It happened on August 17. On August 17, 1944 the last convoy of deportees leaves the Drancy internment camp heading to Germany. The following day, 1,467 prisoners are freed after the arrival of the Swedish diplomatic representative and members of the Red Cross.
Set in the eastern suburb of Paris, the Cité de la Muette de Drancy – including a long U-shaped four-floor building and five towers – has been built in the early 1930’s by architects Eugène Beaudoin and Marcel Lods who wanted to make a model of architectural modernity.
Stopped amid the construction because of economic issues, the place is taken over by the Germans and the Vichy regime, and in 1940, it becomes an internment camp without heating system, nor sanitary facilities, nor window glasses but a floor made of concrete. Therefore, the courtyard is closed with barbed wire and the floor covered in scoria. Shacks for latrine and miradors are set up at the four corners of the courtyard by the French police force managing the camp.
Horrific example of the criminal collaboration between the Nazis and the Vichy authorities, the Drancy camp welcomes – from June 1940 – war prisoners – communist prisoners from the moment the Germano-Soviet pact was signed, German prisoners, French soldiers – and foreign civilians.
On August 20, 1941, the Drancy camp becomes an internment camp for Jews. 4,230 men including 1,500 French, grabbed in Paris between August 20 and 25, are the first Jews locked in the Drancy camp. The first names of a long list featuring 76,000 people, men, women, and children, who will stay at Drancy-la-Juice – as it was called back then – between several days and several months.
Squeezed by 50 per rooms, internees are first stripped away from their IDs, money, sleep on concrete floor, without a mattress or blanket. Starvation quickly spreads; every day, inmates are given 250gr bread from their jailers. Outings are limited to one hour daily, health conditions are unsanitary, dysentery and vermin are everywhere.
Both a camp of retaliation, transit and concentration, the Drancy camp becomes – under the French administration and German commandment – the antechamber of the Eastern camps; the last stop before the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the other concentration and extermination camps of the Reich. The first convoy heading Auschwitz leaves on March 27, 1942 from Drancy.
Over the months, 63 convoys leave the Bourget-Drancy station, then the Bobigny station, for the extermination camps, with 65,000 people on board. In France, nine Jewish deportees in ten transit through the Drancy camp during the Shoah.
In June 1943, the Drancy camp fully moves under total German control. A commando of Austrian SS officers – led by Aloïs Brunner – take charge of the camp administration then entrusted to the Police Prefecture. But the latter happens to collaborate less and less with the Germans. Brunner accelerates the deportation of French Jews.
On August 17, 1944, barely a few days prior to the Liberation of Paris, and while the German army is faced with a genuine rout, Brunner manages to organize the last convoy from Drancy. On board, 51 deportees headed to the Buchenwald camp, as well as Brunner himself and a few other SS officers fleeing from France. 39 people managed to escape from the wagons before they made it to Germany.
In the camp, inmates manage to save archives from the destruction by the Germans who end up beating a hasty retreat. On August 18, 1944, 1,467 inmates are freed from the Drancy internment camp.
©Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10920 / Wisch / CC-BY-SA 3.0
©Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10917 / CC-BY-SA 3.0