The Drancy camp, named after the northeastern suburb of Paris in which it was located, was established by the Germans in August 1941 as an internment camp for foreign Jews in France; it later became the major transit camp for the deportations of Jews from France. Until July 1, 1943, French police staffed the camp under the overall control of the German Security Police. In July 1943 the Germans took direct control of the Drancy camp and SS officer Alois Brunner became camp commandant.
The camp was a multistory U-shaped building that had served as a police barracks before the war. Barbed wire surrounded the building and its courtyard. The capacity of the camp was 5,000 prisoners. Five subcamps, used primarily as warehouses for personal property confiscated from Jews, were located throughout Paris: at the Austerlitz train station, the Hotel Cahen d'Anvers, the Levitan furniture warehouse, the wharf in Bercy, and the Rue de Faubourg. Approximately 70,000 prisoners passed through Drancy between August 1941 and August 1944. Except for a small number of prisoners (mostly members of the French resistance), the overwhelming majority were Jews. A few thousand prisoners managed to obtain release during the first year of the camp's existence.
During the summer of 1942, the Germans began systematic deportations of Jews from Drancy to killing centers in occupied Poland. In the first transport, which departed on June 22, 1942, 1,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Altogether, between that first transport and the last, on July 31, 1944, 64,759 Jews were deported from Drancy in 64 transports. Approximately 61,000 of these Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Germans also deported 3,753 Jews from Drancy to the Sobibor killing center.
One-third of the Jews deported from Drancy were French citizens. Others were foreign-born Jews who had immigrated to France in the 1920s and 1930s, primarily from Poland, Germany, and, after 1938, Austria. Many distinguished French Jewish intellectuals and artists were held in Drancy, including the poet Max Jacob, the choreographer Renee Blum, and the philosopher Tristan Bernard.
On August 15-16, 1944, as Allied forces neared, the German authorities in Drancy fled after burning all camp documents. The Swedish Consul-General Raoul Nordling took over the camp on August 17 and asked the French Red Cross to care for the 1,500 prisoners remaining in Drancy. Fewer than 2,000 of the almost 65,000 Jews deported from the Drancy camp survived the Holocaust.