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Compiègne Camp

HistoryWorks

Compiègne Camp, south of Paris, was under German control and its guards came from the Wehrmacht (German army). From June 1941 to August 1944 some 54,000 people were interned there, 50,000 of whom were deported to the death camps. Unlike the camps in the South of France, French-born and foreign-born Jews found themselves thrust together in Compiègne. The French Jewish author Jean-Jacques Bernard describes this encounter:

    I looked at people who had been brutally uprooted from their lives and they were quite calm [...] [The French] had chosen to remain in Paris [...] out of loyalty to France [...] They did not feel any connection to the Jewish race [...] [They] felt betrayed as Frenchmen, only as Frenchmen [...] [On the other hand] the foreign Jews who had come from Drancy were nearly all Eastern European Jews, with no citizenship [...] yet inside they maintained a feeling of belonging to the Jewish community. This feeling was unfamiliar to and even rejected by most of the French Jews who were arrested along with me [...] It goes without saying that if I have to die in this venture, I will die for France; I do not want to be considered a Jewish victim [...] We were persecuted as Frenchmen and not as Jews, so we were persecuted for what we are not.[1]

Rooms that had been designed for two or three people held 35-50. Contact with the outside world was forbidden - all that was left was the forced labor. Yet despite this, there was flourishing cultural and spiritual activity in the camp, including poetry evenings, lectures, discussions and exhibitions of works by Compiègne's artist inmates.


(Dr Pnina Rosenberg)


[1] Jean-Jacques Bernard. Le camp de la morte lente: Compiègne 1941-1942. Michel Albin, Paris, 1944, pp.32-42,68-69