A witness to some of the twentieth century’s darkest moments—the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Algerian War of Independence—the Camp de Rivesaltes occupies a unique and important place in French history. A former military camp, a camp for Spanish refugees, the largest internment camp in Southern France in 1941 and 1942, an internment camp for German prisoners of war and collaborators, and the primary relocation centre for Harkis and their families ... its history is unique. In order to tell this story, a memorial designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti and the agency Passelac & Roques, opened its doors on 16 October 2015. Built on the former block F of the camp, in the middle of the existing buildings, the memorial, measuring 4,000 m2, provides an authoritative account of the history of the forced displacement and subjugation of populations. It is also a place where visitors may cultivate the memory of all those who once passed through its doors.
In 1998, the Pyrénées-Orientales Departmental Council began a project to build a memorial on the site of the Camp de Rivesaltes and for this, acquired one of the blocks of the camp, block F (a 42-hectare site). Given the dimension of the project, the Languedoc-Roussillon Region then emerged as the most suitable actor to ensure the successful realization of the project. The latter has overseen the management of the memorial project since January 2012. Languedoc-Roussillon is the first region in France to undertake a memorial project of this scale and scope, with the aim of promoting a greater awareness of our past and providing the tools to understand a shared history. The history of the Camp de Rivesaltes is at the pivot of events (the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Holocaust, the Algerian War of Independence, etc.), countries (Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, France, Poland, USA, Israel, Algeria, etc.), and cultures. It is also the only site where visible traces of an entire part of the history of the second half of the twentieth century can be seen. This makes the site unique in France. The memorial will become a reference place for the history of the forced displacement of populations and their subjugation, but also a joint place of remembrance. Memories, repressed or sublimated, the cornerstone of communal identities, are the subject of teaching and research, key elements of a historical narrative that aims to explain, set out the facts and allow, through a multidimensional approach, a common narrative to be passed down to present and future generations. The memorial therefore has a deeply humanistic vocation: its intention is to allow communities, unaware of their respective histories, to discover them all under the one roof.
The questions of memory, transmission and education are the foundations of the Rivesaltes Memorial. This site, with regional, national and international dimensions has a variety of missions:
• historical research, the restitution and transmission of this knowledge to the general public, through the form of exhibitions, publications, seminars, conferences, etc.
• an educational dimension with the aim of promoting awareness and knowledge and encouraging a questioning on specific themes, namely the relationship between history and memory, through guided tours, workshops, educational resources, etc.
• an artistic and cultural programme that allows the public to question history and memory in a sensitive and alternative fashion, through the form of exhibitions, artist residencies, concerts, film screenings, etc. The permanent exhibit takes visitors on a discovery of the memorial and of its history. Visitors can also follow an open-air path through the camp, amidst the remains of the barracks. Some of the former buildings have been left untouched, while others have been restored or reconstructed. Combining history and memory, eye-witness accounts and historical records, the aim of the permanent exhibition is to reconstruct the history of the site and the populations once interned there, to explain the causes and mechanisms of their internment, and to shed light on their living conditions and their fate.
The History of the Project
The project of the Mémorial du Camp de Rivesaltes has a long history, punctuated rather unsurprisingly by the vagaries of politics, given that history, politics and memory are so closely intertwined. Firstly, it is worth noting that this project was born from civilian society. Three individuals played a decisive role in the origin of the project: Claude Delmas and Claude Vauchez, who were instrumental in getting the local authorities on board with the project, and Serge Klarsfeld who worked on a national level. It all began in the mid 1990s, with the publication of the Journal de Rivesaltes 1941-1942 (Diary of Rivesaltes), published in 1993. This diary was written by Friedel Bohny-Reiter, a nurse working with a Swiss relief organization for children. In her journal, she writes about life in the camp and the drama of deportation. In 1994, a monument was erected in memory of Jews deported from the Camp de Rivesaltes to Auschwitz, with another monument being erected in December 1995 in honour of the Harkis. This was followed by another commemorative monument in 1999, in homage to the Spanish Republicans. However, it was the scandal caused by the discovery of a file from the camp in a dump by journalist Joël Mettray that marked a milestone in the history of the project. In the wake of this discovery, a largescale national petition was launched by Claude Delmas and Claude Vauchez, and was signed by wellknown figures like Claude Simon, Simone Veil and Edgar Morin. It was at this time that the project took on a political dimension through the involvement of Christian Bourquin, a Socialist candidate running for presidency of the département of the Pyrénées-Orientales, a position he would win in 1998. Throughout his career, as President of the Departmental Council, and later as President of the Regional Council—succeeding Georges Frèche—he made the memorial project one of his priorities. In 2000, Block F was identified by heritage organization, Monuments Historiques, as worthy of conservation. Soon, everything began to fall into place. Christian Bourquin asked Denis Peschanski, a historian specializing in France’s internment camps, to create and chair a scientific and research council which would provide a historical framework to the project. A memorial commission was also established, bringing together various associations, as well as an education commission made up of teachers who had been working on themes relating to the memorial and its history with students for a number of years. Finally, in January 2006, architect Rudy Ricciotti, in collaboration with the architecture agency Passelac & Roques, was awarded the overall design of the project. The project to develop a memorial received unanimous support in a vote by the Pyrénées-Orientales Departmental Council. Robert Badinter would then bring his moral support by agreeing to sponsor the project. There followed a long period of planning and development. While political issues slowed down the advancement of the project, this time was used to learn more about the history of the camp. A photographic inventory was performed on the three major blocks of the camp, J, F and K. Things finally began to move quickly in 2010 when the building permit was issued, with construction work finally beginning in 2012. In 2013, an endowment fund was created, presided by Anne Lauvergeon, and charged with sourcing and mobilizing private financial aid. In January 2014, the memorial’s administrative framework was put in place (EPCC*) and its direction entrusted to Agnès Sajaloli, the following month. Sadly, Christian Bourquin passed away on the 26 August 2014 before witnessing the completion of this project and the inauguration of the Rivesaltes Memorial. History will remember that it was at his funeral, in a speech delivered by Prime Minister Manuel Valls that the French government declared its moral and financial commitment to the project, alongside support from the Languedoc-Roussillon Region and the Departement of the Pyrénées-Orientales. On 16 October 2015, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, officially inaugurated the Mémorial du Camp de Rivesaltes.
«We cannot remain detached from the history of the Camp Joffre through a discourse that is indifferent to the human drama that unfolded on this very site. The memorial is silent and oppressive: it lies in the earth, squarely facing block F, with a calm and silent determination, a monolith of ochre-coloured concrete, untouchable, angled towards the sky. At once buried in, and emerging from the earth, the memorial appears on the surface of the natural landscape as one enters the camp, and stretches to the eastern extremity of the former meeting place, to a height that is level with the roofs of the existing buildings. This arrangement or co-visibility doesn’t hinder a reading of the features of block F. The effects of erosion over time are noticeable in some of the buildings, thereby marking erasure and absence, questioning the visitor regarding memory or oblivion. The site has been reclaimed by a tenacious and spontaneous vegetation. The project has altered none of this. If anything, it has been showcased, forming a natural backdrop to an exterior pathway where visitors can stroll freely. An environment propitious to meditation and serenity… To the west of the memorial, some of the buildings have been rebuilt, recreating the serial and alienating spatiality of the camp. Here, there is an absence of vegetation, resulting in a flat, arid landscape, unmarked by shadows, and buffeted by the wind. From the carpark, situated at the outer south-west corner of the block, the visitor can enjoy panoramic views of the camp. The memorial is reached by a pathway that starts from the carpark, in line with the entrance to the building. This pathway leads to either the entrance of the camp or to an exterior pathway or route, with views of the nearby Corbières and Pyrénées. Visitors can pause, look around them, meditate and reflect, in this space that is free of charge and accessible to all. From the pathway, the visitor arrives at the entrance and discovers a silent monument, aligned with block F. Access to the memorial is indirect, via a ramp that is partially buried in the ground, thereby sanctifying the megalith, and becoming the stepping stone to a journey through time. This tunnel ends abruptly: the visitor finds himself facing a block that is 240 metres long, opaque and timeless, just a few metres from where he stands. After two strides in the daylight, the visitor enters a building where he will soon discover that the only views or openings towards the exterior are towards the sky itself. The lobby is enveloped in a soft lighting and a calm and serene atmosphere reigns. Propitious to a visit. Opposite the lobby is a long wall, devoid of any elements or decor, in which a passageway is situated. A kind of enigma. Once within, the visitor finds himself in a unique space. He can see small chinks of light skimming the ground and the surface of the ochre concrete walls. The atmosphere is heavy and solemn. It is a long passageway, relatively narrow. Visitors move forward, curious, until they reach the exhibition space. At times, they cross paths with visitors coming in the opposite direction. The atmosphere promotes silence. The temporary and permanent exhibition spaces are arranged around a large pillared hall, artificially lit from the ground, with large-sized images projected onto vertical concrete walls. The scenography is modest, without grandiloquence, placed at a distance from the walls, allowing a complete reading of the volume of the room. The visit continues with a return to the gallery, but in reverse. The visitor then leaves the memorial to go back outside into the camp and the dazzling light. The outside path forms a loop around the museum, marking the end of the visit. The memorial offers no view of the exterior, except for the sky. However, microcosms are present here and there inside the building. Three patios structure the organization of the learning labs, social area and offices, all the while providing a certain sense of comfort. These are three distinct worlds, each differing in their vocation. This project is rooted in acceptance. Acceptance of the block, its lines, its military geometry transformed into something alienating, and of course, its history. Acceptance of the wind that blows. The nearby wind turbines are proof that our era coexists with the wind. Our epoch can coexist with its history. The Rivesaltes Memorial, compacted between earth and sky, between past and memory, is situated exactly in the present and in life itself. Its formal violence demonstrates the impossibility of forgetting!» (Rudy Ricciotti)
A witness to some of the twentieth century’s darkest moments—the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Algerian War of Independence—the Camp de Rivesaltes occupies a unique and important place in French history. A former military camp, a camp for Spanish refugees, the largest internment camp in Southern France in 1941 and 1942, an internment camp for German prisoners of war and collaborators, and the primary relocation centre for Harkis and their families ... its history is...
- Year 2015
- Work finished in 2015
- Status Completed works
- Type Shrines and memorials