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Internment camps of South West France 1939-1944

An opportunity to share knowledge and unlock the past.

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Wikipedia has a very good item on this camp. It was built in 42 days during March and April 1939 and contained 382 barracks in 13 “ilots”, each one being a separate enclosed area. By the end of May it was completely full of Spanish Republican soldiers, some 18,000 men. The purpose of the camp was to alleviate the problem of the crowded conditions of Argeles, and was probably not expected to last for long. The numbers in the camp dropped gradually, but after the outbreak of war, they were boosted by the imprisonment of thousands of “undesirables”. Then in October 1940, 18,000 Jewish men, women and children arrived, having been expelled from their homes in the Baden region of Germany. When Rivesaltes was closed in November 1942, most of the internees there also arrived in Gurs. Altogether, 60,000 people had spent time in Gurs, and 1,070 of them are buried there in the cemetery which is maintained to this day by the German province from which many of them had been sent. The conditions in the camp were terrible, the clay soil flooded so badly that some internees drowned when trying to negotiate the conditions.

Aid was provided by the Quaker office in Toulouse, and two of the workers there, Alice Resch and Helga Holbeck received the honour of  “Righteous among the Nations” from Yad Vashem after the war. Alice Resch (later Synnestvedt) took 48 Jewish children from Gurs with their parents’ permission to an orphanage in Aspet. All but one of these survived the war. The stories of a few of these are well known in books that they have written. For example, “Are the Trees in Bloom Over There?” By Frederick Raymes and Menachem Mayer and “Be Happy, Be Free, Dance!” By Richard Weilheimer. Some of the other children must still be alive. This could be an opportunity to get in touch again!

Equally involved in aid to the internees was O.S.E. (A Jewish organisation), the Swiss Red Cross, the YMCA and others.

Their are several websites devoted to this camp. Click here for one example. But the best resource must be that of the “Friends of  the Camp of Gurs” .

The definitive book on the camp is “Le Camp de Gurs” by Claude Laharie. J & D Editions