The 21st Workshop on History and Memory of National Socialist Camps and Extermination Sites” will take place in May 2016 in Aix-en-Provence (France) with the topic “Between Collaboration and Resistance”.
The workshop is always held at locations related to the overall topic of National Socialist camps and mass extermination sites. In 2016 this will be the memorial site of Les Milles near the town of Aix-en-Provence (France). The history of the Provence region and the local internment camps will serve as a springboard for discussing the complex relations between collaboration and resistance.
Many Germans and Austrians, among them were Jews, Antifascists, and Intellectuals, escaped the Nazi persecutions and went to France. Some of them organized resistance against Nazi Germany from their exile, like in the village of Sanary-sur-Mer. Since 1938 German and Austrian were not tolerated anymore by the French population. Initially, the French government under Daladier laid the foundation for the incarceration with the decree on elimination of enemy aliens in November 12, 1938.This was the legal basis for interning foreigners, whose activities seemed to threaten the national security and order . The first “centres speciaux” were established in the beginning of 1939 to isolate communists, refugees from the Spanish Civil War, and “enemy aliens”.
German and Austrian refugees that were in exile in France were not safe anymore: From September 1940 onwards, the French government did not only react in the foreign affairs to their war time enemy, but also on the domestic front interning people of German or Austrian origin in special internment camps in France. Until May 1940 around 100 camps were established under the authority of the French Army, one of them was in Les Milles.
With the armistice between France and Germany in June 22, 1940, France was divided in two parts: The North part was occupied by the Germans and the South was still under French authority. However, the Vichy Regime in the South was established in July 1940 and did not follow democratic traditions and collaborated with Nazi Germany. This regime had already led anti-Semitic and anticommunist policies before officially collaborating: On October 4, 1940 they created a law which enabled the ministry of internal affairs to intern foreign Jews in internment camps like Les Milles. At the end of October 1940, Vichy France started a policy of collaboration with Nazi Germany, for example by incarcerating German Jews that were deported to internment camps like Gurs in the South of France . Initially, the joint Vichy and Nazi Germany plan was to force the Jews into emigration to Madagascar (Plan Madagascar). In the summer 1942, Vichy France participated in the “final solution” and legal emigration was no longer possible. All Jews interned in French internment camps were deported to the camp of Drancy near Paris, which was under German administration, and from there to Auschwitz, where they were exterminated.
The local population had differing attitudes towards the camps and the deportations: Some worked in the camp as guards, others helped inmates to escape, and some did not do anything. In the camps, aid agencies, like the Red Cross, were trying to help the internees in the camp, supporting them with extra food and sanitary aid. They also helped in the progress of getting documents for emigration. One of them was the American Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) with Varian Fry, e.g. rescuing Hannah Arendt at an earlier stage when legal emigration was still authorized.
This difficult tension between collaboration, complicity and bystander as well as resistance can be seen in the memory of the the former camp Les Milles: An educational center was created in September 2012, after long debates. Its slogan has been: “Chacun peut résister, chacun à sa manière” (“Everybody can resist his own way”), and one key point of the exhibition are the attitudes between collaboration and resistance. Importance in the history and memory of the camp in Les Milles is also placed on the artistic activities in the camp like the murals, which may be seen as a form of artistic resistance within the camp.
Furthermore, the history of the French resistance fighters, which has been valued greatly in the French memory other than the memory of collaboration, is closely connected to the workshop’s main theme, as some resistance fighters were arrested and mostly deported into concentration camps in Nazi Germany.