An Emotional Visit to the French Deportation Memorial – a Holocaust Memorial

As I approached the French Deportation Memorial on Ile de la Cité, I felt myself becoming tense.  Over the years, I’ve read many books on the holocaust. From my first encounter of the deportation and holocaust atrocities through the Diary of Anne Frank, I will never forget my mother’s admonishment. We must never forget lest we allow them to happen again.

Reading about The French Deportation and Holocaust

There are so many historical fiction books relating to the French holocaust and deportation, such as Sarah’s Key. However, fiction can’t begin to compare to factual accounts  by  actual survivors . Primo Levi (an Italian Jewish chemist) is one of the survivors of  Auschwitz. His writings are definitely worth reading.

No matter where you are planning to visit a holocaust and/or deportation memorial, I highly recommend you read at least one book about the holocaust and the deportations before you go.

The stories of those who survived or of someone who knew those who were persecuted but did not survive are important. In my opinion the museum will speak louder to your heart if you have background information.

The French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon has a incredible story of bravery. This one village and smaller surrounding villages and farms sheltered around 5000 people, 3000-3500 were Jews, fleeing the Vichy government during this period. An historical  overview can be found on the web, but the book  Lest Innocent Blood be Shed:The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There is an incredibly moving account of the village’s sacrifice.

The Storm Within

Sorry this post is taking so long to get to the point. If you haven’t already concluded, this memorial is difficult for me to reflect upon.  I think the reason for that is because I perceive an increase in religious and racial profiling in current times.

My visit to the US Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. literally sucked the life out of me. I was profoundly moved and I remember how incongruous it felt to exit the museum into the brilliant sunlight when at the same time I felt like all the light in my being had been drained by the experience at the museum.

All these emotions rolled through me like a storm as I descended the steps on the Ile de la Cité. Was the French Deportation Memorial going to leave me with the same hollow feeling?

Descending into The French Deportation Memorial

Descending the long flight of stairs my thoughts bounced from images of families being driven from their homes, husbands separated from wives, and parents separated from their children. I believe this long stairwell which lead me below ground-level is symbolically significant. Jews and other persecuted persons affected by the deportation and holocaust were often hidden in cellars or caves, out of sight from the Nazis.

deporation memorial

Peeking out beneath the iron sculpture is the Seine.

Although it was a warm sunny day,  I knew that warmth would soon be replaced by the reminder of the cold emptiness of loss. At the bottom of the stairs I was confronted by a massive barbed metal sculpture which signifies the torture and imprisonment the deportees faced. My first thought was what a curious memorial, but this is not the memorial.


This long passage is the entrance to the memorial and the 200,000 lights here symbolize the 200,000 French Jews that were deported. Centered at the entrance is a tomb containing the unknown remains of a person who died at Neustadt concentration camp.

deportation memorial

In the front center is the tomb containing the unknown remains.

In triangular urns, set into the walls, there is earth collected from various interment camps’ cremation ovens. These remind us that the deportation was the beginning of the end for so many people.

Deportation Memorial Wall Poetry

This poem by Robert Desnos is carved into the wall of the deportation memorial. It is one of several. Desnos was a French resistance fighter who was captured by the Germans, deported to Auschwitz and then to Terezin where he died of typhoid.

I have dreamed of you so very much,
I have walked so much,
Loved your shadow so much,
That nothing more is left for me of you.
All that remains for me is to be a shadow among the shadows
To be a hundred times more of a shadow that the shadow
To be the shadow that will come and come again into your sunny life.

Robert Desnos

deportation memorial

I had planned a visit to the Memorial de la Shoah (Holocaust Museum) found in the Marais neighborhood of Paris at 17 rue Geoffroy l’Asnier after I left the Deportation Memorial. That visit must wait until another day as this is too much sadness to face in one day. I leave you with this thought – never forget. Profiling and discriminating is wrong, regardless of how right someone may try to reason.

deportation memorial

This map indicates the number of deportees in each French department.

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