16 [6 March 2009]
It was snowing in our village this morning, so I thought I'd escape with my baby daughter, Emilie, to warmer climes. Armed with A-N magazine I was prepared for a morning of catching up on the art world, drinking coffee and rocking Emilie to sleep. The café was bustling with locals gossiping and drinking Pastis.
An hour in to my quality (?) time with Emilie an acquaintance walked in with his wife. We had met a few times and discovered a common interest in "religious" art and the Modern Painters of Peter Fuller's day. He asked me how my work was going, I told him about this blog on the camp at Rivesaltes – at this, his wife, Suse, nonchalantly said, "My father was held there when the war ended". I was quite taken aback... Here I am making work at a site whose history is far removed from me sitting in a café reading and entertaining my daughter whilst escaping the snow. It turns out that her father was a German soldier in Russia at the end of the war; he was sent to Rivesaltes as it was a large camp that could hold thousands of prisoners. She explained how he was a pacifist and caught up (as were so many) in the Nazi regime. As a prisoner -of -war it was a difficult time, but locals took pity and gave him food through the fence.
It was by coincidence that she ended up living in the same part of France. When she first came to the area, she visited the town of Rivesaltes, went to a café, and asked about the camp, the place fell silent and she realised that it was not a subject that they wished to discuss.
I now want to find out if the camp was run by the same French (locals from the nearby town) who worked at the camp during 1942 when so many Jews were held there.
I told Suse about the blog which she seemed keen to read. So, Suse, I hope that you don't mind me recounting our encounter and I look forward to talking more in depth with you.
Image: 'German sign in the Rivesaltes camp'. Photo: Jonathan Moss.