Occupation and Resistance in Ariège during WW2

During the Second World War, many people wound up in Ariège by choice or by force. Some were able to escape to Spain with the help of inhabitants, while  others met their ends here. These are their stories.

The Freedom Trail (chemin de la Liberté):
WWII escape route to Spain

Freedom Trail PyreneesThis is not a hike for the faint-hearted. Inaugurated in 1994 as an official way-marked walk, the path is unique in that it commemorates one of the several secret escape routes over the central Pyrenees into northern Spain during the Second World War. A route taken not only by hundreds of Frenchmen and Jews fleeing from their German oppressors, but also by many R.A.F. and American airmen who had either crash-landed or parachuted to safety after being shot down over Nazi-occupied Europe.

The children of the château de la Hille

Chateau de la HilleAs a result of the persecution of Jews during the so-called "Kristallnacht" in November 1938, Belgium accepted several hundred German and Austrian Jewish children. Among them were about a hundred boys and girls who were lodged in two homes in Brussels. When the German army invaded in May 1940, the approximately 100 children aged 5 to 16 years were able to escape at the last minute on a freight train, thanks to the intervention of the director of the girls' home.

A young Jewish woman's escape over the Pyrenees to Spain

Inge (Berlin) Vogelstein was 19 in April 1943 when she and two other young Jewish refugees fled over the Pyrenees to safety in Spain. She settled in the United States.

 

inge BerlinIt was in 1939 when, together with my younger brother, I was able to escape Nazi persecution in Germany by means of a children's transport to Belgium. But with the German invasion in 1940 we found ourselves once again under Hitler's rule. While the invasion was in progress, we were evacuated in freight trains under heavy bombardment to southern France, to the hamlet of Seyre (Haute Garonne). A group of some 100 children between the ages of four and sixteen, we lived there for about one year under extremely difficult circumstances, until the Swiss Red Cross became aware of us and moved us to the Château de la Hille near Montégut-Plantaurel in Ariège. While living conditions were still primitive, they were much improved, and gradually we settled down to a well-functioning communal life – until the southern part of France, initially unoccupied, was taken over by German authorities as well. From that time on, those of us who had reached their sixteenth year lived in danger of being arrested and deported. In 1942 it happened: the older ones among us were arrested and taken to the concentration camp of Le Vernet, destined for deportation to the death camps in the East. As we were watching, other French Jews (and probably other minorities) were herded into trains to meet their fate. Thanks to the efforts of the Swiss Red Cross, our group was allowed to return to La Hille. It soon became clear, however, that this was only a temporary breathing spell: we were no longer taken as a group, but individually, at intervals. That is why a number of us decided to attempt escape, some to Switzerland, some to Spain. I opted for the latter route.

1939-1944: Le Vernet concentration camp

entrance Le Vernet campBeginning in 1939, after the defeat of the Spanish Repulic, the concentration camp at Le Vernet, near Pamiers in Ariège, was used to detain the 12,000 Spanish combatants from the Durruti Division. At the declaration of war, "undesirable" foreigners, anti-fascist intellectuals and members of the International Brigades were interned at Le Vernet under terrible conditions, described by the writer Arthur Koestler (himself interned there) in "La lie de la terre". In 1940 it became a repressive camp for interning all foreigners considered suspect or dangerous to the public order. From 1942 it served also as a transit camp for Jews arrested in the region. In June 1944, the last internees were evacuated and deported to Dachau in the "Ghost Train." In total about 40,000 persons of 58 nationalities were interned in the camp--mainly men but also women and children.

1942 : A young Ariègeoise helps lead a family of Jews into Spain

Jeanne Rogalle en 2000After the fall of France the country was divided into the zone occupied by the German army which included Paris and the Atlantic coast, and the unoccupied zone ruled from Vichy. From March 1942 to January 1943 Jews in this area were sent to live in the hotels and lodge in the houses of Aulus-les-Bains. At the time, although Aulus was a thriving spa town, there were only 3 telephones and 3 cars in the whole village and the railway stopped at St Girons.

On August 26 1942 the French authorities arrested the Austrian, German and Polish Jews who were then deported to the concentration camps.

Many thanks to these photographers

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