.
The SD excelled in interrogating and torturing members of the French Resistance along with British collaborators who got caught in their web of horror.
Even Stephen King couldn't come up with a tale as chilling as this one.
"Monsters are real.....They live inside us, and sometimes they win."
Stephen King, American author and master of horror
control of some of the best real estate in the city.
The Gestapo quickly moved into #11 rue des Saussaies,
not far from the city's fabled Champs Elysées.
Some of the best hotels in the city became "friendly"
with the conquering beasts.
The Ritz, Hotel Meurice, and Hotel Lutecia are just a few exclusive enclaves
that were requisitioned by masters of the German military.
Many of the capital's best restaurants posted signs that boasted
"Hiers Spreicht man Deutsch" to lure the monsters who were flush with cash.
The One-Two-Two Club, the legendery brothel on rue de Provence,
was a favorite of the Nazi high command.
But likely the worst evil-doing was carried out at #84 avenue Foch where the
poisonous SD chiefs jailed many members of the French Resistance.
With the speed of light, they set up a torture room, swiftly
executing the most depraved deeds imaginable.
Their "best" henchmen burned the nipples of women with cigarettes,
then brutally half drowned them in bathtubs.
Relentless, they were among the worst monsters of the occupying forces.
Sometimes, even the most stout-hearted
gave in during the relentless interrogations.
Following days of torment, French journalist and Resistance hero
Pierre Brossolette jumped out of a sixth story window
to avoid spilling the beans on his resistance network.
"God is cruel. Sometimes he makes you live."
Stephen King, American Author and Master of Horror
The wide avenue stretches from the Champs-Elysees
to the edge of the Bois de Boulogne.
Its elegance and majesty hails from the matchless ingenuity of Baron Haussmann, the architect who remade Paris for the glory of the France.
Originally named Avenue de l'Imperatrice -- the Avenue of the Empress -- the
opulent boulevard was named in honor of Empress Eugenie,
wife of Napoleon III and boss of Baron Haussmann.
Both before and after WWII, avenue Foch has been
the A-list address of the rich and famous.
This is the street where everyone knows your name.
The Rothschilds, the Onassis family, Princess Grace of Monaco,
Maria Callas, Fernandel, and Claude Debussy are among
the names that resided in this privileged locale.
It's been reported that little Athina Onassis had a rocking horse
studded with diamonds and gold leaf.
At the same time, the fabled avenues' history as a dark place persists;
alleged child trafficker Jeffrey Epstein made this his part-time
abode whenever he was in Paris.
The brotherhood of monsters lives on....
Yet a simple truth remains.
Avenue Foch makes for a grand walk of discovery, the opportunity to gawk
at fancy houses, cars and people while contemplating which
showboat property you might snag with your lottery winnings.
From the moment Marshall Philippe Pétain gained power, the former hero
of WWI was on par with many of the worst intentions of his Nazi overlords.
From his comfortable seat in Vichy, Pétain carried out policies
specifically designed to exclude Jews from "normal" life -- at work,
at school, eventually even at home.
Stealing their property as well as their dignity, he became the
ultimate villain, successfully delivering some 78,000 Jews
straight to the final chapter of Hitler's master plan.
Forced to register with the French police, it became child's play to round up
and deliver thousands of Jews into the hands of the beast.
René Bousquet, Adolf Eichmann, Pierre Laval, Helmut Knochen, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring--- whether German or French -- too many monsters to count.
The next time you're in Paris, stop by Square de la Place des Martyrs Juifs,
where you'll find a small memorial dedicated to the prisoners
of the Vel d'Hiver, the bicycle stadium that held
13,000 prisoners -- 4,000 of whom were children.
They were held for days on end without access to water, food and toilets.
It was their first stop on the "welcome wagon" bound for a sure end
in the concentration camps of Poland.
Jews, along with gypsies, homosexuals and political "enemies of the state"
were deported to the Nazi camps, mostly Auschwitz.
Of the 78,000 deported, 76,000 never returned.
"To sum it all up, I must say that I regret nothing."
Adolph Eichmann, high ranking Nazi officer, one of the cruelest monsters of the Holocaust
stop cold at the sight of small signs that recognize the fate of the deported children.
Don't blame it all on Nazi Germany.
The French Milice -- the paramilitary arm of Vichy France --
sent these innocents to the camps and certain death.
The superb Wall of Names at the Mémorial de la Shoah on rue Geoffroy l'Asnier carefully curates the history of French Jews who suffered unspeakable horrors
at the hands of these monstrous criminals.
Among the names are several who are very close to my heart.
My grandparents and three of their children reside on the granite wall,
their lives on earth shattered first in the Paris velodrome,
then in the hellish camps of Poland.
Worse yet, my little aunt Bela, only six years old when
she perished -- isn't even listed with her family.
Her name and identity was somehow scrambled by officials in charge
of the transport -- so in death she "resides" with others.
I'll always wonder if she was allowed to 'travel" with her mother or faced
the unspeakable with strangers until, too soon, her young heart stopped beating....
How history repeats itself.
Bela's story is just one of many nightmares that occur during war
or by political leaders who just don't care.
How much have we learned?
"Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."
George Santayana, philosophy, poet, novelist
reason enough to wake up, smell the roses and do your best
to fight the good fight -- work for justice and spread kindness.
Thanks goodness, the Paris we see today is a free city, one where ancestry
and religion -- for the most part* -- is celebrated rather than despised.
How long with this good will last?
*Sadly, French Jews are facing an ever increasing number of anti-Semitic attacks, forcing many to flee.
We're cheered by a better-late-than-never admission by French government officials. They finally acknowleged the Republic played a role in the Holocaust.
It took over 70 years to come to terms with their culpability but in 2017,
President Emanuel Macron firmly admitted the state's role
in the roundup and deportation of 13,000 Jews.
"It was indeed France that organized this round", pointing the finger squarely
at the French police who collaborated with the Nazis.
"Not a single German took part,"...."It is convenient to see the Vichy regime
as born of nothingness, returned to nothingness. Yes, it's convenient,
but it is false. We cannot build pride upon a lie."
"A half-truth is a whole lie."
Peace, love, honesty; it's not too much to ask for.
Insist on it from those who lead.
Wear it every day and promote it to those around you.
Deflate the monsters. Let the little children come.