Drancy Internment Camp is Established in France & 70,000 Prisoners Pass Through Within 3 Years, 1941
On This Day in Jewish History: August 20, 1941
In Drancy, France, German authorities opened a transit camp in 1941 for French Jewish prisoners. Though it was functioning like a Nazi concentration camp, the French authorities ran the camp until 1943 and were provided aid by the Red Cross and French Jewish organizations. Once the SS took over the camp on July 2, 1943, the conditions declined rapidly and deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau increased.
With a capacity of 5,000 prisoners at a time, 70,000 prisoners, mainly Jews, passed through Drancy within the 3 years of operations. The SS also utilized 5 subcamps throughout Paris, primarily as warehouses for personal property confiscated from Jews. Despite the harsh conditions at Drancy, the High Holidays were observed in a synagogue that was established in 1941, and many prisoners attended Shabbat services regularly, despite German prohibitions.
Often having to remain in their own block, prisoners weren’t able to communicate with one another frequently and thus created other modes of communication; one of which was utilizing the toilets in a building known as “The Red Castle” as it was one of the few areas in the camp where prisoners could go freely from their blocks in groups of 4. It quickly became a hub of rumours, crystalizing hopes of liberation.
During the Summer of 1942, systematic deportations from Drancy to extermination camps in occupied Poland began. The first transport on June 22, 1942 took 1000 Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Over the course of 64 transits, a total of 64,759 Jews were deported from Drancy; 61,000 were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and 3,753 were sent to Sobibor.
On August 15-16, 1944, Allied forces neared Drancy and German authorities quickly burnt camp documents and fled. The Swedish Consul-General, Raoul Nordling, took over the camp on August 17 and immediately asked the French Red Cross to care for the remaining 1,500 prisoners. Of the thousands of Jewish prisoners who were sent to Drancy, fewer than 2,000 survived the Holocaust. May their memories be a blessing.