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Jewish prisoners celebrate in the Les Milles transit camp.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 15736

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    Jewish prisoners celebrate in the Les Milles transit camp.
    Jewish prisoners celebrate in the Les Milles transit camp.  
Among those pictured is Rabbi Siegmund Marx (left of center, wearing a beard), a Jewish refugee from Speyer, Germany.


    Jewish prisoners celebrate in the Les Milles transit camp.
    Among those pictured is Rabbi Siegmund Marx (left of center, wearing a beard), a Jewish refugee from Speyer, Germany.
    Before 1942 September 07
    Les Milles, [Bouches-du-Rhone] France
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Ernest L. Marx
    Event History
    Les Milles, the largest of the French transit camps in the Bouches-du-Rhône, housed refugees who were classified as having an "imminent chance" of emigration. Situated in a community of the same name about 90 km. north of Marseilles, Les Milles was chosen for its proximity to the French port and the many foreign consulates located there. The camp, which was first opened in September 1939 to intern foreign nationals, was established in an abandoned brickworks known as the Tuilerie de la Mediterranée, consisting of twenty factory buildings surrounded by barbed wire. After October 1940 Les Milles was designated as an assembly center for refugees in transit to other countries. Most of these were German and Austrian Jews who had been expelled in May 1940 from Belgium and northern France. Another sizable group were Jews from Baden and the Saarland who had been rounded-up as part of Aktion Bürckel on October 22-23, 1940 and sent to France. Stateless Polish Jews constituted another large sub-group of the inmate population. More than 1,000 prisoners were interned at Les Milles at any one time. They lived in substandard conditions that deteriorated considerably as the war progressed. Prisoners suffered from exposure to severe heat and cold, shortages of food and clothing, lack of sanitation facilities, and disease. In addition, their spirits were crushed by their isolation from the outside world and the lack of things to do in the camp. All the inmates at Les Milles were men. The women who later appear on the camp rolls were the wives of prisoners who joined their husbands just prior to their deportation in the summer of 1942. Though the refugees who were interned at Les Milles were supposed to be on the verge of emigration, many were unable to surmount the various legal and bureaucratic hurdles that were put in their path. Those that were unable to complete the process in time became a primary target for Vichy authorities seeking to fill the new quota mandated by Eichmann in the summer of 1942 that 50,000 Jews from the Unoccupied Zone be delivered for labor service to Auschwitz. In all, 1,439 Jews were deported from Les Milles in the summer and fall of 1942, not including those who had been transferred to Gurs and Rivesaltes and deported from there. Les Milles was officially closed in November 1942 after the Vichy government order of November 8 terminated the issuing of all exit visas. Three days later the Germans occupied southern France.

    [Sources: Ryan, Donna Frances, Vichy and the Jews: The Example of Marseille, 1939-1944. Georgetown University Ph.D., 1984]

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Ernest L. Marx
    Source Record ID: Collections: 2019.482.1

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Ernest Marx is the son of Siegmund and Bertha (Steinberger) Marx. He was born in 1925 in Gelnhausen, Germany (near Hanau). In 1927 his family moved to Rothenberg, and in 1933 moved again to Speyer, where his father worked as a religious teacher and cantor before receiving his rabbinical ordination in 1936. Ernest had one older brother, Julius (b. 1922). On November 9, 1938 during the Kristallnacht pogrom, Ernest's father was arrested and told to bring along one son. It was quickly decided that Ernest would accompany Siegmund, while Julius would stay behind to take care of Bertha. Ernest and his father were sent to Dachau for six weeks, during which time Ernest celebrated his bar mitzvah. Shortly after their release Julius was sent to Switzerland and Ernest, to France on a Kindertransport. Both parents accompanied Ernest's transport as chaperones. Once in France, Ernest was enrolled at the Ecole Maimonides near Paris, where he remained until the French defeat in June 1940. At that time he was put under the protection of the OSE (Oeuvre de secours aux enfants) and sent to the Eaubonne children's home outside Paris. A few months later he was transferred to the Montintin home, where he remained until 1942. Sometime in or around 1939 the Marx family received American immigration visas, but they were never able to use them to leave Europe. Ernest's father was arrested in September 1939 as a German enemy alien and sent to Saint Germain. The following summer after the fall of France, he was rearrested as a foreign-born Jew and imprisoned in the Les Milles internment camp. On 7 September 1942 he was transferred to Drancy and from there, was deported to his death in Auschwitz. Ernest's mother eluded arrest and in 1942 was living in hiding in Limoges. Ernest joined her there in 1942, but shortly after their reunion both were arrested separately and sent to the Gurs internment camp, where they were unaware of each other's presence. Ernest managed to escape from the camp with four friends. The opportunity to flee came about suddenly during a game of soccer when their ball was inadvertently kicked over the camp fence. They climbed over the fence to retrieve the ball but never returned. Ernest subsequently joined up with the Chasseur Alpin, a unit of the French Maquis resistance. Ernest's mother remained in Gurs and was slated for transfer to Drancy when she suffered a stroke and was left for dead. Miraculously, she recovered and survived the rest of the war. After the liberation Ernest found her by chance on a streetcar in Grenoble. Later, the two were reunited with Julius who had remained in Switzerland throughout the war. After Ernest completed his military service in the French army, the surviving members of the Marx family immigrated to the United States on June 17, 1947.
    Record last modified:
    2021-03-31 00:00:00
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