Following the occupation of France during World War II, a large complex originally planned as a large public housing project but used as a police barracks was converted for use as a major detention centre primarily for Jews but also homosexuals, Roma people, and others labeled as "undesirables" who were seized by Nazi orders pending shipment to Auschwitz and other German extermination camps.
Drancy was under the control of the French police until July 3, 1943 when Nazi Germany took day-to-day control as part of the major stepping up at all facilities for the mass exterminations. The camp was opened after a roundup of in Paris Jews in August, 1941, in which over 4,000 Jews were arrested. The French police carried out additional roundups of Jews throughout the war.
The camp at Drancy was in a multi-storey complex designed to hold 700 people, but at its peak in it held more than 7,000. There is documented evidence and testimony recounting the brutality of the French guards in Drancy and the brutal conditions imposed on the people including the small children who, upon their arrival, were immediately separated from their parents. It is to Drancy that SS First Lieutenant Klaus Barbie transported Jewish children that he captured in a raid of a children's home, before deporting them to Auschwitz, where they were all killed. In December, 1941, 40 prisoners from Drancy were executed in retaliation for a French attack on German police officers.
In 1976, the Memorial to the Deportation at Drancy was created by sculptor Shelomo Selinger to commemorate the French Jews imprisoned in the camp.
Until recently, the official point of view of the French government was that the Vichy regime was an illegal government distinct from the French Republic. While the criminal behavior of Vichy France and the collaboration of French officials were acknowledged, and some former Vichy officials prosecuted, this point of view denied any responsibility of the French Republic. This perspective, upheld for example by Charles de Gaulle, underlined in particular the circumstances of the July 1940 vote of the full powers to Marshal Pétain, who installed the "French State" and repudiated the Republic. With only the Vichy 80 refusing this vote, historians have argued it was anti-Constitutional, most notably because of pressure on parliamentarians from Pierre Laval.
However, on July 16, 1995, president Jacques Chirac, in a speech, recognized the responsibility of the French State, and in particular of the French police which organized the July 1942 rafle du Vel'd'hiv, for seconding the "criminal folly of the occupying country".