Drancy Camp, on the outskirts of Paris, was known as the "waiting-room for Auschwitz" because of the many and frequent deportations that left for the death camps. The camp had been built to house soldiers and consisted of five-storey "U"-shaped buildings. But from the time of the mass arrests of Jews in Paris in July 1941, Drancy became a "Jewish" camp, run by three consecutive SS officers who were in charge of Jewish affairs throughout the war.
For the first few months the camp held only Jewish men - French-born and foreign - who had been arrested in round-ups in the various quarters of Paris. Four initial deportations were sent from there to the East. Then the number of arrests and deportations greatly increased, with 40,000 people sent in forty deportations.
The victims of the mass round-up of 16 July 1942, who had been gathered together at the Paris Winter Stadium, changed the population of Drancy. For the first time the inmates included women and children - although husbands and wives were abruptly separated, frequently not having time to share out the meager belongings they had brought with them.
After this round-up, the camp became more and more crowded and the level of nutrition got worse. But the deprivation and despair were nothing compared with the cruel scenes that accompanied the deportations, which started again on 19 July 1942, three days after the round-up. From then on there were regular deportations - three each week. In August 1942 children aged 2-12 whose parents had already been sent East were brought to the camp from Beaune-La-Rolande and Pithiviers. They were brought in buses, with the bigger children trying their best to care for the smaller ones. At Drancy the children were packed into sealed railcars and sent to the East.
Drancy Camp was run according to the Nazi system of concentration camps. With cruel cynicism, the camp commander made extensive use of the Jewish inmates in the running of the camp. Among other missions, inmates with families in the camp were ordered to bring in other Jews who were living in hiding in Paris. If they failed to do so, they endangered the lives of their loved ones, who were held hostage.
The inmates of Drancy were almost totally cut off from the outside world. Except for a few hours, when it was permitted, they were forbidden to leave the buildings and go into the yard. This was because it was always full of large groups of new arrivals or deportees. Discipline was extremely strict, with brutal penalties being meted out to anyone who broke the rules. Sometimes the punishment was particularly aggravating, such as being forbidden to look out of the window or to smoke.
(Dr Pnina Rosenberg)