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Internment camps of South West France 1939-1944

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Wikipedia has very little to say about this camp. All the internment camps in South West France were terrible in their own way, and it’s difficult to say which was worst. But Le Vernet must surely have that doubtful honour. Most other camps tried to pass themselves off as “herbergement”, that is “accommodation”. “Internment” would be a better word. But Le Vernet was unashamedly “repressive”. It was where you were sent if you “misbehaved” in any of the other camps. And it was the camp to which you would be sent if you were considered to be a threat to the state, and under the Vichy administration, that could be virtually anybody. Arthur Koestler  described the condition of the inmates of this camp as being treated like “The Scum of the Earth”. The camp dates back to 1918, but it was only in 1939 that it began its infamous role as a concentration camp. The first arrivals were Spanish Republican soldiers, soon to be followed by the “undesirables”. Koestler paints a vivid picture of the terrible conditions in the camp and the cruelty of the camp guards. This is what sets it apart. There was terrible suffering in all the camps caused by lack of the necessities of decent living. But at Le Vernet, it was the sadistic treatment by the guards that caused the misery.

Every inmate was photographed twice, full face and profile. All these photos have survived and can be seen in the excellent small museum in the village of Le Vernet. Also to be seen is a typical cattle truck standing by the railway station, in trucks like this one thousands of prisoners were sent to the death camps in Poland.

There is an excellent website managed by the Friends of Le Vernet. You can visit the site by clicking here.

Forty thousand people, mostly men, from fifty eight different countries were imprisoned here during the war. There is nothing left today of the camp except the cemetery and a memorial garden.