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]