The president of the Languedoc-Roussillon, Damien Alary, accompanied by the key players in the project, presented at the Assemblée Nationale today the emotionally charged Mémorial du Camp de Rivesaltes.
The camp was used as a detention centre during successive conflicts in the 20th century; among others: Spanish republicans refugees in 1939, Jewish prisoners under Vichy France, and the Harkis, Algerian volunteers who found themselves on the wrong side of the peace pact in 1962.
These groups were successively ‘housed’ in the barracks, located in a windswept tract in the Pyrénées Orientales in southern France. All in all, more than 50,000 people were concerned, including 10,000 members of the Jewish community among whom 2313 were subsequently sent to Auschwitz.
Rudy Ricciotti, architect of the memorial, said of the sober 200-metre concrete monolith, ‘it is windowless, and the only possibility of looking out is towards the sky. It is buried in the soil as if apologizing for being there, and at the same time, giving mass to the resolve for our memory never to be erased.’
The centre will devote 1000m2 to the permanent exhibition, with a strong didactic focus, plus a temporary exhibition space, auditorium and documentation centre. ‘The memorial has a profound humanist dimension,’ said Alary, ‘it is not memory for memory’s sake. Saying never again, about such blots in our history, is not enough. Memory only makes sense if it is transmitted. I urge you to go visit the site, so we can all then have a conversation about it.’
The €25million project is slotted to open in September 2015. With easy access from the motorway and its proximity to Perpignan, Spain, the Pyrénées mountains and the Mediterranean coast, the site is poised to attract year-round international interest.