Interned in France

Gustav Ferl, former Social Democratic member of the German Reichstag, lived in exile in Belgium until the Nazi invasion of that country, and then fled to France. Now he has arrived in [the] USA, and he tells the story of his sufferings in France in the "Neue Volkszeitung", New York.

"Obviously", he says, "the responsible quarters in France were prepared for the allocation of internees from Belgium as well as for the war against the Nazis. For 16 days we drove in a cattle train from one part of France to the other, and eventually, after short stays in other camps, we landed at the camp St. Cyprien near Perpignan in the Pyrenees. This camp was hastily erected after the defeat of the Spanish republic, when ten thousands of Spanish fighters for freedom crossed the French border. When the Spaniards had left the camp, it fell in disrepair. Thus, we moved into half ruined huts. I recollect that we were forced partly with the aid of whips and rifles, into the dark huts at 11 o'clock at night. I shall never forget how we fell down on the sand; half-starved and in wet clothes, and how the water seeped on us through the wooden walls. Some days later we fixed tarred cardboard on the walls, but floors were never laid. Only some straw was given to us and soon it was so mixed with sand that there was nothing like a decent sleeping facility. Even worse than the dust in the huts was the ordeal caused by flees. Milliards of them were in straw and sand, and men with sensitive skin suffered agonies. Many internees fell ill because of bad drinkwater. The waterpipes went just two metres deep, and the water was by no means clean. No wonder that an epidemic broke out, and 30 young men died in two months. An interned doctor took blood proofs from the infected persons, fled from the camp, analysed the blood, and not before he had proved that it was typhoid, were the internees inoculated and the epidemic checked. Some of the bad health conditions, especially the very bad state of the lavatories, could be improved by the internees themselves, but much was left as it was before.

The French administration of the camp refused many of the suggestions, telling us: "We are a defeated country, [Seite im Original:] - 6 - we have a shortage, we have no wood, and we are concerned about other things". The food was tolerable at St. Cyprien. Bread and meat was given in insufficient quantities, but there [was] plenty of fruit and vegetable. Those who had money, could buy additional food in the canteen which was run by internees. The prices, however, were high. We repeatedly asked the Commandant of the camp to be removed to another camp. But not before the end of October 1940, we were moved to the camp of Gurs."

(In No. 25 of the "Sozialistische Mitteilungen", we published a report on this camp, and Mr. Ferl confirms the statement made there on: the mud covering the paths and the floors in that camp, on the bad and insufficient food and on the terrible number of ill and dying people).

Mr. Ferl says in the conclusion of his report: "I am well aware of the fact that France is in a rather difficult position. I also know that internment cannot be a recreation, but I always had the feeling that something is rotten in France. I cannot help feeling that certain quarters in France do everything in order to prove that France is not a country of justice and humanity. I think of the fact that the American consul General in Marseille invited me to call for my American Visa in August, 1940, that I was not allowed to do so before October, in spite of countless applications made to the authorities of Vichy, Pau and Perpignan, and that I had to wait until February, 1941, before I obtained the "visa de sortie"; and I asked why the French retained an undesirable "eater" for such a long time? Was it muddle - or fear of Hitler? ... The internment of political and Jewish refugees will add nothing to the glory of France. Once the ex-internees spread over the whole world, much damage will be done to France. We, as political refugees, know why we are suffering. We do not blame peoples for their governments, but not all the refugees make such distinctions. And it is therefore that I regret the attitude of some French authorities. I fear that France has lost many friends. But the worst thing that could be done by a French government was the extradition of political refugees. That will never be forgotten."

Quelle: friedrich-ebert-stiftung am 14.07.2006

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