Camp Joffre, internment camp in Rivesaltes from 1938 - 1970.
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Rivesaltes, situated on a rail route and 40 km from the Spanish border, was considered a strategic position. Five km from Rivesaltes, the army occupied 612 hectares between Rivesaltes and Salses, to construct a camp, which was originally intended as a military base.
Three years later, it became the Camp Joffre In 1939, at the start of WW2, the camp became a military transit base and in 1940 a refuge for Spanish refugees fleeing the Franco dictatorship.
After the signing of the armistice, France was split into two and the « zone libre » in which the Pyrenees-Orientales was included, came under the administration of the Vichy government. It was at this point that the sad and sinister history of the camp Joffre began to unfold. Gradually, the camp became a place of internment for families of gypsies, Jews and Spanish refugees. With a capacity of 8000, it was not long before the camp was overcrowded, families were separated, and conditions deteriorated enormously.
In 1942, under German pressure, the camp became a ‘Centre national de rassemblement des Israélites’ - a ‘sorting centre’ for Jews who were then sent on to the death camps such as Auschwitz, via Drancy. Two thousand five hundred and fifty one Jews are recorded as having been deported from Rivesaltes - four hundred of them were children.
In 1942, when the Germans occupied the ‘zone libre’ they closed the camp.
When the south of France was liberated in 1944, Rivesaltes was reopened until 1948 for collaborators and traitors, and in 1945 housed German soldiers and prisoners of war.
In 1962, the camp at Rivesaltes once again became a ghetto; this time for the hundreds of thousands of Algerians or ‘harkis’ who left Algeria at the time of the battle for its independence from France. Many of these families did not leave the camp until its closure in the late sixties.
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