The Camp System in the "Free Zone"
Between 1936 and 1939 hundreds of thousands of people from Spain fled their homeland for France due to the civil war and its consequences. Here, they were confronted with increasingly widespread xenophobic attitudes.
With the help of a law which permitted the internment of “undesirable foreigners” the authorities hoped to be able to better control the refugees. The first camp was built in the south of France, at Rieucros, and others soon followed. Initially, these camps were little more than a collection of tents, but they later contained wooden barracks or buildings.
As a consequence of the war with Germany, dozens of camps in the area of France not occupied by Germany were created in order to intern “members of enemy powers” and “individuals who threatened national defence or public security.” In 1939/1940 these were still an exception. Nevertheless, these camps were a central element of the Vichy regime’s persecution of “undesirables” – above all, Jews who had fled to France. By the end of 1940, almost 50,000 people were being imprisoned in camps within the “free zone.”
This secretly taken photograph shows Jews in Rivesaltes camp in 1942 before their transportation to Drancy transit camp. The shot was taken by nurse Friedel Reiter who had worked in the camp on behalf of the Kinderhilfe (children’s aid) of the Swiss Red Cross since 1941. From 1943, she ran a children’s home in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and, along with her future husband, August Bohny, and other helpers, saved numerous children from being deported.