It is impossible to rewrite history but we can perpetually revise our understanding and interpretation of what happened in the past. A...

History evolves: how the Beaudésert internment camp memorial plaque has changed

It is impossible to rewrite history but we can perpetually revise our understanding and interpretation of what happened in the past. A notable example of this can be found on a plaque in Mérignac that marks the area where Beaudésert internment camp was once located.

Invisible Bordeaux published a full investigation into the WW2 camp back in 2013. Initially set up as a detention centre for “undesirable foreigners” in 1940, it evolved into a camp for political prisoners. It went on to hold other communities such as Jews, Spanish Republicans, members of the Résistance, black market traffickers and prostitutes, along with individuals who refused to comply with the Nazis’ forced labour policy (STO: Service du travail obligatoire). For many who were held there, it was a penultimate stop before being sent to concentration camps or ahead of execution at the nearby Camp de Souge.

After the War, the camp became a detention centre for collaborators and later illegal immigrants. The camp then went on to become a haven for the homeless, who turned it into a veritable village. But the living quarters rapidly fell into disrepair and by 1957 its inhabitants had deserted it. Over the subsequent years, the area was built over by industrial facilities and the Rocade ring-road. 

A McDonald's outlet can now be found in the area where the internment camp was once located.
The Beaudésert camp was regarded as such an inconvenient chapter in local history that it was virtually wiped from collective memory, until 1985 when the then mayor Michel Sainte-Marie unveiled a plaque, later known as “la stèle de Pichey”. The original inscription omitted one community, namely the original reluctant tenants of the camp: Roma or “Tsiganes”. This was later added to the plaque, which consequently read:

The previous version of the plaque, complete
with the belated addition of the word "Tsiganes".
Camp d’internement de Mérignac-Beaudésert 1941-1944

 Plus de douze cents Résistants, Internés Politiques, Tsiganes, Juifs, réfractaires au S.T.O. ont séjourné dans ce camp avant d’être dirigés vers DRANCY et les camps de la mort ou d’être exécutés comme otages au camp de Souge.

In April of this year, current mayor Alain Anziani unveiled a revised plaque, which carefully avoids reference to any figures. (Exact figures as to how many were held at Beaudésert during the wartime period are difficult to come by. Some sources put the figure at 4,000, others estimate it may have been as many as 8,700.) In other parts, as well as bringing the creation of the camp forward from 1941 to 1940, the new, date-stamped inscription is far more precise than its predecessor. It reads as follows:

The new version of the plaque.
Camp d’internement de Mérignac-Beaudésert 1940-1944

Tsiganes, Internés politiques, Etrangers, Républicains Espagnols, Juifs, Résistants et Réfractaires au travail forcé ont séjourné dans ce camp.
Certains furent transférés vers Poitiers, Drancy ou Compiègne puis déportés vers les camps de la mort ; d’autres furent exécutés comme otages au camp de Souge.
Nous, générations de la Mémoire, n’oublierons jamais
24 avril 2016

Interestingly, by looking closely at the monument, it is easy to spot that the latest marble addition has simply been positioned on top of the previous incarnation. This results in an unusual 3D-like layering of the flame-shaped plaques, but also draws attention to the fact that there are not two but in fact three slabs of marble. Does this mean there is a third version of the text hidden underneath the two which have been detailed here? If so, that first official interpretation of the Beaudésert internment camp’s significance has literally been overwritten by the later versions. Will a fourth marble layer be added sometime in the future?

Three layers of marble so far, how many more are destined to be added?

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