This website was last updated on December 23rd 2016. Although I have tried hard to ensure that all facts are correct, any mistakes or omissions are my own responsibility. Please let me know if you spot anything!
Internment camps of South West France 1939-1944
An opportunity to share knowledge and unlock the past.
A bit more about this website and what it aims to do.
I had a holiday home in the south west of France for fifteen years before I discovered that back in the 1940’s, that beautiful and tranquil area had once been the site of several internment camps where Spanish and Jewish families were held against their will in appalling conditions. I read “Love and War in the Pyrenees” by Rosemary Bailey, and this lead me to write a review of this and another book that I had read on the subject, and to publish them on a Quaker blog. I believed it would be of interest to the Quakers of that area (who are very few) and thought little more about it.
However, quite soon I started to get emails from various people who had read my articles, and were seeking further information. Some were researchers writing books on aspects of the subject, but most were friends or relatives of folk who had been interned in the camps themselves. Most surprisingly of all, one was from a survivor of the camp of Rivesaltes. He was interned there with his brother and his parents, but as he was only three years old, he knew nothing about the circumstances of his rescue.
Together we undertook the task of uncovering the truth behind his survival. In this, I was greatly helped by the archivist of the American Friends Service Committee who gave me access to their vast collection of records. Eventually, we were able to identify MARY ELMES, the Irish head of the Perpignan office of the AFSC as the person responsible for removing this baby and his brother from the camp.
This year, as a result of this evidence, Mary Elmes has been declared “Righteous among the Nations” by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Who else did Mary rescue? We don’t know, but there must have been more, probably many more. It occurred to me that if people had managed to find their way to me through a fairly obscure Quaker blog that was not particularly designed for that purpose, perhaps a website specifically designed for the job might prove to be a fruitful site for researchers and the families of survivors alike. Indeed, there may well be survivors themselves who would wish to contribute their story or to learn more about the circumstances of their rescue which they have never known themselves.
Is it likely that there would still be survivors from those desperate times? Well, I was born in 1933. If I had been Spanish, I could have been a 6 year old in the Argeles camp, and I’m still alive! And if I had been Jewish, I would have been 9 years old in 1942 when the deportation trains ran week after week from the camp of Rivesaltes. And as I say, I’m still alive!
So whatever your interest, please read these pages, take a look at my novel (See you soon Caroline!) And ask questions or contribute knowledge on the forum page.
You can click below to go to a page about Mary Elmes, to see the novel or to contribute to the forum. I look forward to hearing from you! Bernard Wilson