Nord Pas de Calais Camps Trail
(c) Marcus Roberts (2016). We gratefully acknowledge the support of an anonymous foundation and the Muriel and Gershon Coren Charitable Foundation.


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The Nazis used these slave labour camps to oppress the countries they had conquered and to provide much needed labour for the Nazi war-effort. They also used camps to punish people who did not conform to what the Nazis wanted (for example by not working for them or by breaking their rules) and to eliminate anyone who was regarded as an enemy of the German state (you could even be sent to a camp for telling a joke about Hitler or listening to the BBC). They also used the labour camps as a way of killing people who were regarded as racially inferior or otherwise un-desirable by the Nazis, through what the Germans call the 'Doctrine of Annihilation through Labour'. Many inmates of the camps would gradually die over weeks and months, through neglect, hunger, beatings, lack of medical care and over-work, even if the labour camps did not have gas chambers or mass-executions. The experience of slave and involuntary labour was one of the defining aspects of Nazi occupation, affecting many millions of Jews, Christians and Muslims from across Europe, but one that is still little talked about.

The slave workers in Nord Pas de Calais included large groups of Jewish slaves assigned to help build Hitler's Atlantic Wall and his terror weapons sites and they constructed many bunkers and roads along the coast line in the area, including the 4 km Chemin des Juifs (Jew's Road). In World War II a group of 2252 Jewish men living in Belgium were separated from this families and deported to work as slave labour on Hitler's Atlantic Wall in the vicinity of Boulogne and Calais, in July / August 1942. They were told it was paid work for 3 months and would save their families from reprisals. They were sent to some 15 permanent and temporary forced labour camps, mostly along the coast. They worked on the Atlantic Wall making bunkers and defences, as well as repairing bomb damage, for 3 months, until October 1942, when most were transported, via Mechelen, in Belgium, direct to Auschwitz concentration camp, where 97% were killed, at, or soon after, their arrival. Their families back in Belgium, with the protection of fathers and sons already deliberately removed by the Gestapo, were easy victims and were also sent to be exterminated at Auschwitz.

Other Jews, mostly from France, were sent to these camps to join the surviving Jews from the first cohort later in the War. The Jews who were permitted to remain were, either Jews of Belgian nationality, and men married to Aryan (non-Jewish) women, as this status gave them some protection. Some of them remained in the camps right up to the end of the War, though the ultimate death-rate was around 85%. Jews were also included in the multi-national labour forces building the giant V weapon block houses further in-land and were sent from other concentration camps across Europe.

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