Les Milles



Les Milles

The Camp des Milles opened in September 1939 within a tile factory located between Aix-enProvence and Marseille. It was in operation for a little over three years and was a transit place for more than 10,000 internees coming from 27 countries, in particular from Germany and Austria. Its history goes through several phases corresponding to the different categories of internees who stayed there : nationals from the Reich and Legionnaires, foreigners looking to emigrate, Jews caught in raids. One can read, through these phases, the tragic evolution of the repression that targeted foreigners and Jews under the French “collaborationist” Vichy regime. This tragic evolution culminated in August and September 1942 with the deportation of more than 2,500 Jewish men, women and children and their extermination in the nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau camp after a short stop in the Drancy or Rivesaltes camps.

The first phase: a French internment camp (September 1939-June 1940)

France’s declaration of war on Germany, on September 3, 1939, led to the internment of all Austrian and German nationals living in the South of France into “camps” under the jurisdiction of the French Army. “Les Milles” in particular was the main camp in South-Eastern France and was also in charge of managing other transit or labour camps (Alès, Manosque, Les Mées, etc.). These internees were considered “enemy subjects”, even though they were for the most part anti-nazis and Jews who

had fled the German Reich as early as 1933 to seek asylum in France and in particular in that region. Among them, one can find a rich world-renowned intelligentsia : literary figures (Lion

Feuchtwanger, Fritz Brugel, William Herzog, Alfred Kantorowicz, Golo Mann son of Thomas Mann,etc.), scientists (Otto Meyerof, Nobel Prize winner …), musicians and painters (Hans Bellmer, Max Ernst, Anton Räderscheidt, Herman Henry Gowa, Erich Itor Kahn, Gustave Herlich better known as “Gus”, Max Lingner,

Ferdinand Springer, Franz Meyer, etc.).

The second phase: an internment and transit camp for the Vichy regime (June 1940-July 1942) under the Vichy regime, that collaborated with the Nazis, the Camp quickly becomes

overcrowded (3,500 internees by June 1940). This is when the episode of the “Train des Milles” takes place, made famous by Sébastien Grall’s 1995 movie. During this period, foreigners coming from camps in the Southwest of France are transferred to Les Milles, and in particular former members of the International Brigades from Spain as well as Jews from Central and Eastern Europe.

In November 1940, the Camp was placed under the authority of the Ministry of Home affairs. It became the only transit camp in France linked to re-emigration overseas, through regular or illegal transit processes, helped by individuals, organizations and local and international networks. It is during this period (1940-1941) that the internees painted the famous and large murals in the guards’ refectory, including a “Nations’ banquet” showing people from all origins eating together at the same table. What made also this Camp special was notably this large proportion of intellectuals and artists who never stopped maintaining an active cultural life in the Camp.

The third phase: The deportation towards Auschwitz via Drancy (August-September 1942)

Since 1940 the French Vichy-government launched a “State anti-Semitism”. Two years later, after a crescendo of discriminatory measures, the French authorities organised the deportation of Jews from the non-occupied zone, even before the German occupation of this zone in November 1942.

Deportations from Les Milles towards Drancy and then Auschwitz are consistent with the “Final Solution” elaborated at the Nazi Wannsee Conference of January 20, 1942, and with the

agreement of the Vichy French government to deliver to Germany 10,000 Jews from the non-occupied so-called “Free zone” in France.

On August 3, the camp is locked down: Jewish women and children from the region join the other internees before being deported. Jewish political refugees or those who had served in the French army are not spared. In total, more than 2,500 Jews -- men, women and children -- were sent by the Vichy government from the Camp des Milles to the death camp of Auschwitz by way of the Drancy camp or, later, by way of the Rivesaltes one. Some one hundred Jewish children were deported from Les Milles. Among them was one-year old Jean Krauss. “Small children who were exhausted stumbled their way through the cold night, starving…; poor little things aged 5 or 6 carrying their bundles, falling asleep and rolling over with their baggage…” (Reverend Henri Manen)

Some brave men and women were able to help them. Some became “Righteous among the Nations”. Such is the case for Reverend Henri Manen and for the warden Auguste Boyer. After September 1942, the camp remains a transit camp but slowly dwindles: its last prisoners leave its brick walls in December 1942, one month after the occupation of the “Free zone” by the German army.

Le banquet des nations, oeuvre collective, 1941
Wandgemälde im Lager les Milles

Anton Räderscheidt
Camp „les Milles“ Pastellkreide 1940

„Les internés et le verre d‘eau“ 1940 Pastellkreide