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 History of the Jewish Camps in the Nord Pas de Calais

The first Jewish slave labourers were brought to the Nord Pas de Calais, on 12 September 1941, to construct the Lindemann Batterie near to Sangatte. In 1942 a much larger group of 2252 Jewish slave labourers, living in Belgium, were deported direct from Belgium to work from circa 15 permanent and temporary camps along the coast. These Jews were a mixture of a minority of Belgian born Jews and a majority of Jews who had originated from other countries, such as Holland, France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Rumania, Russia and Britain, who had settled in Belgium between the wars. Later the northern French camps received a contingent of 650 French Jews deported from Camps Sylt and Norderney on the Island of Alderney, where the Nazis established the only concentration camps on British soil, along with other foreign Jews who had been deported to the area.

To begin with the Belgian Jews were stripped of their civil rights and were increasingly thrown into unemployment by the Nazis. The unemployed were labelled 'anti-social' elements and were the ones ear-marked for deportation and forced labour by the Germans assisted by the Belgian authorities - the Police and the Belgian Bureau of Employment. Most of the deportees came from Antwerp. The deportations took place over three months and there were four transports from Antwerp on 13, 14 July, 4 August and 12 September 1942. Three other transports left Brussels on 26 June, Charleroi 31 July and Liege on 3 August 1942.

Through the summer in 1942, the Jewish labour camps were established along the Cote D'Opale, with another camp, Mazures, further south near to Charleville. The following is a list of the main transports:

(1) 13 June, 1942 - 250 Jews of mixed nationalities went to the camp at Condette.
(2) 14 July 1942 Jews were sent to Calais and Port-Mahon.
(3) 18 July c.200 Jews from Antwerp arrive Mazures camp via Revin.
(4) 14 August, 250 deportees arrive in Calais.
(5) 5 August, 1942, 300 deportees to Boulogne and others on a separate train at Dannes-Camiers.
(6) In May 1944, 650 Jews who had been held in slave labour camps on Alderney were transported to Nord Pas de Calais and sent to Dannes-Camier, with the older men being sent to Lager Brauneck in Boulogne.

The camp at Dannes, Lager Tibor, was used to assemble and registered the new arrivals and then allocate prisoners to the other camps along the coast. The main permanent camps were Lager Tibor at Dannes and Lager Gneisenau at Camier and that the others, with the exception of Mazures and the partial exception of Lager Brauneck, in Boulogne, were more transient and were effectively Kommandos of the main camps, with some lasting only as long as required to complete work in a particular area. Most of these camps only had make-shift accommodation, often in the form of tents and were in fields out-side villages. Only the more significant camps had pre-fabricated barrack huts and these could be readily moved and redeployed elsewhere. There is little physical evidence of the minor camps in Allied aerial photography, probably due to their transient construction and duration.

They were officially 'employed' by Organisation Todt (OT), Hitler's 'super' civil contractor, which was originally created by Fritz Todt, to construct the Siegfried Line (completed 1938), a mission considered so successful that the organisation was made permanent construction wing of the German Army. The OT constructed the Atlantic Wall, and the Belgian prisoners were contained in some fifteen or more both permanent and temporary camps or kommandos along the coast, though the exact list is difficult to exactly determine due to significant confusions of names and locations or different synonyms used for the same camp and the transience of some work sites.

The Jewish prisoners were allocated to a large number of German firms, who were voluntary civilian sub-contractors of the OT, whom tendered competitive bids for contracts and profited from free or inexpensive labour. The principal companies were, Micka, H. Dohrman, Max Fruh, Vaisset, H. Holzmann, Julius Berger, Leonhard Hanbuch & Sohne, Joh. Schneider, L. Livernet, A. Jung, Scholzen, Hermecke, Loth & Bopp, Friedrich Wolff. However, the Jewish labourer were rarely or never paid for their work, even if the companies accounted for the payment of wages.

The majority of Belgian Jewish Deportees only stayed for some three brief months in the Northern French Camps. This was because in August and September of 1942, the Final Solution to exterminate all the Jews in Europe was initiated, and it was planned that the whole Jewish population of Belgium and northern France would be deported for extermination. The first transport for Auschwitz left Mechelen on 4 August, 1942. However, because the local authorities failed to meet their initial quota of c. 20,000 persons, it was decided to make up the numbers with the Jewish prisoners in the Northern French Camps and with this the vast majority of the original Jewish prisoners were deported in various transports via Mechelen to Auschwitz. However a very small number were sent to Drancy and to French prisons such as Merxplas, while a few fortunate prisoners effected escapes. Most of the Jews selected for transportation were in fact foreign born Jews who had come to Belgium between the wars and the Belgian Jews remaining in the camps were Belgian nationals.

(c) Marcus R. Roberts (2015)

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