Rivesaltes camp Memorial,

a duty of remembrance

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A visit to the Rivesaltes camp Memorial, inaugurated in 2015, reveals the story of a difficult past. While Rivesaltes is best known for its vineyards, the Memorial in this village north of Perpignan is an essential testimony to the history of France.

 

Mémorial de Rivesaltes

The Rivesaltes camp, a way and a duty of remembrance

It’s still dark when I join the other early risers gathered to listen to a reading at the Rivesaltes camp.

It crosses my mind that night is at its darkest just before dawn.

I’m soon immersed in the atmosphere and have no trouble imagining the footsteps of new detainees arriving, crippled with fatigue, anxious with uncertainty and deprived of everything, even of hope, moving with heavy hearts towards the unknown...

Mémorial de Rivesaltes

The camp’s history

The tour guides will explain that the camp’s first victims were Spanish republicans trying to flee from dictatorship under General Franco in 1939. Then, during the Second World War, Rivesaltes held foreign Jews and French Roms awaiting deportation to Auschwitz. The site’s final dark chapter involved imprisonment of the Harkis after the Algerian War and of African refugees in 1963.

In the vast main hall where an immense table stands, measuring 30 metres in length, you’ll learn about the historic events that forced these mass exoduses. The screens display numerous accounts, documents and newspapers from that era to help you understand the history of the camp and the succession of internments.

Mémorial de Rivesaltes

Tour of the Rivesaltes camp Memorial

On arrival, you’re immediately amazed by the décor. You’ll observe the ruins of perfectly aligned barracks around which visitors stop to pay tribute and to try to understand. Now a place of reference in the history of internments and forced population movements, Rivesaltes camp is the only French internment camp with barracks still intact.

The Memorial itself, designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti, is sober and imposing, and appears to be buried into the arid soil, blending with the land. The interior can be visited in a number of ways. Alone or with a guide, you’ll need a few hours to visit the Memorial’s information centre and auditorium, as well as the permanent displays and temporary exhibitions.

 

Mémorial de Rivesaltes
Mémorial de Rivesaltes

A moment of contemplation

Take time to stop at the steles erected in 1994 in memory of the deported Jews, in 1995 for the Harkis and, finally, in 1999 as a tribute to the Spanish republicans.