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Members of "Le Comite," a group of prisoners who aided the OSE in Rivesaltes.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 70405

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    Members of "Le Comite," a group of prisoners who aided the OSE in Rivesaltes.
    Members of "Le Comite," a group of prisoners who aided the OSE in Rivesaltes.

Those pictured include Erwin Heilbronner (fourth from right) and his wife Flora Heilbronner (fifth from left).


    Members of "Le Comite," a group of prisoners who aided the OSE in Rivesaltes.

    Those pictured include Erwin Heilbronner (fourth from right) and his wife Flora Heilbronner (fifth from left).
    March 1942 - May 1942
    Rivesaltes, [Pyrenees-Orientales] France
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Simone Weil Lipman
    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 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.

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Simone Weil Lipman
    Source Record ID: Collections: 1990.184.28
    Jacqueline Levy
    Copyright: Exclusively with source

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Daniel Barnea (born Werner Heilbronner) is the younger son of Erwin Heilbronner (born on January 18, 1894) and Flora nee Rheinauer Heilbronner (born on September 24, 1896). Werner was born on May 23, 1929, and his older brother Kurt (today Uri) was born on August 13, 1925. Erwin was an official of the Mannheim branch of the Deutsche Bank until he was fired in October 1937 for being Jewish. However, Erwin still received his pension for his 25 years of service. He then served as the manager of the Jewish welfare department in Mannheim. Erwin and Flora Heilbronner also were active in the Liberal Jewish congregation. On the night of Kristallnacht, Erwin Heilbronner was arrested and sent to Dachau. When stormtroopers entered their apartment, Werner's mother showed them proof of her husband's service as an officer in World War I, and as a result they only did minimal damage to the home. For the next year and a half, the family continued to live in Mannheim. Then on October 22, 1940 they were deported to the Camp Gurs in southern France as part of Aktion Buerckel, the operation to eliminate the Jewish population of the districts of the Saar, Palatinate, and Baden. Half a year later, on March 16, 1941 they were transferred to the Rivesaltes transit camp. Men and women were forced to live in separate barracks. Werner lived with his mother, while Kurt who was older, lived with his father. Erwin and Flora were active in the camp's prisoner Comite and responsible for the camp's welfare kitchen, as well as other small welfare tasks. The boys belonged to the Jewish scout movement, Eclaireurs Israelites de France. In 1942 the OSE arranged for the release of the two boys from the camp. In March 1942, Werner went to the Montintin children's home and stayed there for one year. In 1943 he left for Switzerland and lived in a youth aliyah home Versoix. In May 1942 Kurt left for a farm operated by the Eclaireurs. That fall he also fled to Switzerland. At first he stayed in a work camp, and later he worked on private farms. In May 1945, Werner and Kurt immigrated legally to Palestine on board the ship, Plus Ultra. Erwin and Flora were deported from Rivesaltes to Drancy in 1942; from there were sent to Auschwitz where they perished.
    Record last modified:
    2011-08-31 00:00:00
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