Correction to This Article
A May 2 Style article about a Holocaust memorial in France incorrectly described Algerian troops known as harkis. They fought with French forces, not against them, in Algerian War.

France to Shine a Light on Its Notorious Camp

Children at the Rivesaltes internment camp, which will become a memorial to victims in Vichy France.
Children at the Rivesaltes internment camp, which will become a memorial to victims in Vichy France. (Copyright U.s. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Courtesy Of Elizabeth Eidenbenz)
By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 2, 2006

A memorial marking the role of France's Vichy government in shipping Jews and others to Nazi death camps will be created at Rivesaltes, an internment facility near France's border with Spain, representatives of the French government and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which will assist in the effort, announced yesterday in Washington.

It will be the first official Holocaust memorial in Southern France, the stronghold of the Vichy government, which collaborated with the Nazis from 1940 to 1944.

Thousands of Jews, many of them children, were sent from Rivesaltes to the notorious Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. During one three-month period in 1942, nine convoys carried 2,313 Jews to Auschwitz.

Rivesaltes was the most active way station for persecuted Jews and political opponents. In 1941, the height of its operation, Rivesaltes had a population of 8,000, an estimated 3,000 of whom were children.

In making the announcement, Jean-David Levitte, the French ambassador to the United States, said, "The present and future generations must understand and feel the tragedies of the last century."

Author and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, who survived nine months in Auschwitz and other camps, observed that Jacques Chirac was the first president to talk publicly about France's responsibility in World War II atrocities. Wiesel, the founding chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said, "It took so long for France to do certain things because of unpleasant memories."

Christian Bourquin, president of the Conseil General for the Pyrenees-Orientales region, where the Rivesaltes camp was built, said, "The camp is in very good condition, exactly like it was in the 1940s. Everything is still there. You can see the barracks."

The camp, located near the Mediterranean, covered 362 acres, 42 of which are reserved for the memorial. "It will be a very modest cousin to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum," he added. Rudy Ricciotti, the well-known designer of cultural institutions, is the architect for the memorial's education center, which will be underground. It is to be completed by the end of 2008.

The Rivesaltes camp's history is complicated. It was built in 1936 as a military facility. It served as a camp for those displaced during the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s, and later as a prison for refugees on the losing side of that conflict. After World War II, it was used as a prisoner of war camp for captured Germans. Later it was a camp for the harkis -- Algerians who fought against the French in the Algerian War. It wasn't until a 1998 proposal to destroy the site that politicians and others began to plan what to do with the sprawling grounds.

Bourquin said the memorial would honor Holocaust victims and survivors, the harkis and the humanitarian workers who labored at Rivesaltes over the years. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will give guidance on materials that should be included and help with the creation of databases on people who were interned at Rivesaltes.

At yesterday's news conference, Sara J. Bloomfield, director of the Holocaust Museum, said she, Levitte and Wiesel will address the International Committee of the Red Cross this month to argue that it open Holocaust-era archives it controls in Bad Arolsen, Germany. The German government two weeks ago said it supports a move to unlock the records. "The importance of opening the archives can never be overestimated," Bloomfield said. "When the authentic voices of the Holocaust are gone," she said, the records will guarantee their "history will be taught."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company