The weather was pretty bad in our village, in fact it was completely hidden in cloud, so I thought it was a good idea to head for the coast. On the way I decided to make an unplanned stop at the camp at Rivesaltes – probably my 20th visit, so I didn’t expect to find anything new . . . I was a bit shocked to see, close-up, the large section of the huts (in fact a whole row) demolished. Next to the pile of rubble a sign read – Rivesaltes camp: Restoration of the barracks – it struck me as an odd take on restoration.
I have spoken with the director of the memorial and she had told me the huts themselves were going to be the memorial with a monument / visitor centre positioned next to them. I suppose some huts had to go to make room for the centre.
I made some footage of the debris (a large pile of wooden planks from the rooves and concrete from the walls), a video-walk around it. I had my 4 yr old son Louis with me – I told him not to talk (a bit hopeful). For over 3 minutes he repeated the words “Are there any people here?", I’m sure I can use that somehow.
Heading for the coast I followed one of the camp’s tracks, not one I’d followed before; it took me to an industrial estate. The other side of the estate I waited at a railway-crossing for a train to pass (Perpignan to Paris) – I noticed a siding, just 500m from the camp; I knew that Jews were taken to Auschwitz by train, in cattle-wagons, via Drancy in Paris, but wrongly presumed they walked to the town of Rivesaltes to be loaded on to trains. This nondescript missable piece of railway track played a role in one of the worst episodes of the history of mankind – people must pass it everyday (as they do the camp) and be unaware of its reason for being. I plan to return to the siding to film it whilst walking, something repetitive and rhythmic, perhaps even encouraging reflection on the history of this part of France.
Top: 'Siding, Rivesaltes to Auschwitz', 2008. Photo: Jonathan Moss.
Middle: 'Hut debris', 2008. Photo: Jonathan Moss.
Bottom: "Restoration"', 2008. Photo: Jonathan Moss.