The Rieucros internment camp

Illustration: Rieucros internment camp
Interior view of a barracks at the Rieucros internment camp, taken from: Illustrated diary Mes aventures de guerre 1. Sept. 1939-? by Dora Benjamin, Mende/Brens, 1939 – 1942 coloured pencil, ink, 18 x 21.5 x 1 cm
Jewish Museum Berlin, inv. no. 2017/167/273, donated by Peter Schaul

The Rieucros internment camp

Keine weiß, was sie verbrochen / keine weiß, warum sie hier.
[No one knows their crime / no one knows why they’re here. (ed. trans.)]

From lyrics written by Steffie Spira and Gertrud Rast, set to the melody of Wir sind die Moorsoldaten (We are the Peat Bog Soldiers), Rieucros, March 1940

From October 1939 onwards and several months before the internment of “enemy foreigners” in France was expanded to include women, the French authorities began to intern foreign women whose politics apparently made them especially suspect at the Rieucros camp near the small town of Mende. Some emigrants who had come to France to escape National Socialist persecution were also brought to the camp. These included the actors Steffie Spira and Marina Strasde, the illustrator and costume-maker Sylta Busse and the author Lenka Reinerová.

Living together in close confinement was physically and psychologically stressful; each woman was provided with a pallet measuring just 75 cm in width to sleep on, the food situation became worse and worse, and there was great uncertainty as to their future. It was only after several months that the prisoners received support from aid organisations, which had initially been reluctant to assist these women who were regarded as particularly dangerous.

As so-called “undesirables”, the women interned at Rieucros had been given a particular bureaucratic status. It was out of the question that they would be released to continue living in France. They had to find a way to emigrate. However, due to the defeat and partitioning of France in June 1940 and the increasingly restrictive emigration rules in the potential countries of refuge, chief amongst them the USA, this was impossible for many of the women. From 1941 onwards, those of them that had any evidence of progress in their endeavours to emigrate were brought to the “Hotel Bompard” internment centre in Marseilles.

Rieucros was shut down in February 1942 and the remaining women transferred to the Brens camp. From August 1942 onwards, many of those interned there were deported via Drancy to Auschwitz.

Further reading:
Eggers, Christian: Unerwünschte Ausländer. Juden aus Deutschland und Mitteleuropa in französischen Internierungslagern 1940-1942. Berlin: Metropol 2002
Gilzmer, Mechthild: Fraueninternierungslager in Südfrankreich. Rieucros und Brens 1939-1944. Berlin: Orlanda 1994