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Saint Cyprien
The Establishment and the Features of the Camp

The internment camp in Saint Cyprien
Image courtesy of USHMM, histoire du Roussilion

On February 8th, 1939, the internment camp was established in Southern France on the beach in Saint Cyprien, in the area of the eastern Pyrenees. Its story is quite emblematic also because the place has been quite neglected: the construction of a Memorial has been requested in the last years. Saint Cyprien was one of the internment camps (Argelès sur Mer, Barcarès, Rivesaltes, Agde, Bram) originally established for about 453,000 refugees, Spanish Republicans, who escaped from Spain in 1939 during the so-called Retirada. It was in function until December 19th, 1940, when it was closed down for sanitary reasons and its inmates were moved to Gurs. The refugees lived in tents, the few barracks hosted only sick people. On March 10th, 1939, about 90,000 inmates were registered in the camp: they were mostly Spanish at least until January 1940. The camp was made up of thirteen areas, separated from each other by a row of barbed wire. Each area was 300 meters for 500 and included 28 barracks ranging from 75 m2 to 125 m2, in which there were about 75 men.

After the invasion of Belgium, in May 1940 many Germans, stateless Jews, Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Belgians who had been expelled from there were interned since they were considered surplus in the national economy and supposed spies on behalf of the Third Reich. The Jewish phase of the camp then started. Saint Cyprien had become a Concentration camp for foreign Jews. 

The Kundt commission, passing through St Cyprien in late July 1940, counted the internees by nationality; there were a total of 5065 people with a majority of Germans (2675) and Austrians (989) who had been deported from Belgium and were treated by the police and the population as suspects German spies belonging to the 5th German column.

During the arrests the Belgian police ordered the refugees to take food for 48 hours, those arrested in the street had the chance to go to their apartment to get food, or personal effects, which were anyway gradually confiscated during the 18 days of their trip as evidenced in an incomplete list tracing the route of the deportees. Many of them were later deported to the extermination Camps through Gurs or Drancy.

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