Internment camps in France

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German soldiers posting notices for refugees and prisoners of war in France, May 1940

Numerous internment camps and concentration camps were located in France before, during and after World War II. Beside the camps created during World War I to intern German, Austrian and Ottoman civilian prisoners, the Third Republic (1871–1940) opened various internment camps for the Spanish refugees fleeing the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). Following the prohibition of the French Communist Party (PCF) by the government of Édouard Daladier, they were used to detain communist political prisoners. The Third Republic also interned German anti-Nazis (mostly members of the Communist Party of Germany, KPD).

Then, after the 10 July 1940 vote of full powers to Marshal Philippe Pétain and the proclamation of the État français (Vichy regime), these camps were used to intern Jews, 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 writes: "The quick opening of new camps created jobs, and the Gendarmerie never ceased to hire during this period."[1] In any case, most of these camps were closed definitively after the liberation of France at the end of World War II. Some were however used during the Algerian War (1954–1962). Several of these were then used to intern harkis (Algerians who had fought on the French side) after the 19 March 1962 Évian Accords. Finally, the Camp de Rivesaltes in the Pyrénées-Orientales and the camp of Bourg-Lastic in the Puy de Dôme were also used to intern Kurdish refugees from Iraq in the 1980s.

Nineteenth century onward[edit]

First World War and later[edit]

Gypsies at the Crest concentration camp, 1916

The first internment camps were opened during the First World War (1914–1918) to detain civilian prisoners (mainly German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman). These prisoners were detained in Pontmain in the department of Mayenne, Fort-Barreaux in Isère,[2]: 145–146  in the military camp of Graveson (Bouches-du-Rhône),[2]: 142–143  in Frigolet[1] near Tarascon (Bouches-du-Rhône), Noirlac (Abbey) (Cher), and Ajain(Creuse).[2]: 142–143 

Other internment camps were used for Armenians in the 1920s-1930s (Mirabeau camp, Victor Hugo camp and Oddo Camp in Marseille);[2]: 130  Gypsies after the 1912 Act on nomadism[2]: 132  (for instance in the Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans, but also in iron mines in the Manche and other disaffected industrial centers in Mayenne, in the Manche, in Loire-Atlantique, in the Sarthe, in the Maine-et-Loire, etc.[2]: 45 ).

Spanish Civil War[edit]

Commemorative stele for survivors of the retirada at Camp de Rivesaltes.

The most infamous internment camps before World War II were used to intern the Spanish Republican refugees and military personnel during the Spanish Civil War.[3] In 2 weeks in January and February 1939 around 500,000 men, women and children crossed the border.[4] These were interned mostly in camps in the Roussillon Province, such as the Camp de concentration d'Argelès-sur-Mer although internment camps for defeated Spanish Republicans were established in all of French territory, even in Brittany, in the north-west of France.[5] These camps were located in:

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

After 1940 when the Nazi Germany divided France in occupied and free zone, the camps were also used to imprison Jews, Gypsies, and sometimes gays, and the original prisoners were used as forced labor to make the camps larger.[4]

During World War II and the Vichy regime[edit]

French Milice guard watching resistants
Arrest of Jews in France, August 1941
Arrest of Jews in France, August 1941
Arrest of a Jewish man by the French police in Paris, during the roundup of 20 August 1941
Arrest of Jews by the French police in Paris, August 1941
Jewish prisoners in France, August 1941
Jewish prisoners in France, August 1941
Jewish prisoners in France, August 1941
French Police checking new inmates in the camp Pithiviers
Jewish prisoners in France, August 1941
Alleged Communist Resistance prisoner in France, July 1944

As early as 1939, the existing camps were indiscriminately filled with German anti-Nazis (Communists, German Jews, etc. Following the 1940 defeat, and the 10 July 1940 vote of full powers installing the Vichy regime, these camps were filled with Jews, first with foreign Jews, then indifferently with foreign and French Jews. The Vichy government would progressively hand them up to the Gestapo, and they would all transit by Drancy internment camp, 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 camp.[8] The French colonial soldiers were interned by the Germans on French territory, instead of being deported.[8]

The Third Republic and the Vichy regime would successively call these places "reception camps" (camps d'accueil), "internment camps" (camps d'internement), séjour camps (camps de séjour), "guarded séjour camps" (camps de séjour surveillés), "prisoner camps" (camps de prisonniers), etc. Another category was created by the Vichy regime: the "transit camps" ("camps de transit"), referring to the fact the detainees were to be deported to Germany.[citation needed] Such "transit camps" included Drancy, Pithiviers, etc. In particular, Pithiviers was used in 1941 for the green ticket roundup, and Drancy in 1942 for the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, before the victims were deported.[9]

During the 1944 Battle of Marseille and urban scaping operations[clarify] in the center of town, 20,000 people were expelled from their homes and interned during several months in military camps nearby Fréjus (La Lègue, Caïs and Puget).[2]: 129 

The camp of Struthof, or Natzweiler-Struthof, in Alsace, one of the concentration camps created by Nazis on annexed French territory, included a gas chamber which was used to kill at least 86 detainees (mostly Jewish) with the aim of forming a collection of preserved skeletons for the use of Nazi professor August Hirt.

Second World War camps[edit]

Camps under foreign authorities[edit]

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

The United States military police also possessed legal authority over the camp in Septèmes-les-Vallons, in the Bouches-du-Rhône.[2]: 53 


Ilag (for Internierunslager) were internment camps established by the German Army to hold Allied civilians, captured in areas that were occupied by the Germans. They included US citizens caught in Europe by surprise when the war was declared in December 1941 and citizens of the British Commonwealth caught in areas engulfed by the Blitzkrieg.

  • Besançon in the Doubs (in the Vauban barracks). Also called Frontstalag 142, it was actually an internment camp. At the end of 1940, 2,400 women, mostly British, were interned in the Vauban barracks and another five hundred, old and sick, in the St. Jacques hospital close by. In early 1941, many of them were released, the rest were transferred to Vittel.
  • Saint-Denis, near Paris. Located in the barracks, the camp was opened in June 1940 and remained in use 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 meagre 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[21]
  • Vittel, Frontstalag 121 was located in requisitioned hotels in this spa near Epinal in the Vosges department. Most of the British families and single women were transferred here from Saint-Denis and Besançon. In early 1942, women over sixty, men over seventy-five and children under sixteen 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[edit]

Although not architecturally conceived as an internment camp, the Vel' d'Hiv (Winter Velodrome) was used during the July 1942 Roundup. Most internment camps, however, were not conceived as such.[2][page needed] The Vel d'Hiv was also used during the Algerian War (see below).

In the colonial empire, Vichy created in Algeria and in Morocco labour camps ("camps de travail") for Jews in:[22]

The liberation[edit]

German prisoners of war[edit]

Camps were also used after the liberation to intern German prisoners. In Rennes, after General Patton's United States Third Army liberated the city on 4 August 1944, about 50,000 German prisoners were kept in four 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, between May 1945 and 1946, 412 German prisoners of war died in the camp.[citation needed]

After World War II[edit]

Indochina War[edit]

Internment camps were used to receive French from Indochina following the end of the Indochina War in 1954,[2]: 125–126  as well as approximatively 9,000 Hungarian refugees following the Budapest insurrection of 1956 (in Annecy, ColmarCaserne Valter—, in Gap, in Le Havre, in MetzCaserne Raffenel, in Montdauphin, in MontluçonCaserne de Richemond—, in Nancy (camp de Chatelleraud), in Poitiers, in Rennes, in Rouen, in Strasbourgcaserne Stirn—and in Valdahon).[2]: 125–126  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[2]: 125–126 ).

Algerian War[edit]

Internment was also put to use during the Algerian War (1954–1962), generally under the name of "camps de regroupement" ("regrouping camps"). Within Algeria, the colonial administration used a form of camps as a counter-insurgency tactic, with up to 2 million civilians being internally deported in villages de regroupement[2]: 127 ) to prevent their falling under the influence of the opposing FLN forces. were brought to French metropolitan territory.

In France, some camps used under Vichy were opened again, in Paris in particular, to hold suspected FLN and other Algerian independentists.

The Harkis[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maurice Rajsfus, Drancy, un camp de concentration très ordinaire, Cherche Midi éditeur (2005).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Bernardot, Marc (2008). Camps d'étrangers (in French). Paris: Terra. ISBN 9782914968409.
  3. ^ Hugh Thomas, (1976). Historia de la Guerra Civil Española. Barcelona: Círculo de Lectores. ISBN 84-226-0873-1; p. 943
  4. ^ a b Franco refugees still haunted by the past: ‘We were cold, hungry and scared’ The Guardian, 2019
  5. ^ "Memoria Republicana - Imágenes - Corazón helado de 1939". Archived from the original on 18 February 2015. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  6. ^ Moisdon-la-Rivière - Les Espagnols Internés à Moisdon-la-Rivière Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine and Le Camp de La Forge in Moisdon-la-Rivière
  7. ^ "Redirection". Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  8. ^ a b Film documentary on the website of the Cité nationale de l'histoire de l'immigration (in French)
  9. ^ Grynberg, Anne (1991). Les camps de la honte: les internés juifs des camps français, 1939-1944 [Camps of shame: Jewish internees in the French camps, 1939-1944]. Textes à l'appui. Paris: La Découverte. p. 135. ISBN 978-2-7071-2030-4. OCLC 878985416., as quoted in Rosenberg, Pnina (10 September 2018). "Yiddish Theatre in the camps of the Occupied Zone". In Dalinger, Brigitte; Zangl, Veronika (eds.). Theater unter NS-Herrschaft: Theatre under Pressure [Theatre under NS rule: Theatre under Pressure]. Theater - Film - Medien (Print) #2. Göttingen: V&R Unipress. p. 297. ISBN 978-3-8470-0642-8. OCLC 1135506612. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  10. ^ Devaux, Fernand. "Aincourt, camp d'internement et centre de tri" [Aincourt, internment and sorting camp]. Al-Oufok (in French). Archived from the original on 14 July 2006.
  11. ^ "Saline royale d'Arc et Senans (25) - L'internement des Tsiganes" (in French). Archived from the original on 21 May 2011. Retrieved 21 February 2007.
  12. ^ Pigne, Manon (20 June 2011). "La Saline Royale d'Arc-et-Senans : un camp d'internement de la Seconde guerre mondiale" [The Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans: a WW II internment camp]. Crimino corpus (in French). CNRS - ministère de la Justice.
  13. ^ "Redirection". Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  14. ^ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Drancy" article for the Holocaust Encyclopedia (accessed 5 July 2009).
  15. ^ "Le Centre de séjour surveillé de Fort-Barraux" (PDF). Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  16. ^ "Listes des internés du camp des Milles 1941". Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  17. ^ a b "Liste des internés transférés à Drancy". Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  18. ^ Off, Lead. "Accueil - Mémoire et Espoirs de la Résistance". Archived from the original on 27 October 2005. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  19. ^ "Liste des internés transférés à Gurs". Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 13 April 2017.
  20. ^ Saint-Sulpice-la-Pointe Camp Archived 18 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine (note confusion about dates concerning the Phony War)
  21. ^ "III: Civilians in Europe | NZETC".
  22. ^ Satloff, Robert (2006). Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands. New York: Public Affairs. p. 67. ISBN 1586483994.


  • La SNCF sous l'Occupation allemande. Institut du temps présent, CNRS. 1996.
  • Rajsfus, Maurice (2005). Drancy, un camp de concentration très ordinaire, 1941–1944. Le Cherche-midi éditeur. ISBN 2-86274-435-2.
  • Steinbeck, Madeleine (January–March 1990). "Les camps de Besançon et de Vittel". Le Monde Juif. 137.
  • Fontaine, Thomas (2005). Les oubliés de Romainville. Un camp allemand en France (1940–1944). Paris: Taillandier. ISBN 2-84734-217-6.
  • Peter Gaida, Camps de travail sous Vichy, Lulu Press 2014

External links[edit]