DRANCY, France—This was once an antechamber to Auschwitz, the beginning of many ends.
In the 1940s, it was here, on the outskirts of Paris, that about 65,000 Jews were interned and deported to their deaths in the horror universally known as the Holocaust but known in France as the Shoah. For the vast majority of them, the modernist apartment complex that housed this camp was the last image of France they saw before being forced onto trains to the gas chambers.
Today, there is a memorial museum in Drancy, but the housing project — once known as the “Silent City”— is still in service, an eerie home for low-income immigrants who may or may not be aware of the things their walls have seen. On some level, this is fitting. In the France — and the Europe — of the 21st century, the lessons of the 20th no longer seem self-evident, and certainly not sacrosanct.
For decades, France’s willing collaboration in the Nazi Holocaust was recognized as the most shameful chapter in the nation’s history, a story recounted in public schools and a crime for which a sitting French president formally apologized.
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