As defined in Les lieux de mémoire (Places of memory), a collective work in three volumes edited by Pierre Nora between 1984 and 1992, a “place of memory” combines historical concepts and physical manifestations: a monument, a place or a symbol, concrete or ideal, which participates in the constitution of collective identity. Some of them reflect significant events of the past, often occurring in a dramatic context, of which the community wanted to preserve the memory.
The memory of the internment and deportation of Jews in France, which led 76,000 of them to their death, is preserved through several memorial sites in France.
67,000 Jews passed through the Drancy camp, a hub that sent them on to the extermination camps. 70,000 others were interned in camps in the provinces. Some of these camps disappeared from the landscape in the years following World War II, and sometimes much later (the camp of La Lande, for example, was razed in 1970). However, others have been restored to be transformed into places of memory.
Following are the principal sites.
The Shoah Memorial (PARIS)
The Shoah Memorial opened on 27 January 2005 on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and for the Prevention of Crimes against Humanity. The Memorial combines a museum and a documentation centre with spaces for exhibitions, pedagogy and training. Its archives hold a collection of more than 40 million documents, one of the largest in Europe.
The Shoah Memorial (Drancy, SEINE SAINT DENIS)
©Bertrand Guay AFP
The Drancy camp was the place of internment for 80,000 people between 20 August 1941 and 22 August 1944, and the starting point for 63 convoys to foreign extermination camps. The roundups on 16 and 17 July 1942, in particular, sent 5,000 internees to the camp. In total, 63,000 prisoners were deported, as well as 13,000 people interned in other camps (Compiègne, Pithiviers, Beaune-la-Rolande, etc.) The Memorial was inaugurated by Mr François Hollande, President of the Republic, on 21 September 2012. The five-storey building includes a conference room, classrooms and a documentation centre. A permanent exhibition traces the history and operation of the camp as well as the daily lives of the internees.
The Memorial of the Deportation (Paris)
Located in the fourth arrondissement of Paris, this monument was erected in memory of all those deported from France between 1941 and 1944. Designed by architect Georges-Henri Pingusson, the Memorial was inaugurated 12 April 1962 by General Charles de Gaulle, President of the Republic.
The Memorial of Vernet-d’Ariège Internment Camp (Le Vernet, southwest France)
Covering 50 hectares, the Le Vernet camp was built in 1918 to accommodate colonial troops. In 1939, it was used for the internment of 10,000 soldiers from the Spanish Republican army. “Undesirables” were subsequently incarcerated there, such as political opponents of the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini and Petain, exiled White Russians and members of the Resistance. From 1942, the Le Vernet camp also served as a transit camp for Jews rounded up in the Ariège and Gers départements in southwest France, before their deportation. From 1939 to 1944, nearly 40,000 people were imprisoned there. 4,679 of them were deported in 26 convoys.
Camp des Milles Memorial Site (Les Milles, southern France)
Built in 1882, this former roof tile works, covering 25 hectares, was used as an internment camp for nearly 10,000 people during World War II, including 1,928 Jews who were deported and exterminated at Auschwitz in August and September 1942.
The Camp des Milles Memorial Site was inaugurated 10 September 2012 by Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault, Prime Minister. On the site of the former camp, it serves as both history museum and memorial site, while fulfilling its missions to inform, document, research and debate.
The Museum of Memory (Portet-sur-Garonne, southwest France)
Built in 1939, the 87 brick barracks in the Récébédou neighbourhood, originally housed families of workers from the national gunpowder works in Toulouse. In June 1940, it became lodging for Spanish Republican refugees from the Spanish civil war, and then for French and Belgian refugees fleeing the advancing German troops. Foreign Jews were interned there starting in October 1940. In the summer of 1942, three convoys with 749 internees left the Portet-Saint-Simon train station for the extermination camps. The camp’s activity ceased at the end of September 1942 following the intervention of the Archbishop of Toulouse. The last internees, including 425 Jews, were transferred to the Noé camp, nearby.
The memorial site, located in a former building of the Récébédou camp, was inaugurated in 2003. Its museum houses a permanent exhibition, a scale model of the camp and temporary exhibitions. It also allows on-site consultation of books about the internment camps.
Internment and Deportation Memorial of Compiègne - Royallieu camp (Compiègne, north of Paris)
©Philippe Huguen AFP
The Royallieu camp, built on the site of a former military barracks, was placed under German administration in 1941. It consisted of four sub-camps, one of which was dedicated to Jews. On 27 March 1942, the first convoy of deportees leaving France for Auschwitz was from Compiègne. A total of 54,000 people were interned there from June 1941 to August 1944. 50,000 of them were deported and exterminated.
The memorial was inaugurated on 23 February 2008. Three of the former camp buildings have been preserved and can be visited. Additionally, ten exhibition rooms trace the history of the camp during World War II. The site also includes a documentation centre and a scientific space that houses multiple archives.
Gurs internment camp (Gurs, southwest France)
©Gaizka Iroz AFP
A refuge for Spanish Republicans in 1939, the camp became an internment camp for political opponents in May 1940 and, in October of the same year, for French and foreign Jews. Covering 80 hectares and surrounded by 250 kilometres of barbed wire, the Gurs camp was one of the largest in France. Nearly 20,000 internees, predominantly German Jews, were crammed into wooden barracks before being deported. Between August 1942 and March 1943, six convoys transported several thousand prisoners to Auschwitz.
A national memorial was inaugurated there in 1994.
The Camp de Rivesaltes Memorial (Rivesaltes, southwest France)
©Frederic Hedelin Only France
Built in 1938, the Rivesaltes military camp, covering 600 hectares, held Spanish Republicans, Jews, gypsies and political opponents. 21,000 people were imprisoned there between 1941 and 1942. Nine convoys left Rivesaltes between August and November 1942, sending 2,300 Jews to extermination camps.
Erected on the grounds of one sector of the camp, the Camp de Rivesaltes Memorial opened in June 2015. Covering 4,000 square metres, it includes temporary and permanent exhibition spaces, an auditorium and several documentation centres.
The Departmental Archives of the Pyrénées Orientales have made the resources concerning internees accessible
Montluc Prison National Memorial (Lyon, eastern France)
©Philippe Merle AFP
Built in the 1920s, the Montluc prison was used during the war to hold political opponents, members of the Resistance and Jewish victims of anti-Semitic legislation.
Mr François Fillon, Prime Minister, inaugurated the Memorial in 2010.
For more information (downloadable PDF brochure)
Site of the Former Natzweiler-Struthof Camp (Natzweiler, eastern France)
Between 1941 and 1945, 52,000 people of thirty different nationalities were deported to KL-Natzweiler. Internees worked at road construction and operation of a quarry near the camp. From 1942, some prisoners were used as guinea pigs for pseudo-scientific experiments. In August 1943, 86 Jews were exterminated in an experimental gas chamber set up in an old inn. A total of 22,000 prisoners died in the camp or during death marches.
The National Deportation Memorial, a 41 metre high monument designed by architect Bertrand Monnet, was erected in 1960 on the grounds of the former camp.
The Thil work camp, about 200 km to the north, was an annex of Struthof from May to September 1944. Located near a mine, it was concerned with the manufacture of military equipment. Several thousand forced labourers were interned there; 900 of them were deported abroad.
Just after the war, a memorial crypt was built on the site, commemorating, in particular, the existence of a crematorium.
MAISON D’IZIEU, MEMORIAL TO EXTERMINATED JEWISH CHILDREN (AIN)
© Studio Erick Saillet
With the agreement of the deputy prefect, Pierre-Marcel Wiltzer, and in partnership with the Society for the Health of the Jewish Population (today Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants/OSE), in May 1943 Sabine and Miron Zlatin opened a safe house for children in Izieu, a village in the Italian-occupied zone. More than a hundred children and some adults were thus provided with protective shelter from anti-Semitic persecution. On 6 April 1944, 44 children and 7 adult supervisors were arrested (by the Gestapo, on the orders of Klaus Barbie and soldiers of the Wehrmacht) and then deported. Only one of the supervisors would survive the ordeal.
- The Memorial to exterminated Jewish children, or Maison d’Izieu Memorial, keeps the memory of those Jewish children and adults who had sought refuge here alive. The site is symbolic for several reasons: marking the spot where the children of Izieu were arrested, it now houses a memorial dedicated to their memory and a museum going back over the historical context and explaining the concept of “crime against humanity”.
- The house that harboured the Izieu colony was built in the 19th century in the hamlet of Lélinaz, below the village of Izieu.
On the secluded site you will find the house, with a long adjoining terrace, as well as two farm buildings: the barn and magnanery, or silkworm farm, where the permanent exhibition is on display. The educational rooms and resource and archive centre are located in a new building.
The Memorial was officially opened on 24 April 1994 by the President of the Republic of the time, François Mitterand.
Along with the Vélodrome d’hiver indoor cycling track and the Gurs camp, the Maison des enfants d’Izieu is the third national site in memory of the victims of racist and anti-Semitic persecution and crimes against humanity, committed with the complicity of the Vichy government, and recognised by the President of the Republic’s decree of 3 February 1993.
For more information on places of memory associated with the internment and deportation of Jews from France between 1941 and 1944: