“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This quote from George Santayana written in 1905 is what convicted me as I soberly walked the cemetery and memorial grounds of the Concentration Camp of Vernet d’Ariège, opened initially in 1939 as a refugee detainment camp for Spanish Republican soldiers fleeing Franco’s regime. Within 7 months of opening, it was formally designated a concentration camp to lock up “the undesirable aliens,” particularly some volunteers who had fought Franco, political opponents of Hitler, Mussolini and Petain, and members of the French Resistence, according to the museum phamplet.

The outskirts of the now-peaceful ville, looking over where the internment camp used to be, to the mountains separating France from Spain. The water tower there is the only remaining structure.

The outskirts of the now-peaceful ville, looking over where the internment camp used to be, to the mountains separating France from Spain. The water tower there is the only remaining structure.

What was truly striking in the memorial cemetery is the global nature of its inhabitants. Each of these posts represents a country of someone(s) incarcerated in the camp. 215 people died at the camp, and 152 are resting at the cemetery, covering a large percentage of the represented countries.

Checking out the countries represented here.

Checking out the countries represented here.

And noting that the U.S. is represented. One US citizen is also listed as a casualty of the camp.

And noting that the U.S. is represented. One US citizen is also listed as a casualty of the camp.

This memorial cemetery is well-tended and seems to be well-remembered.

This memorial cemetery is well-tended and seems to be well-remembered.

More than 4500 people passed through this camp, including 90 Jewish children sent here from Auschwitz, ages 2-17. Some were incarcerated for having once espoused Communist views, including one man who fled Hungary because he had changed to anti-Communist views. He was an artist, and his enrollment photos were smiling. He painted and drew the most haunting depictions of men in the camp, and was described as a model prisoner who improved the corps de esprit of the whole camp.

In memory, and obviously remembered. The potted plants on the top step are fresh and alive.

In memory, and obviously remembered. The potted plants on the top step are fresh and alive.

The years people spent here together were obviously a bonding time of survival, because even some survivors chose to join their comrades here after life.

Not all who are here died in the camp.

Not all who are here died in the camp.

Not all who died, are here. Many were deported out of camp, some to even more repressive camps in Algeria, some to Mussolini’s prisons in Italy, some to forced labor, most to Nazi extermination camps. About a quarter of these latter persons were among the last convoy forming the main contingent of the Ghost Train, often dying in transit. Note the survivor of the Ghost Train above, though! This is a spot of victory, of hope!

Stoney looking into one of the actual convoy train cars with our friend and guide.

Stoney looking into one of the actual convoy train cars with our friend and guide.

These train cars were supposed to house 60 men or 8 horses. They often crammed up to 100 people in one of these things. This one is a memorial to the children who occupied it, listed on a plaque inside.

in memory

in memory

I am glad Theodore was with us. As sobering as it was, it was at a level he could absorb without being overwhelmed. And most amazingly, we met the mayor of the town at the museum, who is himself a survivor. He told us (through our friend) that he arrived at 10 months old with his parents as refugees from Spain. He endured decades of prejudice, even though he was married to a French woman and had French children. He fought hard with France to be allowed to become a French citizen because he insisted he arrived in a concentration camp and wouldn’t change his story to be politically correct, but today he is not only a citizen, but the mayor of the town that once housed the camp. We have so much to learn from this man. We must remember.

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1 Comment

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One response to ““Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

  1. Johnjaw

    Reminded)
    You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again. (c)Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Famous quotes

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