Children wait for a meal at the Secours Suisse barracks.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 32288
1941 - 1942
- Photo Designation
TRANSIT CAMPS/INTERNMENT CAMPS -- France -- Rivesaltes -- Prisoners/Daily Life -- Children/Youth
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Friedel Bohny-Reiter
Children wait for a meal at the Secours Suisse barracks.
- Event History
- 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 (Gypsies) 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 Gypsies to other camps. After the liberation of France, Rivesaltes was used as a POW camp for captured Germans.
- Friedel Reiter (later Bohny-Reiter, 1912-2001), worked as a nurse working for the Secours Suisse aux enfants and helped rescue Jewish children interned in the French internment camp of Rivesaltes during World War II. Born in Vienna, Reiter was orphaned during World War I. At the end of the war she came to Switzerland on a Red Cross orphans transport. When she reached adulthood, Reiter trained as a pediatric nurse in Zurich. In 1941 she joined the Secours Suisse aux enfants (Swiss Aid to Children), an organization founded to care for children displaced during the Spanish Civil War under the auspices of the Swiss Red Cross (CRS). On November 12, 1941 Reiter was sent by the Secours Suisse to the Rivesaltes internment camp in the unoccupied zone of France. There, she did her best with meager resources to provide medical care, clothing and food for the interned Jewish, Gypsy and Spanish children. As the situation in the camp deteriorated in the spring of 1942, Reiter realized the necessity of removing as many of the children as possible. In her effort to find institutions in France that would shelter them, she met with August Bohny, who since October 1941 had been running the L'Abric children's home (sponsored by the Secours Suisses) in the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. In April 1942 Bohny was asked to convert an old castle, known as the Chateau de Montluel, near Lyon, into a home for children released from Rivesaltes. When Reiter brought the first group of children to Montluel, she met Bohny for the first time. He later became her husband. When he returned to Le Chambon a short time later, Reiter began funneling groups of children to him. In response to the increased need for institutions to shelter refugees, Bohny established another Secours Suisse children's home, the Faïdoli, in the fall of 1942 and a separate furniture making workshop [Atelier Cevenol] The following spring he also set up an agricultural training school for refugees [ferme école]. In January 1943 Friedel was sent to Le Chambon-sur-Lignon to work as a director of an orphanage with August Bohny. The couple lived there until the end of 1944. Together Friedel Reiter and August Bohny saved hundreds of lives. In 1990 both were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. Reiter recorded her experiences at Rivesaltes in a wartime diary that was published only in 1993. Four years later, the journal became the subject of a documentary film by Swiss filmmaker Jacqueline Veuve (Switzerland 1997).
[Sources: Bohny-Reiter, Friedel. Journal de Rivesaltes 1941-1942, Editions Zoe, 1993; Interviews with August Bohny-Reiter and Friedel Bohny-Reiter, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, May 27, 1994.]
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Friedel Bohny-Reiter
Record last modified: 2006-12-13 00:00:00
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa1109923