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There have been internment camps and concentration camps in France before, during and after World War II. Beside the camps created during World War I to intern Germanmarker, Austrianmarker and Ottoman civilian prisoners, the Third Republic (1871-1940) opened various internment camps for the Spanish refugee fleeing the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Following the prohibition of the French Communist Party (PCF) by the government of Edouard Daladier, they were used to detain communist political prisoners. The Third Republic also interned German anti-Nazis (mostly members of the German Communist Party, KPD). Then, after the July 10, 1940 vote of the full powers to Marshal Philippe Pétain and the proclamation of the "state of France" ("l'Etat français", aka "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 may write: "The quick opening of new camps was creative of employments, and the Gendarmerie never ceased to hire during this period." Years before Rajsfus, Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) that the problem of refugees was the 20th century's most important problem. In any cases, most of these camps were closed after the Liberation, although such was not the case for all of them. Some remained in activity, and were used during the Algerian War (1954-62), in particular several in Paris, before and after the 1961 Paris massacre, and also to intern harkis (Algerians who had fought on the French side) after the March 19, 1962 Evian agreements. Finally, the Camp de Rivesaltes and the camp of Bourg-Lasticmarker in the Puy de Dômemarker, which was used during Vichy to intern Jews (among them, André Glucksmann) was also used to intern Harkis in the 1960s, and Kurdishmarker refugees from Iraq in the 1980s.

Before World War II

The first internment camps were opened during the First World War (1914-18), and were used to detain civilian prisoners (mainly German, Austrian and Ottomans). These prisoners were detained in Pontmainmarker in the department of Mayennemarker, Fort-Barreaux in Isèremarker , in the military camp of Gravesonmarker (Bouches-du-Rhônemarker) , in Frigolet, Cher (Noireac) and Ajainmarker (Creusemarker) .

Other internment camps were used for Armenians in the 1920s-1930s (Mirabeau camp, Victor Hugo camp and Oddo Camp in Marseillemarker,) ; Gypsies after the 1912 Act on nomadism (for instance in the Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senansmarker, but also in iron mines in the Manche and other disaffected industrial centers in Mayennemarker, in the Manchemarker, in Loire-Atlantiquemarker, in the Sarthe, in the Maine-et-Loiremarker, etc. ).
But the most famous internment camps before World War II were used to receive the Republican refugee during the Spanish Civil War. These were interned mostly in the Roussillon Province, although concentration camps were dispatched on all of the French territory, even in Brittany, in the north-west of France. These camps were located in:

To these camps must be added the camps for the German prisoners in 1939 (sometimes overlapping with the precedents), 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 travel to Chile of 2,200 Spanish refugees, who had been detained in the camps, on board of the Winnipeg, which took off on August 2, 1939, and arrived at the beginning of September 1939 in Valparaisomarker.

During World War II and the Vichy regime

As soon 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. Following the 1940 defeat, and the July 10, 1940 vote of full powers to Marshal Philippe Pétain, who abolished the Republic on the following day and proclaimed the regime of the "French state" (aka Vichy regime), these camps would be filled with Jews, first with foreign Jews, then indifferently with foreign and French Jews. The Vichy government would progressively hand them up to the Gestapomarker, and they would all transit by Drancy internment campmarker, 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 campmarker . The French colonial soldiers were interned by the Germans on French territory, instead of being deported .

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 invented by Pétain's regime: the "transit camps" ("camps de transit"), referring by that the detainees were to be deported to Germany. Such "transit camps" include Drancymarker, Pithiviersmarker, 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 Fréjusmarker (La Lègue, Caïs and Pugetmarker) .

There were no extermination camps in France. However, the camp of Struthofmarker, or Natzweiler-Struthofmarker, in Alsacemarker, which is the only concentration camp created by Nazis on French territory (annexed by the Third Reich) did include a gas chamber and an oven used do burn remains for making hot water for the officers quarters which was use to exterminate at least 86 detainees (mostly Jewish) in 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.

Non-exhaustive list of 49 World War II camps

Camps under foreign authorities

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

The United States military police also possessed legal authority over the camp in Septèmes-les-Vallonsmarker, in the Bouches-du-Rhônemarker .


Ilag (for Internierunslager) were 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 war was declared in December 1941 and citizens of the British Commonwealth caught in areas engulfed by the Blitzkrieg.

  • Besançonmarker 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 US citizens caught in Europe by surprise when war was declared in December 1941 and citizens of the British Commonwealth caught in areas engulfed by the Blitzkrieg. At the end of 1940, 2,400 women, mostly British, were interned in the Vauban barracks and another 500 old and sick in the St. Jacques hospital close by. In early 1941 many of them were released, the rest were transferred to Vittelmarker.
  • Saint-Denis, near Paris. Located in the barracks, the camp was opened June 1940 and existed 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
  • Vittelmarker. Aka Frontstalag 121, located in requisitioned hotels in this spa near Epinalmarker in the Department Vosgesmarker. Most of the British families and single women were transferred here from St.Denis and Besançon. In early 1942 women over 60, men over 75 and children under 16 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 Winter Velodromemarker was used during the July 1942 Vel'd'hiv raid. Most internment camps, however, were not conceived as such . The Winter Velodrome was also used during the Algerian War (see below).

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

The Liberation

german prisoners of war

Camps were also used during the Liberation to intern German prisoners. In Rennesmarker, after Patton's army freed the city on August 4, 1944, about 50,000 German prisoners had to be kept in 4 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.

After World War II

Indochina war

Internment camps were used to receive French from Indochina following the end of the Indochina War in 1954 , as well as to receive approximatively 9,000 Hungarianmarker refugee following the Budapest insurrection of 1956 (in Annecymarker, Colmarmarker - Caserne Valter -, in Gapmarker, in Le Havremarker, in Metzmarker - Caserne Raffenel, in Montdauphin, in Montluçonmarker - Caserne de Richemond -, in Nancymarker (camp de Chatelleraud), in Poitiersmarker, in Rennesmarker, in Rouenmarker, in Strasbourgmarker - caserne Stirn - and in Valdahon) . 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 ).

Algerian war

Internment was also put to use during the Algerian War (1954-62), generally under the name of "camps de regroupement" ("grouping camps"). Methods used by the colonial administration and as counter-insurgency tactics (such as the villages de regroupement, during which 2 millions civils were deported in Algeria ) were imported to French metropolitan territory.

Furthermore, camps used under Vichy were opened again, in Paris, in particular before and after the 1961 Paris massacre. Among other places, the Winter Velodromemarker was used by the Prefecture of policemarker, directed by Maurice Papon (who died in 2007, after having served three years of prison for crimes against humanity) to intern Algerians (then "French citizens", although their status was restricted) during the 1961 Paris massacre.

The Harkis

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

See also


  1. Maurice Rajsfus, Drancy, un camp de concentration très ordinaire, Cherche Midi éditeur (2005).
  2. Marc Bernardot, Camps d'étrangers, Terra, Paris, 2008, p.145-146
  3. M. Bernardot, Camps d'étrangers, Terra, Paris, 2008, p.142-143
  4. M. Bernardot, Camps d'étrangers, Terra, 2008, p.130
  5. M. Bernardot, Camps d'étrangers, Terra, 2008, p.132
  6. Moisdon-la-Rivière - Les Espagnols Internés à Moisdon-la-Rivière and Le Camp de La Forge in Moisdon-la-Rivière
  7. Camp de Rivesaltes
  8. Film documentary on the website of the Cité nationale de l'histoire de l'immigration
  9. Marc Bernardot, Camps d'étranger, Paris, Terra, 2008, p.129
  10. Aincourt, camp d’internement et centre de tri
  11. Saline royale d'Arc et Senans (25) - L'internement des Tsiganes
  12. Camp de Chateaubriant
  13. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Drancy" article for the Holocaust Encyclopedia. (accessed July 5, 2009).
  14. Le Centre de séjour surveillé de Fort-Barraux
  15. Listes des internés du camp des Milles 1941
  16. Liste des internés transférés à Drancy
  17. Liste des internés transférés à DSrancy
  18. site de Mémoire et espoir de la Résistance
  19. Liste des internés transférés à Gurs
  20. Saint-Sulpice-la-Pointe Camp (note confusion about dates concerning the Phony War)
  21. Marc Bernadot, Camps d'étranger, Paris, Terra, 2008, p.53
  22. New Zealand report p.146
  23. Marc Bernardot, Camps d'étranger, Paris, Terra, 2008
  24. Marc Bernardot, Camps d'étranger, Paris, Terra, 2008, p.125-126
  25. Marc Bernardot, Camps d'étrangers, Paris, Terra, p.127


  • La SNCF sous l'Occupation allemande, Institut du temps présent, CNRS, 1996
  • Maurice Rajsfus, Drancymarker, un camp de concentration très ordinaire, 1941-1944, Le Cherche-midi éditeur, 2005, ISBN 2862744352
  • Madeleine Steinberg, « Les camps de Besançonmarker et de Vittelmarker », dans Le Monde Juif, n°137, janvier-mars 1990
  • Thomas Fontaine, Les oubliés de Romainville. Un camp allemand en France (1940-1944), Taillandier, 2005

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