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Nov 2004 Journal

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World War II: French collaboration cover-up?

French officials and guards of French-run concentration camps in South West France continued to deport inmates of all nationalities to a near-certain death in Germany even as the country was being liberated, according to an exclusive report in The Guardian newspaper. Other internees continued to be held in those camps by French guards when the war was over until 1949 - proof, the paper alleges, that France went to extraordinary lengths to conceal evidence of collaboration.

A mass of registers, telegrams, manifests and other documents were uncovered in the Toulouse office of France's national archive by 84-year-old Austrian-born Kurt Werner Schaechter. He found both that French officials collaborated with their fleeing Nazi occupiers and that the government of Charles de Gaulle continued to hold hundreds of foreigners in an internment camp near Toulouse for up to four years after the end of World War II

Noé camp, some 25 miles south of Toulouse, was one of 300 camps set up after 1939 to hold Jews, communists and other 'anti-French' militants, gypsies, criminals and enemy aliens. As France was progressively liberated in the summer of 1944, many of Noé's inmates were quickly shipped out, although Allied bombing of the railway lines and intensified fighting meant that many people could not be moved. The last transport left Noé-Longages station on 30 July 1944, with most internees believed to be destined for Dachau. This was two days after Charles de Gaulle's victory parade down the Champs Elysées in Paris.

In February 1946 a letter from the camp's director drew the 'urgent attention' of the prefect in Toulouse to the fact that the money seized from the inmates was no longer adequate to feed and maintain them. Camp accounts confirm that people were still being forced to pay for their incarceration in September 1947. Letters from the interior ministry were dated 5 and 29 March 1949.

'This is an untold story of the dark side of France's liberation 60 years ago', said Mr Schaechter. 'French functionaries were involved in a national scandal that continued until 1949: the despicable treatment of allied and neutral civilians interned during the war.' He believed that they were not released at the end of the war because it would have been too embarrassing. 'The last thing de Gaulle wanted, when he was trying to build up France's image as victor and hero', he said, 'was to reveal the true extent of the collaboration by freeing neutral and allied internees held in French camps by French guards.'

Noé continued to function secretly for several years after the war. Of many elderly and infirm who remained in the camp, some were moved to Pithiviers or Rivesaltes camps (both officially closed) in 1947, others were recorded as 'transferred', and some were marked 'Agreed with Mr Casse - to be lost'.
RDC

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