Saturday, 25 February 2012

# 39 [17 October 2009]

It looks like the summer has ended, it seems difficult to believe we were in T-shirts and shorts just three days ago: it was too hot to sit outside, now all I seem to be doing is stoking the fire. Yesterday we went to the camp where I had arranged to meet Elodie Montes, the education officer for the Rivesaltes Memorial; stupidly I didn't take a coat thinking it would be warmer than our house in the mountains, it was, but was so windy that I could barely hear Elodie talking.

Meeting her was enlightening and helped fill some of the gaps in my research on the camp, she confirmed some of my suspicions and recounted some great anecdotes.

We started at 'Ilot F', the section of the camp owned by the Conseil General of Languedoc Rousillon (regional government). We looked at the devastation of last January's storm, she explained that many of the paintings on the walls were being rescued, dismantled and preserved in the archive before the huts crumbled. I pointed out a drawing of children in striped tunics on one wall, she was not aware of it and is going to bring it to the attention to an historian to see if it dates from 1941/'42.

Elodie confirmed that the large paintings of figures with tools in a hut in Ilot K were painted in 1941/'42 to decorate the interns' workshop (which was established by one of the charity organisations working in the camp with the aim of teaching the young men a trade). Ilot K is owned by the army and the plan is to knock down the huts in the near future; the memorial is in discussion with them to try to save the paintings before the huts are dismantled.

Ilot K was the only hut totally surrounded by barbed-wire, this was where the Jews were held later in addition to Ilot F. At first the camp was open, as it is in an isolated place and was called a 'Centre Rassemblement Familial'. Despite this, mothers and children were separated from the men. Boys of 14 were considered to be men and therefore taken from their mothers, so the mothers with little foresight to lie lost contact with their sons. It was the Tsiganes (Gypsies) who could remain in family units, apparently because they protested strongly and had the energy that the Spanish and the Jews lacked to make their case.

At the edge of Ilot K is the remains of the railway track built especially to take some of the Jews to the main line from Perpignan to Paris; the sleepers are still there, but not the lines themselves. At different times during 1942 interns were transported not only by train, but by lorry to Rivesaltes station.

Mothers-to-be were also transported by lorry to Elne to the Maternite Suisse, but had to return to the camp all too soon.

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