For years, a circus performs near Holocaust memorial &mdash now theres anger in Paris

paris | In a Paris suburb, a traveling circus performs on the site from which tens of thousands of French Jews were shipped to their deaths at Auschwitz.

For years, most French Holocaust survivors didn’t seem to have a problem with a memorial there sharing the site with the circus — until last week.

On Nov. 20, a few dozen members of the Sons and Daughters of French Jewish Deportees showed up at the Drancy transit camp for the 60th anniversary of the departure of Convoy No. 62. The convoy, one of around 50 that left the site in 1943, consisted of 1,199 Jews bound for Auschwitz.

When the group arrived, they found a few local Jews accompanied by Drancy’s mayor, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, protesting the circus.

Last week, the Council of Jewish Communities in Seine Saint-Denis — a region in the capital’s eastern suburbs that includes Drancy — said the presence of the traveling circus at the site “represented a real desecration of the principal site to the memory of the ante-room of the Shoah.”

In a statement, the council’s president, Sammy Ghozlan, called for the circus “to be dismantled without delay and before the ceremony commemorating the departure of Convoy 62 by the Sons and Daughters of French Jewish Deportees.”

The CRIF umbrella organization of French Jews also condemned the presence of the circus encampment “as an outrage which cannot be tolerated.”

However, the founder of the Sons and Daughters group, Serge Klarsfeld, said neither he nor his organization had been contacted by Ghozlan, and said he never had been bothered by the circus.

The grounds the circus uses are controlled by the La Muette housing complex, built on the site after World War II.

Klarsfeld says that seeing people shopping and going about their daily lives while he reads out the names of deported Jews does not detract from the commemoration.

“The fact that people live here means that the buildings are protected,” Klarsfeld said. “If they weren’t here, they’d be destroyed.”

“Here Jews suffered, and today people are not suffering. This is a living site. There are 450 apartments there. People eat and drink, they make love in the evening,” he said. “It has never bothered us.”

The circus has come to the site every year since 1989, according to a spokesman for the nearby housing complex, but there were no protests there until this year.

When Lagarde arrived at the site last week for the protest, he and Klarsfeld got into an argument, with Klarsfeld accusing the mayor of exploiting the circus’ presence for political gain.

Klarsfeld is not the only one making that charge.

Until March 2001, the Drancy municipality, like many other local councils in the area, had been run by the Communist Party, which still heads the Seine Saint-Denis regional council and therefore the Drancy site.

Drancy’s mayor had led a campaign to obtain national memorial status for the Drancy site, according to the director of the mayor’s office, Dominique de Pontfarcy. Drancy became an official national memorial site in March 2002.

“This is being used for political reasons by the right-wing mayor of Drancy to get at the communist regional council,” said Jeanette Morrud of the Auschwitz Memorial Foundation. “It’s disgusting that it is being done on the backs of dead Jews.”

But De Pontfarcy said the regional council did not care about the Holocaust.

“For them, the Shoah is not important,” he said.

De Pontfarcy said the housing association “said last year that this was the last time for the circus, but it suddenly appeared again last week without authorization and without security clearance.”