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Concentration camps in France

There were internment camps and concentration camps in France before, during and after World War II. Beside the camps created during World War I to intern German, Austrian and Ottoman civilian prisoners, the Third Republic (1871–1940) opened various internment camps for the Spanish refugees fleeing the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). Following the prohibition of the French Communist Party (PCF) by the government of Édouard Daladier, they were used to detain communist political prisoners. The Third Republic also interned German anti-Nazis (mostly members of the Communist Party of Germany, KPD).

Then, after the 10 July 1940 vote of full powers to Marshal Philippe Pétain and the proclamation of the État français (Vichy regime), these camps were used to intern Jewish people, Gypsies, and various political prisoners (anti-fascists from all countries). Vichy opened up so many camps that it became a full economic sector, to the extent that historian Maurice Rajsfus writes: "The quick opening of new camps created jobs, and the Gendarmerie never ceased to hire during this period."[1] In any case, most of these camps were closed definitively after the liberation of France at the end of World War II. Some were however used during the Algerian War (1954–1962). Several of these were then used to intern harkis (Algerians who had fought on the French side) after the 19 March 1962 Évian Accords. Finally, the Camp de Rivesaltes in the Pyrénées-Orientales and the camp of Bourg-Lastic in the Puy de Dôme were also used to intern Kurdish refugees from Iraq in the 1980s.

World War I and later

The first internment camps were opened during the First World War (1914–1918) to detain civilian prisoners (mainly German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman). These prisoners were detained in Pontmain in the department of Mayenne, Fort-Barreaux in Isère,[2] in the military camp of Graveson (Bouches-du-Rhône),[3] in Frigolet[1] near Tarascon (Bouches-du-Rhône), Noirlac (Abbey) (Cher), and Ajain(Creuse).[3]

Other internment camps were used for Armenians in the 1920s-1930s (Mirabeau camp, Victor Hugo camp and Oddo Camp in Marseille);[4] Gypsies after the 1912 Act on nomadism[5] (for instance in the Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans, but also in iron mines in the Manche and other disaffected industrial centers in Mayenne, in the Manche, in Loire-Atlantique, in the Sarthe, in the Maine-et-Loire, etc.[2]).

Spanish Civil War

Commemorative stele for survivors of the retirada at Camp de Rivesaltes.

The most infamous internment camps before World War II were used to intern the Spanish Republican refugees and military personnel during the Spanish Civil War.[6] These were interned mostly in camps in the Roussillon Province, such as the Camp de concentration d'Argelès-sur-Mer although internment camps for defeated Spanish Republicans were established in all of French territory, even in Brittany, in the north-west of France.[7] These camps were located in:

To these camps must be added the camps for the German prisoners in 1939 (sometimes overlapping with those above), and those of the Colonial Empire, not well known in Europe.

Furthermore, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who had been named Consul in Paris for Immigration, organized the transportation to Chile of 2,200 Spanish refugees who had been detained in the camps on board the Winnipeg, which departed on 2 August 1939, and arrived in Valparaíso at the beginning of September 1939.

During World War II and the Vichy regime

Further information: Vichy France
File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B10813, Frankreich, Paris, Festnahme von Juden.jpg
Arrest of a Jewish man by the French police in Paris, during the roundup of 20 August 1941
The internment camp at Drancy, outside Paris, where Jews were confined until they were deported to the death camps.

As early as 1939, the existing camps were indiscriminately filled with German anti-Nazis (Communists, German Jews, etc.) or pro-Nazi Germans or also Nazi prisoners of war[citation needed]. Following the 1940 defeat, and the 10 July 1940 vote of full powers installing the Vichy regime, these camps were filled with Jews, first with foreign Jews, then indifferently with foreign and French Jews. The Vichy government would progressively hand them up to the Gestapo, and they would all transit by Drancy internment camp, the last stop before concentration camps in the Third Reich and in Eastern Europe and the extermination camps.

Beside Jews, Germans and Austrians were immediately rounded-up in camps, as well as Spanish refugees, who were later deported. 5,000 Spaniards thus died in Mauthausen concentration camp.[10] The French colonial soldiers were interned by the Germans on French territory, instead of being deported.[10]

The Third Republic and the Vichy regime would successively call these places "reception camps" ("camps d'accueil"), "internment camps" ("camps d'internement"), "sojourn camps" ("camps de séjour"), "guarded sojourn camps" ("camps de séjour surveillés"), "prisoner camps" ("camps de prisonniers"), etc. Another category was created by the Vichy regime: the "transit camps" ("camps de transit"), referring to the fact the detainees were to be deported to Germany. Such "transit camps" included Drancy, Pithiviers, etc.

During the 1943 "Battle of Marseille" and urban scaping operations in the center of town, 20,000 people were expelled from their homes and interned during several months in military camps nearby Fréjus (La Lègue, Caïs and Puget).[11]

There were no extermination camps in France. However, the camp of Struthof, or Natzweiler-Struthof, in Alsace, which is the only concentration camp created by Nazis on French territory (annexed by the Third Reich) did include a gas chamber which was used to exterminate at least 86 detainees (mostly Jewish) with the aim of constituting a collection of preserved skeletons (as this mode of execution did no damage to the skeletons themselves) for the use of Nazi professor August Hirt.

World War II camps

Camps under foreign authorities

The Nazis also opened Struthof in Alsace (in the part annexed by the Reich).

The United States military police also possessed legal authority over the camp in Septèmes-les-Vallons, in the Bouches-du-Rhône.[22]


Further information: Ilag

Ilag (for Internierunslager) were internment camps established by the German Army to hold Allied civilians, captured in areas that were occupied by the Germans. They included US citizens caught in Europe by surprise when the war was declared in December 1941 and citizens of the British Commonwealth caught in areas engulfed by the Blitzkrieg.

  • Besançon in the Doubs (in the Vauban barracks). Also called Frontstalag 142, it was actually an Ilag (Internierunslager): internment camps established by the German Army to hold Allied civilians, caught in areas that were occupied by the Germans. They included United States citizens caught in Europe by surprise when the war was declared in December 1941 and citizens of the British Commonwealth trapped in the 1940 Blitzkrieg.

At the end of 1940, 2,400 women, mostly British, were interned in the Vauban barracks and another five hundred, old and sick, in the St. Jacques hospital close by. In early 1941, many of them were released, the rest were transferred to Vittel.

  • Saint-Denis, near Paris. Located in the barracks, the camp was opened in June 1940 and remained in use until liberated by the United States Army in August 1944. Part of the grounds were surrounded by barbed wire to provide open space for exercise. In early 1942, there were more than 1,000 male British internees in the camp. The meager food rations were augmented by the International Red Cross packages, so that overall their diet was satisfactory. Life was tolerable because there was a good library and recreation was provided by sports activities and theater[23]
  • Vittel, Frontstalag 121 was located in requisitioned hotels in this spa near Epinal in the Vosges department. Most of the British families and single women were transferred here from Saint-Denis and Besançon. In early 1942, women over sixty, men over seventy-five and children under sixteen were released. The overall population was thus reduced to about 2,400. The inmates included a number of North-American families and women.

Colonial administration

Although not architecturally conceived as an internment camp, the Vel' d'Hiv (Winter Velodrome) was used during the July 1942 Roundup. Most internment camps, however, were not conceived as such.[24] The Vel d'Hiv was also used during the Algerian War (see below).

In the colonial empire, Vichy created in Algeria and in Morocco labour camps ("camps de travail") for Jews in:[25]

The Liberation

German prisoners of war

Camps were also used after the Liberation to intern German prisoners. In Rennes, after General Patton's United States Third Army liberated the city on 4 August 1944, about 50,000 German prisoners were kept in four camps in a city of 100,000 inhabitants at the time.

In the Camp de Rivesaltes, the German prisoners worked extensively in the reconstruction of Pyrénées-Orientales, but between May 1945 and 1946, 412 German prisoners of war died in the camp[citation needed].

After World War II

Indochina war

Internment camps were used to receive French from Indochina following the end of the Indochina War in 1954,[26] as well as approximatively 9,000 Hungarian refugees following the Budapest insurrection of 1956 (in Annecy, ColmarCaserne Valter—, in Gap, in Le Havre, in MetzCaserne Raffenel, in Montdauphin, in MontluçonCaserne de Richemond—, in Nancy (camp de Chatelleraud), in Poitiers, in Rennes, in Rouen, in Strasbourgcaserne Stirn—and in Valdahon).[26] Humanitarian concerns largely intertwined with repressive aims, and internment restrictions and assistance given to populations varied widely (Hungarian refugees were better treated than French from Indochina[26]).

Algerian war

Internment was also put to use during the Algerian War (1954–1962), generally under the name of "camps de regroupement" ("regrouping camps"). Within Algeria, the colonial administration used a form of camps as a counter-insurgency tactic, with up to 2 millions civilians being internally deported in villages de regroupement[27]) to prevent their falling under the influence of the opposing FLN forces. were brought to French metropolitan territory.

In France, some camps used under Vichy were opened again, in Paris in particular, to hold suspected FLN and other Algerian independentists.

The Harkis

Internment camps were also used to intern the harkis (Algerians who fought on the French Army's side) after the 19 March 1962 Évian Accords which put an official end to the war. Finally, the Camp de Rivesaltes in the Pyrénées-Orientales, and Bourg-Lastic in the Puy de Dôme, used to intern Jews, were also used to intern harkis in the 1960s, and Kurdish refugees from Iraq in the 1980s.

See also


  1. ^ Maurice Rajsfus, Drancy, un camp de concentration très ordinaire, Cherche Midi éditeur (2005).
  2. ^ a b Bernardot, Marc (2008). Camps d'étrangers (in français). Paris: Terra. pp. 145–146. ISBN 9782914968409. 
  3. ^ a b Bernardot, Marc (2008). Camps d'étrangers (in français). Paris: Terra. pp. 142–143. ISBN 9782914968409. 
  4. ^ Bernardot, Marc (2008). Camps d'étrangers (in français). Paris: Terra. p. 130. ISBN 9782914968409. 
  5. ^ Bernardot, Marc (2008). Camps d'étrangers (in français). Paris: Terra. p. 132. ISBN 9782914968409. 
  6. ^ Hugh Thomas, (1976). Historia de la Guerra Civil Española. Barcelona: Círculo de Lectores. ISBN 84-226-0873-1; p. 943
  7. ^ Corazón Helado de 1939 - Los exilios republicanos
  8. ^ Moisdon-la-Rivière - Les Espagnols Internés à Moisdon-la-Rivière and Le Camp de La Forge in Moisdon-la-Rivière
  9. ^ Camp de Rivesaltes
  10. ^ a b Film documentary on the website of the Cité nationale de l'histoire de l'immigration Invalid language code.
  11. ^ Bernardot, Marc (2008). Camps d'étrangers (in français). Paris: Terra. p. 129. ISBN 9782914968409. 
  12. ^ Aincourt, camp d’internement et centre de tri
  13. ^ Saline royale d'Arc et Senans (25) - L'internement des Tsiganes
  14. ^ Camp de Chateaubriant
  15. ^ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Drancy" article for the Holocaust Encyclopedia (accessed July 5, 2009).
  16. ^ Le Centre de séjour surveillé de Fort-Barraux
  17. ^ Listes des internés du camp des Milles 1941
  18. ^ a b Liste des internés transférés à Drancy
  19. ^ site de Mémoire et espoir de la Résistance
  20. ^ Liste des internés transférés à Gurs
  21. ^ Saint-Sulpice-la-Pointe Camp (note confusion about dates concerning the Phony War)
  22. ^ Bernardot, Marc (2008). Camps d'étrangers (in français). Paris: Terra. p. 53. ISBN 9782914968409. 
  23. ^ New Zealand report p.146
  24. ^ Bernardot, Marc (2008). Camps d'étrangers (in français). Paris: Terra. ISBN 9782914968409. 
  25. ^ Satloff, Robert (2006). Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands. New York: Public Affairs. p. 67. ISBN 1586483994. 
  26. ^ a b c Bernardot, Marc (2008). Camps d'étrangers (in français). Paris: Terra. pp. 125–126. ISBN 9782914968409. 
  27. ^ Bernardot, Marc (2008). Camps d'étrangers (in français). Paris: Terra. p. 127. ISBN 9782914968409. 


  • La SNCF sous l'Occupation allemande. Institut du temps présent, CNRS. 1996. 
  • Rajsfus, Maurice (2005). Drancy, un camp de concentration très ordinaire, 1941–1944. Le Cherche-midi éditeur. ISBN 2-86274-435-2. 
  • Steinbeck, Madeleine (January–March 1990). "Les camps de Besançon et de Vittel". Le Monde Juif 137. 
  • Fontaine, Thomas (2005). Les oubliés de Romainville. Un camp allemand en France (1940–1944). Paris: Taillandier. ISBN 2847342176. 
  • Peter Gaida, Camps de travail sous Vichy, Lulu Press 2014

External links