The camp in Poitiers (Vienne District) was opened in October 1939 for refugees from Spain, but in December 1940, 504 Gypsies from Poitou, Maine-et-Loire, Manche and Gironde were brought to it, and the camp itself began to be called a Gypsy concentration camp (in French: “camp de concentration de nomades”), although it is better known for its name Route du Limoges (‘The Road to Limoges’). In the following months, the Poitiers camp also served as a transit camp for Jews on their way to Drancy and gas chambers. At the end of 1941, nearly 800 people (including 452 nomads, 322 Jews and 27 Spaniards) lived in terrible conditions (hunger, mud, vermin) in 15 barracks 50 x 6 m each. In 1942 the camp population began to decrease as transports set off for concentration camps – mainly in Germany. In the period from April 1942 to August 1944, the total number of approx. 1,800 Jews, including 504 children, were transported out of Poitiers. Only one transport – No. 8 of July 18, 1942 – was sent in full to Auschwitz. Other directions included Mathausen, Sachsenhausen, Bergen-Belsen.
Gypsies were treated more gently. In January 1943, a hundred Gypsies were deported from the Route du Limoges camp via Compiegne to Buchenwald, but at the end of 1943 a further 350 people were transferred to Montreuil-Bellay. Famine and sanitary conditions were devastating, but those who survived until the end of the war were free.
In Route de Limoges, impressive cooperative work was done by Rabbi Elie Bloch, a Catholic priest Jean Fleury with the help of the nun Cherer and in collaboration with the Red Cross, who managed to save 150 children from the camp. However, on January 22, 1943, the rabbi’s wife was arrested, and after a few months in the camp Rabbi Bloch with his wife and their 5-year-old daughter were sent to Drancy, and then deported to Auschwitz (December 17, 1943), where they were murdered on arrival.
Father Fleury was still active in Poitiers. In August 1944, before the 950 SS Hindu Battalion, known for its cruelty, arrived in Poitiers, they emptied the camp of the rest of the prisoners, leading them to St. Joseph College, and in 1945, despite the ban issued by the authorities (fearing a typhus epidemic), rented buses and brought 96 prisoners from Dachau to Poitiers. The heroic chaplain’s name was commemorated in the street at which the memorial is located.
196 internees who died at the camp were buried at the Pierre Levée cemetery.
The internment camp Chauvinerie Poitiers and the neighbouring Frontstalag 230 (prisoner-of-war camp), have almost been erased from the memory about internment camps in Poitiers. Their existence is only evidenced by entries in the lists and traces visible in satellite images. It is only in the last few years that young researchers have been trying to find materials related to both camps, including preserved testimonies of internees, such as Leopold Sédar Senghor, a prisoner of Frontstalag 230 (see http://adfe.org/berlin/news.php?lng=fr&pg=867) or Paulette Manquin (see http://vdujardin.com/blog/poitiers-camp-chauvinerie-temoignage-paulette/). We cannot be certain, however, if there were any Gypsy prisoners among the internees in Chauvinerie Poitiers.
Description of commemoration
At the intersection of Avenue Jacques Cœur and Rue du Père Jean Fleury, there is a concrete stele with two white plaques. The stele resembles a fairly massive cuboid with bevelled edges, mounted on a concrete pedestal in the shape of a symmetrical hexagon. Since the memorial is located above the surface of the pavement, 3 steps were added to connect the two levels: the lowest step is the continuation of the pavement along Rue du Père Jean Fleury, the middle step is a triangle, and the highest step has the same trapezoid shape as the pedestal and stela.
Two glass plaques are mounted on the memorial. They are very light ecru coloured, with golden letters (with white edges) in a simple, sans serif font and capital letters. The lower plaque, added later (July 16, 1994), is smaller and it bears a universal inscription which can be found on all French memorials commemorating World War II and events under Vichy. The upper plaque is larger and it commemorates the prisoners interned in the camp called “Road to Limoges” (Route du Limoges). The two glass plaques have been mounted over the original ones made of stone (damaged?).
- The upper plaque, text in French:
En ce lieu se trouvait le / «camp d’internement de la route de Limoges». / Du mois de décembre 1940 à la libération, / le 5 septembre 1944, plusieurs milliers d’hommes, / de femmes, d’enfants, juifs ou tsiganes / et des résistants y furent entassés dans des / conditions inhumaines, avant d’être déportés / vers des camps de concentration / et d’extermination nazis.
This is the location of the “Road to Limoges internment camp”. From December 1940 to the liberation on September 5, 1944, thousands of men, women, children, Jews and Gypsies were forced to live here in inhuman conditions before being deported to Nazi concentration and extermination camps.
- The lower plaque, text in French:
La République Françaice / en hommage aux victimes / des persecutions racistes et antisémites / et des crimes contre l’humanité / commis sous l’autorité de fait / dite “Gouvernement de l’Etat Française” // (1940 – 1944) / N’oublions Jamais.
The French Republic pays homage to the victims of persecution, anti-Semitism and crimes against humanity committed during the period of the so-called “Government of the French State” in 1940-44. We will never forget.
Date of the unveiling
4.09.1985 – stela i tablica górna
16.07.1994 – tablica ogólna
September 4, 1985 – the stele and the upper plaque
July 16, 1994 – the lower plaque
The corner of Avenue Jacques Coeur and Rue du Père Jean Fleury
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List of camps for the Gypsies in France: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_des_camps_d%27internement_de_%C2%AB_nomades_%C2%BB_en_France
Marthe Cohn, Wendy Holden, “Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany”, Crown/Archetype, Three Rivers Press, New York 2007, p. 304.