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]
Hanna Keselman (born Hanna Rawicz), the daughter of Jakob and Gisa Rawicz, was born December 6, 1930 in Fürth, Germany. The Rawicz family left for France soon after the Nazi takeover. They spent four years in Bischheim (Alsace), before moving to Montreuil, a suburb of Paris. In the summer of 1939, Hanna was sent to live in a foster home in Switzerland. She returned to France at the end of the summer and was placed in a series of OSE (Oeuvre de secours aux Enfants) children’s homes. First, she lived for six months at the Villa Helvetia in Montmorency. This was followed by another half-year at Montintin. Finally, in the fall of 1940, she went to the Château de Chabannes, where she remained until May 1943. Hanna's father was arrested in 1940 and sent to Camp de Milles. On August 13, 1942, he jumped train at Maçon while being deported from Marseilles to Drancy. Hanna's mother remained in Montreuil until 1942. During a police raid she escaped through a window and fled to relatives in Lyon. Subsequently, she and her husband were reunited and fled to Nice in the Italian-occupied zone. Hanna met her parents there in May 1943. The Italians moved them to St. Gervais in the Alps, where the family remained until September 1943. After the Italian armistice the Rawicz' escaped to Italy, which then came under German occupation. They made their way to Rome, where Hanna was placed in a convent. In May 1944 Hanna's father was arrested in Rome and sent to the Fossoli concentration camp. From there he was deported to Flossenbürg, where he perished in March 1945. After the liberation of Rome in June 1944, Gisa retrieved Hanna from the convent. The two lived together in Rome until May 1947, when they immigrated to the United States.