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“What’s that?” Wednesday

This photo of the Gurs concentration camp, taken from a water tower, shows the rows of prisoner barracks. Located at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains, Gurs was one of the first and largest camps to be established in prewar France.

The camp opened in April 1939, at first only serving as a detention camp for political refugees and members of the International Brigade who fled Spain during the Spanish Civil War. In early 1940, the French government interned about 4,000 German Jewish refugees who were called “enemy aliens,” along with French leftist political leaders who opposed the war with Germany. Once France was under the collaborationist Vichy regime, German authorities began to deport Jews from southwestern Germany to Gurs.

In October 1940, 6,000 Jews were deported from southwestern Germany to the Gurs concentration camp. This was the only deportation from Germany to head west to France instead of east to Poland.

Conditions in the camp were primitive, as there was constant overcrowding and shortages of water, food, and clothing. Diseases, including typhoid fever and dysentery, affected many of the prisoners and during 1940 to 1941, 800 prisoners died of such diseases.