Royallieu-Compiègne Internment Camp


I had intended to write about a different subject altogether before I realised that today is Yom HaShoah – or rather Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah (יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה; ‘Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day’) as it is officially called. To mark this day, I have chosen to write about one of the numerous French internment camps, one that is situated only an hour’s drive from where I live.

The Royallieu-Compiègne camp was an internment and deportation camp in Compiègne, France where French resistance fighters and Jews were imprisoned between June 1941 and August 1944.

About 40,000 people were deported from the Royallieu-Compiègne camp to Auschwitz and other camps in German-occupied territory. It was one of the biggest transit camps in France, from which the Germans deported political prisoners, many of whom were civilian Jewish communists. It was from the camp at Royallieu that the very first deportation train was to leave French soil on March 27th, 1942. It took over a thousand Jews to Auschwitz, as did the next one on June 5th.

The internment and deportation memorial opened on February 23, 2008. There one can learn about life in the Royallieu camp through a historic walk which leads to two of the remaining buildings. As they walk through a dozen of rooms and two corridors, visitors learn about the historical context in France and other European countries, life in the camp, deportation and extermination by the Nazis. After the barracks, one can visit the chapel, see the beginning of the escape tunnel, contemplate the wall of names and walk through the memorial garden.

One of the things that surprised and impressed me most when I visited this camp with a group of French and Swedish students last spring was how the inmates had organized cultural life in the camp. Conferences on English, Esperanto, political philosophy, history, the humanities, science and much more were given in the barracks (as is shown in the schedule above).

I can only guess but I assume that they saw intellectual improvement as a means to keep hope alive even when there was very little reason for feeling optimistic about the future. This is a message in itself. Even in dark moments, we ought never to lose hope that there will be better times.

What we are remembering today should never happen again – not to us and not to anyone else.

Never Forget!

4 thoughts on “Royallieu-Compiègne Internment Camp

  1. I’m so sorry that year after year we have to learn about these terrible times. So sorry that these people had to live in this way. Truth is much more horrible than fiction.

    Even in adversity, the human spirit strives for something meaningful: “how the inmates had organized cultural life in the camp. Conferences on English, Esperanto, political philosophy, history, the humanities, science and much more were given in the barracks.”

  2. I have often wondered what it must feel like to live close(ish) to a place like that. Since the UK was lucky enough to not have been occupied, I’m thankful that we don’t have such places here. Having said that, I am pleased to read that the inmates were able to form some groups to help them cope (in some way) with the situation. As Leora wrote, striving for something meaningful is part of the human spirit – thankfully.

    • You raise an interesting question here. Having such places in one’s own country forces us to face our ‘recent’ history and the involvement of the French government and police in the imprisonment and deportation of Jews and resistance fighters.
      This camp was practically in the town of Compiègne. These were army buildings which the Germans took over and used as they were close to the railway network. From what I read only the Germans ran this place. But during the war, everybody knew that there were prisoners there. Only when the army left a few years ago, could Royallieu become a memorial and a museum.

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