The Jewish camp of Compiègne-Royallieu, 1941-1943

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    Built in 1913, Royallieu military barracks, which extended over 20 hectares, was transformed into an internment camp for 1944 to 1941 political prisoners Part of the former camp Royallieu (3 buildings on 24) was preserved to become the Memorial internment and deportation.

    About 50 000 people, men, and women (political prisoners, resistance fighters, Jews, foreigners) have passed through this camp and then been deported to Buchenwald, Auschwitz, Neuengamme, Mauthausen, Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Ravensbrück yet. Nearly half did not return.

    The historic route allows, thanks to new audiovisual technologies, to tell the story of the Royallieu camp through sound testimonies, written documents (handwritten letters, administrative documents, photographs), and numerous videos.

    The entire site is a carrier of memory, including the garden, highlighted by the architect Jean-Jacques Raynaud with glass steles and talking chairs that evoke each chapter of the internment Royallieu told by internees themselves from their arrival until their transfer to the Compiègne station, where they were deported to concentration camps and the Nazi extermination. Visitors end their journey with the escape tunnel, discovered in 2007, and the ecumenical chapel for those who wish to collect.

    When, in May 1940, the Germans invaded France, thousands of immigrants who held German citizenship or were of German descent were concentrated in the “Winter Stadium” (Vel’ d’Hiv) in Paris. These immigrants were considered enemy aliens. Among those detained were thousands of Jewish men, as well as Jewish women who had no children. The detainees were deported to the Gurs concentration camp near the French-Spanish border.

    After the anti-Jewish legislation of October 1940, the Vichy regime broadened its actions to arrest and detain Jews in its territory. They were incarcerated in 15 concentration camps which included the camps of Gurs, Le Milles, Rivesaltes, and St. Cyprien. By the beginning of 1941, some 40,000 Jews had already been arrested. In addition to those arrested, some 35,000 Jewish men were conscripted by force into the “Labor Corps”, or Compagnies de Travail. Almost all the foreign Jewish men, more than a third of the population of foreign Jews in France, were either conscripted into the Labor Corps or incarcerated in concentration camps.

    The concentration camps provided only meager nutrition and faulty sanitary facilities. The prisoners had no possibility of appealing their internment or of trying to alleviate their conditions. The food provided was not enough to sustain even a bare minimum of existence. Hundreds of prisoners died due to disease, cold, and starvation; thousands of prisoners reached a state of malnourishment.

    Dozens of Jewish and Christian aid organizations, both French and international, tried to infiltrate the camps in order to aid the prisoners, primarily by supplying them with food and care for the children. These organizations succeeded in smuggling children out of the concentration camps and transferring them to orphanages that were under their control, to Christian foster homes, and abroad.

    During the period of German occupation, 26 concentration camps operated in the Occupied Zone. The central concentration camp in France was Drancy, not far from Paris. Following the German occupation in 1940, Drancy was initially used as a camp for French and British prisoners of war. Beginning in the summer of 1941, when the roundup of Paris Jews began, Drancy was used to imprison Jewish detainees. From March 1942 Drancy became a transit camp for Jews who were being deported to the East.

    In the vicinity of Paris and in Northeastern France there were additional concentration camps run by the Vichy regime. Among these were Pithiviers, Beaune-la-Rolande, Besançon, Compiègne and others. Of the 54,000 Jews who passed through the camp of Compiègne, 50,000 were deported to their extermination. The Jews who had been arrested in the big waves of arrests, in May 1941 and July 1942, were interned in Pithiviers. Just as in the case of Drancy and Compiègne, beginning in July 1942, thousands of Jews were deported from Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande to Auschwitz.

    The concentration camps in France continued operating during the summer of 1944, which marked the height of the battle for Paris and the Allied campaign to liberate France.

    (Yad Vashem)

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