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A girl scout troop organized by Simone Weil in the Rivesaltes transit camp.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 80196

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    A girl scout troop organized by Simone Weil in the Rivesaltes transit camp.
    A girl scout troop organized by Simone Weil in the Rivesaltes transit camp.


    A girl scout troop organized by Simone Weil in the Rivesaltes transit camp.
    Rivesaltes, [Pyrenees-Orientales] France
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Simone Weil Lipman
    Event History
    The Eclaireurs israelites de France (EIF), the French Jewish scouting movement founded by Robert Gamzon in 1923. The EIF was a pluralist movement under the patronage of community leaders who sought to attract native-born and immigrant youth to Judaism and to steer them away from the more radical political movements of the day. At an early stage, however, tensions arose between the EIF's patrons and the movement's leaders, many of whom were increasingly attracted to Zionism. By the late 1930s the EIF was co-sponsoring programs with the Zionist scouting group, Chomerim, and had created an agricultural training school in Saumur near Tours in the Loire region. These programs had several purposes, including vocational training, raising Jewish consciousness and preparing youth for immigration to Palestine. From September 1939, the EIF set up children's homes in southwestern France. After the armistice with Germany in June 1940, the movement re-deployed to the unoccupied zone, while continuing to operate clandestinely in Paris. In addition to the children's homes, which increasingly took in the children of Jews imprisoned in Vichy internment camps, the EIF organized a number of youth communities in rural areas of the south. At the end of 1941, the EIF was forced to join the southern branch of the Union Generale des israelites de France (UGIF), the compulsory French Jewish council, later constituting its Fourth Section, which dealt with issues related to Jewish youth. The deportations of the spring and summer of 1942 led to the creation of the EIF's special underground unit called La Sixieme (The Sixth), which soon developed a rescue network for children and youth. During the winter of 1943 an EIF fighting unit came into being. Called the Compagnie Marc Haguenau, after the leader of La Sixieme who had committed suicide when captured by the Gestapo, it participated in the liberation of southwestern France as part of the Organisation Juive de Combat (Jewish Fighting Organization). During the war over 150 members of the EIF lost their lives, chiefly those involved in La Sixieme. The organization has been credited with rescuing several thousand Jews.

    [Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust 2:414; Weinberg, David. "Community on Trial," Chicago 1977]

    Rivesaltes (Pyrénées-Orientales) was one of an estimated thirty-one internment camps in southern France. Located at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains near the Spanish border, Rivesaltes was built as a military camp to quarter up to 18,000 soldiers. In late 1938 it was turned into a refugee camp for those displaced by the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). From 1938 to late 1940, the Spanish republican refugees were detained there only temporarily, and many were released for assimilation into mainstream French society. Following the German conquest of France and the establishment of the Vichy government in June 1940, the new Vichy authorities converted Rivesaltes into an internment camp whose residents had little or no freedom of moment outside of the camp. During the first weeks after the armistice, the Germans arrested political opponents, both French and refugees, including Germans, who had previously fled to France to escape Nazi persecution. Many of these political detainees were transferred to the custody of the Vichy authorities and incarcerated in detention camps in unoccupied France, including Rivesaltes. In the fall and winter of 1940, Vichy government transferred about 1,000 women and children of Spanish nationality to the camp from Gurs, a nearby internment camp. By the spring of 1941, French authorities had sent 1,226 Jews, both adults and children, from other detention centers to Rivesaltes. Because the camp had an estimated 3,000 child inmates in 1941, it was considered a family camp. At the height of its operation, in April 1941, Rivesaltes had a population of about 8,000. In 1941, interned Jews comprised 40% of the total camp population.

    Working in collaboration with Nazi Germany, the Vichy French authorities used Rivesaltes as a transit camp for the deportation of Jews from France to killing centers in German-occupied Poland. These efforts to implement the Final Solution were enacted through nine convoys leaving from Rivesaltes to Auschwitz via Drancy, transporting 2,313 Jews to where they were most likely murdered. Jewish detainees generally remained incarcerated in Rivesaltes for 12 to 18 months before being deported to Drancy and from there to killing centers. However, during 1942, some internees managed to secure official release. Social workers and nurses from the OSE (Oeuvre secours aux enfants), Secours Suisse aux enfants and the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) were allowed to provide relief services in the camp and even to arrange for the transfer of interned youngsters to children's homes elsewhere in France. Nearly 600 children were thus removed from Rivesaltes, most of whom escaped deportation.

    Rivesaltes was divided into ten sub-camps, each fenced in by barbed wire. Men, women and children were housed separately. Only Roma were allowed to live in family units. Internees suffered from malnutrition, disease from surrounding swamps, and exposure to heat and cold. Rivesaltes ceased functioning as an internment camp in November 1942, following the deportation of most of the Jewish prisoners to Auschwitz (via Drancy), and the transfer of the Roma to other camps. After the liberation of France, Rivesaltes was used as a POW camp for captured Germans.

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    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Simone Weil Lipman
    Source Record ID: Collections: 1990.184.41

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    Record last modified:
    2005-10-07 00:00:00
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