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  • Writer's pictureAngela Barton

Operation Spring Breeze

Operation Spring Breeze was the name chosen by the Nazis for the roundup of the Jews in Paris. Could a more erroneous name have been chosen by them?

As with Arlette’s Story, I’ve written about a real and tragic event that occurred during World War 2. I think it’s vital that we keep these memories alive for future generations and I hope I've done that in some small way by writing this book.

How do we learn from our mistakes if we don’t remember and do better the next time? My aim was to honour those families involved in the roundup, those who suffered, those who risked their lives to save others and those who lost their lives in doing so. I hope I’ve achieved that with this story. As Nelson Mandela said, "Courage isn't the absence of fear, but the triumph over it."

On 16th and 17th July 1942, a mass arrest was carried out in Paris by French police, under the orders of the Germans. 13,152 Jewish men, women and children were detained at the Vélodrome d’Hiver (Vel d’Hiv) in the 15th Arrondissement of Paris, close to the Eiffel Tower.

The Vichy government, which ruled Nazi-occupied France, was under pressure to accept orders from Berlin regarding their Jewish population. The Vel d’Hiv round up was part of a series of raids in 1942 to arrest Jews across the country, under the codename ‘Operation Spring Breeze.’

Jewish families were transported and detained at the Vel d’Hiv for five days in appalling conditions. There were no toilet or washing facilities, no food or water and with the roof shut, the July heat was oppressive. Some were driven to take their own lives and many were shot by those guarding them.

Those who survived for five days were then taken to concentration camps such as Drancy in the north of Paris, and later deported to Auschwitz.

In July 1995, then President Jacques Chirac apologised for the complicity of the French nation in the round up and the persecution of the Jews during World War Two.

"These black hours will stain our history forever, and are an affront to our past and traditions… the criminal insanity of the occupiers was assisted by the French, by the French state."

It’s incredibly painful when we lose someone we love. It’s happened to most of us and will certainly happen to everyone during their lifetime. We need kindness and love. We need to lean on others for support. But for those who lost the most important people in their lives during the two world wars, and subsequent wars, didn’t always have the open arms of family and friends. In fact, they probably didn’t even have a home, a job, good health or enough money eat or survive. They had no outlet for their grief. Fear and self-preservation kept them alive, if they were lucky.

Matilde, my heroine, hoped to navigate her way through WW2 in France by keeping her head down. She was timorous and perhaps even a little weak. But something happened in my story that changed her. She found an inner strength and courage. Perhaps we only discover this when we’re pushed beyond the limits of what we feel we can cope with.

Matilde goes through a raft of emotions in Spring Breeze: fear, relief, grief, love, joy, guilt, anger. None of us know how we would react if we were confronted with evil during a war. Would having children to protect or a loved-one we couldn't bear to be parted from, lead us to make different decisions? Or despite the fear, would we do what we could to save the lives of others? The lives of strangers? This is exactly what resistors did and why I wanted to honour them in my novel.

The French Resistance first emerged following the fall of France in 1940. With the nation’s armed forces shattered and overpowered by the Germans, some French people fled the country to remain free. Many others bowed, with varying degrees of willingness, to the occupiers and the collaborating Vichy regime. But in my book, Operation Spring Breeze, I write about those who took another path, forming cells of spies and guerrillas who kept the hope of a free France alive. They provided intelligence to the Allies, sabotaged German facilities, smuggled downed airmen and escaped POWs to safety, and rescued the starving and oppressed. They were true heroes and I could only hope to have but a fraction of the bravery and selflessness that they possessed if I were confronted with such dangers. The risks members of The Resistance took were incredibly high, and many met horrible deaths at the hands of the Nazi regime. But their numbers kept growing, and by June of 1944, a hundred-thousand Resistance members were waiting to rise up.

I hope you enjoy reading Matilde's story. Spring Breeze is now available to pre-order as an ebook for delivery on publication day – 30th September 2022. On this date paperbacks of Spring Breeze will also be available.

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