The Rivesaltes camp was established as a military facility in 1936 in the Pyrenees-Orientales area near France’s border with Spain. It served as a camp for those displaced during the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s, and later as a prison for refugees on the losing side of that conflict.
The Vichy regime created special camps to roundup Jews and “undesirable refugees.” Rivesaltes was perhaps the most active transit camp. The first internees arrived there on January 7, 1941. When it reached its peak population that year, Rivesaltes had 8,000 prisoners, an estimated 3,000 of whom were children (who were separated from their mothers). Thousands of Jews were shipped from Rivesaltes to Auschwitz. During one three-month period in 1942, nine convoys carried 2,313 Jews to Auschwitz.
The camp was closed in November 1942 and the approximately 1,000 internees remaining were sent to Gurs, with the exception of the gypsies, who were deported to the Camp of Saliers.
After World War II, Rivesaltes was used as a prisoner of war camp for captured Germans. Later it was a camp for Algerians who fought against the French in the Algerian War.
In May 2006, it was announced that a memorial marking the role of France’s Vichy government in shipping Jews and others to Nazi death camps would be created at Rivesaltes. This will be the first official Holocaust memorial in Southern France, the stronghold of the collaborationist Vichy government.