Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /var/www/vhosts/lamoth.org/httpdocs/core/inc/bigtree/navigation.php on line 319

Camp Gurs was an internment and refugee camp constructed by the French government in 1939. The camp was originally set up in southwestern France after the fall of Catalonia at the end of the Spanish Civil War to control those who fled Spain out of fear of retaliation from Francisco Franco's regime. At the start of the World War II, the French government interned Germans and citizens of other Axis Powers, as well as French nationals who were considered to have dangerous political ideas or who were imprisoned for ordinary crimes.  After the French Vichy government signed an armistice with the Nazis in 1940, Gurs became a concentration camp forJews of any nationality except French, as well as people considered dangerous by the government.  Starting on August 6, 1942, those interned at Gurs were sent in convoys to the Drancy deportation camp, on the outskirts of Paris, and later many were murdered in extermination camps. The majority of them were sent to Auschwitz.

The camp measured about 1,400 meters in length and 200 in width, an area of 28 hectares. The only street spanned the length of the camp. Both sides of the street were surrounded by parcels of 200 meters by 100 meters, named îlots (blocks; literally, "islets"). There were seven îlots on one side and six on the other. The parcels were separated from the street and from each other by wire fences. The fences were doubled in the back part of the parcels, forming a passageway in which the exterior guards circulated.

In each parcel stood about 30 cabins; there were 382 cabins altogether. They were assembled from thin planks of wood and covered with tarred fabric, all identical in construction and size. They were not provided with windows or other insulation. They did not offer protection from the cold, and the tarred fabric soon began to deteriorate, allowing rainwater to enter the cabins. Closets were nonexistent, and residents slept on sacks of straw gathered place on the floor. Despite the fact that each cabin had an area of only 25 square meters, each cabin had to lodge up to 60 people during times of peak occupancy. 

Food was scarce and poor in quality; there was no sanitation, running water, or plumbing. The camp had poor drainage. The area, due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, receives a great deal of rain, which made the clay campgrounds permanently muddy. The inmates made paths with the few stones they could find in a vain attempt to keep the mud in check. Pieces of wire that had been stripped of their barbs were placed between the cabins and the toilets and used by the refugees like the railing of a staircase, to maintain balance on the unsteady ground.

In each îlot there were rudimentary toilets, not very different from the sort of troughs that would be used to feed animals. There was also a platform about 2 meters high, which one climbed using steps, and upon which were built additional toilets. Under the platform there were large tubs that collected excrement. Once they were full they were transported out of the camp in carts.

In October of 1940, the Nazi Gauleiter ("governor") from the Baden region of Germany had also been named Gauleiter of the neighboring French region of Alsace. In Baden resided some 7,500 Jews; they were mainly women, children, and the elderly, given that the young and middle-aged men had fled from Germany or had disappeared in the Nazi concentration camps.  The Gauleiter received word that the camp at Gurs was mostly empty, and on October 25, 1940, it was decided to evacuate the Jews from Baden (between 6,500 and 7,500) to Gurs as part of Operation Wagner-Bürckel. There, they remained locked up under French administration. The living conditions were even more difficult, and during the year that they remained in the camp, more than a thousand fell victim to illness, especially typhus and dysentery.  Of the survivors, some 700 managed to escape and almost 2,000 obtained visas that permitted them to emigrate. Among those who escaped from Gurs was the author Hannah Arendt. The rest, numbering several thousand, remained in the camp, and males in the best physical condition were imprisoned in French work gangs.

Once the program for the eradication of the Jews was put into motion in the camps in Poland, the Vichy regime turned over the 5,500 Jews who were located in Gurs to the Nazis. On July 18, 1942, the SS captain, Theodor Dannecker, inspected the camp and then ordered that they prepare themselves to be transported to Eastern Europe. Beginning on August 6, they were sent in convoys to theDrancy deportation camp, on the outskirts of Paris, and later many were murdered in extermination camps. The majority of them were sent to Auschwitz.