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Excerpt from Death in the City of Light by David King, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Death in the City of Light by David King

Death in the City of Light

The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris

by David King
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  • First Published:
  • Sep 20, 2011
  • Paperback:
  • Jun 2012
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For most Frenchmen, however, the last four years represented fear, cold, hunger, and humiliation. No group of people, of course, fared worse than the Jews. Almost immediately after the conquest, the 200,000 Jews of France began losing their basic civic rights. As of October 3, 1940, they could no longer serve in positions of authority in government, education, publishing, journalism, film, and the military. The following day, civil authorities were granted the power to intern foreign-born Jews in "special camps." Three days later, the repeal of the Crémieux Act stripped citizenship from another 1,500 Algerian Jews. The flurry of discriminatory laws was relentless. By early 1941, Jews could no longer work in banking, insurance, real estate, or hotels. Quotas restricted the number of Jews allowed to practice the legal and medical professions to 2 percent, though this, too, was later expanded into an outright ban. Jewish shops were soon to be "Aryanized," that is, seized by the state and the ownership handed over or sold at a bargain rate to non-Jews. The aim was to "eliminate all Jewish influence in the national economy."

It was not long before the rafles, or roundups, began. On May 14, 1941, the first rafle resulted in the arrest and internment of 3,747 innocent Jewish men. Ten months later, on March 27, 1942, "special train 767" left France with the first convoy of 1,112 Jews packed into overcrowded third-class passenger cars, bound for the new extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Eighty-four deportations would follow, most of them in sealed cattle cars. SS Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich and his deputy Adolf Eichmann would continually press French authorities to quicken the pace. In all, 75,721 Jewish men, women, and children would be deported from France to Nazi death and concentration camps in the east. Only 2,800 of them would return home. Paris under the Nazi Occupation was, in the words of historian Alistair Horne, the four darkest years of the city's two-thousand-year history. For many Parisians indeed, it was a nightmare of tyranny and terror, resulting in a desperation to escape that would be ruthlessly exploited by one man in its midst.


WHAT Massu did after his initial search of the town house might seem peculiar at best. He did not go straight to rue Caumartin to look for Dr. Petiot, nor did he send any detectives there. Instead, he went home.

A French law, dating back to December 13, 1799 (22 Frimaire of the French Revolutionary Calendar), prohibited the police from barging in on citizens during the middle of the night unless there was a fire, flood, or an invitation from inside the residence. Article 76 of the Constitution of Year Eight, as it was known, had been written to stop the late-night arrests that occurred during the Reign of Terror. But in a case of this magnitude, Massu could have simply posted men outside Petiot's apartment to wait for the legal hour. Clearly, there was another explanation for his inaction.

The commissaire suspected that 21 rue Le Sueur had been used by the Gestapo, the German secret state police, that had seized control of French internal affairs. Established in April 1933 to eliminate "enemies of the state" as part of Adolf Hitler's consolidation of power, the Gestapo had swelled from some three hundred officials in a former art school on Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse in Berlin to a total of forty thousand agents and many more informers across Occupied Europe. In the name of law and order, they could spy, arrest, imprison, torture, and kill with almost complete impunity. The organization was above the law, and there was no appeal.

Massu had reasons for presuming a possible Gestapo connection. There was not only the butchery and brutality of the crime scene, but also the fact that the German security forces had preferred to set up its offices in the chic 16th arrondissement. Around the corner on the Avenue Foch, for instance, were Gestapo buildings at Nos. 31, 72, 84, and 85, along with offices of the related SS secret service the Sicherheitsdienst, or SD, at Nos. 19-21, 31 bis, 53, 58-60, 80, and 85. Many other German military, counterespionage, and Nazi Party offices were located on this street as well.

Excerpted from Death in the City of Light by David King. Copyright © 2011 by David King. Excerpted by permission of Crown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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