But the most famous internment camps before World War II were used to receive the Republicanrefugees during the Spanish Civil War. These were interned mostly in the Roussillon Province, although internment camps were established in all of French territory, even in Brittany, in the north-west of France. These camps were located in:
To these camps must be added the camps for the German prisoners in 1939 (sometimes overlapping with those above), and those of the Colonial Empire, not well known in Europe.
Furthermore, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who had been named Consul in Paris for Immigration, organized the transportation to Chile of 2,200 Spanish refugees who had been detained in the camps on board the Winnipeg, which departed on 2 August 1939, and arrived in Valparaíso at the beginning of September 1939.
Beside Jews, Germans and Austrians were immediately rounded-up in camps, as well as Spanish refugees, who were later deported. 5,000 Spaniards thus died in Mauthausen concentration camp. The French colonial soldiers were interned by the Germans on French territory, instead of being deported.
The Third Republic and the Vichy regime would successively call these places "reception camps" ("camps d'accueil"), "internment camps" ("camps d'internement"), "sojourn camps" ("camps de séjour"), "guarded sojourn camps" ("camps de séjour surveillés"), "prisoner camps" ("camps de prisonniers"), etc. Another category was created by the Vichy regime: the "transit camps" ("camps de transit"), referring to the fact the detainees were to be deported to Germany. Such "transit camps" included Drancy, Pithiviers, etc.
During the 1943 "Battle of Marseille" and urban scaping operations in the center of town, 20,000 people were expelled from their homes and interned during several months in military camps nearby Fréjus (La Lègue, Caïs and Puget).
There were no extermination camps in France. However, the camp of Struthof, or Natzweiler-Struthof, in Alsace, which is the only concentration camp created by Nazis on French territory (annexed by the Third Reich) did include a gas chamber which was used to exterminate at least 86 detainees (mostly Jewish) with the aim of constituting a collection of preserved skeletons (as this mode of execution did no damage to the skeletons themselves) for the use of Nazi professor August Hirt.
Drancy internment camp: On 20 August 1941, French police conducted raids throughout the 11th arrondissement (district) of Paris and arrested more than 4,000 Jews, mainly foreign or stateless Jews. French authorities interned these Jews in Drancy, marking its official opening. French police enclosed a police barrack with barbed-wire fencing and provided Gendarmerie to guard the camp. Drancy fell under the command of the Gestapo Office of Jewish Affairs in France and German SS Captain Theodor Dannecker. Five subcamps of Drancy were located throughout Paris (three of which were the Austerlitz, Lévitan and Bassano camps)
Gurs internment camp in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques), created in 1939 for the Spanish refugees. During the Phony War, the Third Republic used it to intern "indésirables", that is Germans who were found in France, without regard to ethnicity or political orientation, as foreign citizens of an enemy power. Among them stands out a significant number of German Jews who had fled the very Nazi regime; citizens of countries who were in the orbit of the Reich, like Austria, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Slovak Republic, Fascist Italy, or Poland; French activists of the left (trade unionists, socialists, anarchists, and especially, communists), following the proscription of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) by Daladier after the German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact; the first of these arrived 21 June 1940, and the majority were relocated in other camps before the end of the year. In Gurs were also interned during this period: anti-militarists, representatives of the French extreme right who sympathized with the Nazi regime, ordinary prisoners evacuated from prisons in the north of the country ahead of the German advance, common criminals awaiting trial. Then, under Vichy, Camp Gurs was used to detain foreign Jews, German Jews deported by the SS from Germany, persons who had illegally crossed the border of the zone occupied by the Germans, Spaniards fleeing Francoist Spain, Spaniards coming from other camps that had been condemned for being uninhabitable or due to their scarce contingent, stateless persons, people involved in prostitution, homosexuals, Gypsies and indigents.
Fort de Romainville ("Fort of Romainville"), was a Nazi prison, located in the outskirts of Paris. The Fort was invested in 1940 by the German military and transformed into a prison. From there, resistance members and hostages were directed to the Nazi concentration camps: 3,900 women and 3,100 men were interned before being deported to Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, Buchenwald and Dachau. 152 persons were executed by firing-squad in the Fort itself. A few escaped, such as Pierre Georges, alias "Colonel Fabien." From her cell, Danièle Casanova, motivated and encouraged her comrades to confront their torturers. From October 1940, the Fort held only female prisoners (resistance members and hostages), who were jailed, executed or redirected to the Nazi concentration camps outside of France. At the time of the Liberation in August 1944, many abandoned corpses were found in the Fort's yard.
Saint-Cyprien in the Pyrénées-Orientales. 90,000 Spanish refugees were interned there in March 1939, and it was officially closed on 19 December 1940 for "sanitary reasons", its occupants transferred to the Camp of Gurs.
Saint-Sulpice-la-Pointe. Located near Toulouse, this transit camp was set up after the beginning of the Phony War. It was to house "individuals representing a danger to national security" - mostly militant communists. In June 1940, with the first German attacks on the Soviet Union, people with Russian citizenship were interned there. Later, foreign Jews who had been living in hiding in the south of France and were rounded up in the summer of 1942 were also sent to the camp. The inmates, especially the communists, organized many cultural activities, a "little university", in which each one contributed their knowledge for the collective good. From the summer of 1942 to the closing of the camp in August 1944, most of its inmates were deported to camps in Eastern Europe, to Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
Ilag (for Internierunslager) were internment camps established by the German Army to hold Allied civilians, captured in areas that were occupied by the Germans. They included US citizens caught in Europe by surprise when the war was declared in December 1941 and citizens of the British Commonwealth caught in areas engulfed by the Blitzkrieg.
Besançon in the Doubs (in the Vauban barracks). Also called Frontstalag 142, it was actually an Ilag (Internierunslager): internment camps established by the German Army to hold Allied civilians, caught in areas that were occupied by the Germans. They included United States citizens caught in Europe by surprise when the war was declared in December 1941 and citizens of the British Commonwealth trapped in the 1940 Blitzkrieg.
At the end of 1940, 2,400 women, mostly British, were interned in the Vauban barracks and another five hundred, old and sick, in the St. Jacques hospital close by. In early 1941, many of them were released, the rest were transferred to Vittel.
Saint-Denis, near Paris. Located in the barracks, the camp was opened in June 1940 and remained in use until liberated by the United States Army in August 1944. Part of the grounds were surrounded by barbed wire to provide open space for exercise. In early 1942, there were more than 1,000 male British internees in the camp. The meager food rations were augmented by the International Red Cross packages, so that overall their diet was satisfactory. Life was tolerable because there was a good library and recreation was provided by sports activities and theater
Vittel, Frontstalag 121 was located in requisitioned hotels in this spa near Epinal in the Vosges department. Most of the British families and single women were transferred here from Saint-Denis and Besançon. In early 1942, women over sixty, men over seventy-five and children under sixteen were released. The overall population was thus reduced to about 2,400. The inmates included a number of North-American families and women.
Although not architecturally conceived as an internment camp, the Vel' d'Hiv (Winter Velodrome) was used during the July 1942 Roundup. Most internment camps, however, were not conceived as such. The Vel d'Hiv was also used during the Algerian War (see below).
Camps were also used after the Liberation to intern German prisoners. In Rennes, after General Patton's United States Third Army liberated the city on 4 August 1944, about 50,000 German prisoners were kept in four camps in a city of 100,000 inhabitants at the time.
Internment was also put to use during the Algerian War (1954–1962), generally under the name of "camps de regroupement" ("regrouping camps"). Within Algeria, the colonial administration used a form of camps as a counter-insurgency tactic, with up to 2 millions civilians being internally deported in villages de regroupement) to prevent their falling under the influence of the opposing FLN forces. were brought to French metropolitan territory.
In France, some camps used under Vichy were opened again, in Paris in particular, to hold suspected FLN and other Algerian independentists.
Internment camps were also used to intern the harkis (Algerians who fought on the French Army's side) after the 19 March 1962 Évian Accords which put an official end to the war. Finally, the Camp de Rivesaltes in the Pyrénées-Orientales, and Bourg-Lastic in the Puy de Dôme, used to intern Jews, were also used to intern harkis in the 1960s, and Kurdish refugees from Iraq in the 1980s.