Skip to main content

Holocaust Memorials at Père Lachaise - Part 4: Obsession (1981 - Present)

This is the fourth and final entry in my series about the concentration camp memorials at Père Lachaise in Paris.
Part of the sculpture from the Auschwitz III Memorial at Père Lachaise
(photo by Jennifer Boyer-Switala)
Stage 4: Obsession (1981-Present)
The fourth and final stage, Obsession, brings us to France present. Seventy years after the fact, France is still grappling with its memory of the occupied years. In 1980, at the beginning of François Mitterrand’s presidency, stories of the occupation monopolized the news. Thanks to people like the famed Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, there was a renewed sense of urgency in tracking down and bringing to justice some of the perpetrators who had found refuge in the Gaullist myth. 
Serge and Beate Klarsfeld
(photo source:
Klaus Barbie, the infamous Butcher of Lyon was put on trial in 1987, as was Paul Tovier in 1994 where he became the first Frenchman convicted of crimes against humanity for his collaborative acts. Maurice Papon, whose deportation of thousands of Jews during the occupation was the least of his inhumane crimes in his lifetime, was on trial in 1997. During this time, four additional camp memorials were inaugurated at Père Lachaise: Dachau (1985), Buna-Monowitz Auschwitz III (1993), Bergen-Belsen (1994), and Natzweiler-Struthof (2004).
The Dachau memorial was designed not by sculptors, but by architects Louis Docoet and François Spy.[1] It is a massive granite monument that looms in memorial to French political prisoners, as evidenced by the large red granite triangle. On the steps at the foot of the monument, the words "Dachau and its Kommandos. You who pass remember those who fought for their country, freedom and human dignity" are inscribed. There is also a plaque that tells of Dachau's history: 
Dachau is the place which was built in Germany, near Munich, March 22, 1933, the first concentration camp established in Europe by the National Socialists Party upon taking power. The camp first imprisoned German citizens opposed to the Nazi regime. Then later résistants and victims of Nazi oppression were deported there, having been arrested in countries occupied or annexed by Germany. More than 200,000 inmates, including more than 12,000 arrested France, they suffered the most inhuman treatment.
In this camp, during the twelve years of its operation, tens of thousands of prisoners died of starvation, exhaustion, abuse, or execution. We survivors have erected this monument to testify of the Faith, Courage, and Hope which never ceased to guide us and support us throughout our ordeal.
Dachau Memorial, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
(photo by Jennifer Boyer-Switala)
There is one additional quote on the Dachau Memorial on either side of the steps that reads, "We probed the depths in ourselves and in others." It is by French politician Edmond Michelet [2] who had also been deported to Dachau for his Résistance activities.
The Buna-Monowitz Auschwitz III Memorial contains one of the most powerful sculptures of the Père Lachaise camp memorials. Famed Polish-born French cartoonist Louis Mitelberg (a.k.a. TIM) created the bronze sculpture. This sculpture shows six skeletal men, one of whom looks to be nearly dead is being pushed in a wheelbarrow, headed toward their impending doom. A bronze plaque below the sculpture states:
From 1941 to 1945
Auschwitz III were 39 Nazi camps, all operated by the German IG Farben chemical industry: Buna-Monowitz, Blechhammrer, Gleiwitz I, II, III, IV, Rajko Fürstengrube, Günthergrube, Jawischowitz, Jaworzno, Feudenstadt...
30,0000 prisoners arrested, including 3,500 in France,
Mostly Jews, died there of hunger, cold,
Under the blows and exhaustion, or designated by 
SS during selections, they were exterminated
in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Never forget!
Buna-Monowitz Auschwitz III Memorial, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
(photo by Jennifer Boyer-Switala)
This and the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorials are the only ones to specifically mention Jewish victims. Perhaps this is because Mitelberg was not only a résistant, he was also Jewish. He wrote of the importance of this sculpture, "For me, this work...represents the life of those who died, those who accompany us in our search for dignity."[3]
     It is also of interest that the text of the very first monument to the camps, the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial, was changed in 1995. The original text contained several errors, especially regarding the number of victims.[4] Besides being one of the two camp memorials that mentions Jews and anti-Semitic persecution, it is the only camp memorial at Père Lachaise that specifically acknowledges the role of the “collaborating Vichy government” (the rest place responsibility on Nazis/Germans).
    The Bergen-Belsen monument is a copy of the original that stands at the actual camp (see slides 29-31). Created by French architect Guillaume d’Astorg, the monument is comprised of stone and concrete.[5] 
Bergen-Belsen Memorial, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
(photo by Jennifer Boyer-Switala)
It depicts a pathway marked by footprints walking into the unknown where an obelisk that bears the camp’s name, Bergen-Belsen, rises. 
Bergen-Belsen Memorial, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
(photo by Jennifer Boyer-Switala)
The bottom left text reads, “They suffered and hoped. Fight for your freedom!” 
Bergen-Belsen Memorial, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
(photo by Jennifer Boyer-Switala)
While the wall at the top right says, “Their bodies were broken, but never their spirit.”
Bergen-Belsen Memorial, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
(photo by Jennifer Boyer-Switala)
            The final memorial is to the Natzweiler-Struthof camp in Alsace-Lorraine. It is in the shape of a triangle and within the tip is a red triangle marked with the letter “F.” This is symbolic of the camp insignia for French political prisoner. 
Natzweiler-Struthof Memorial, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
(photo by Jennifer Boyer-Switala)
The bronze sculpture by George Halbout is of a skeletal man lying on the ground and is a replica of the original in the Natzweiler-Struthof camp, which is explained on one of the memorial’s plaques.[6] On the wall are the letters NN encircled in the 12 stars of the European Union flag, along with the words Nacht und Nebel/ Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog).
Natzweiler-Struthof Memorial, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
(photo by Jennifer Boyer-Switala)
       Even though the Auschwitz III memorial was created and the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial was modified to reflect Jews as victims, the fact remains that the majority of the memorials inaugurated during the Obsession stage reflect the ongoing struggle of the French reconciling myth and memory. France still wrestles with anti-Semitism despite having admitted its role during the Shoah. Remnants of the Gaullist myth are fading, but the emphasis of Nazi persecution of the French Résistance remains even in the newest camp memorials at Père Lachaise.

[1] Mairie de Paris, Musée de la Résistance National, et al. “Monuments à la Mémoire des Déporté(e)s: Cimetière du Père Lachaise.”
[2] Considered one of the first résistants, the highlight of Michelet‘s political career was his tenure as de Gaulle’s Minister of Justice from 1959-1961.
[3] Taissa Julia. “Holocaust Memory through Sculpture: Louis Mitelberg” 
[4] Mairie de Paris, Musée de la Résistance National, et al. “Monuments à la Mémoire des Déporté(e)s: Cimetière du Père Lachaise.”  9. – I was unable to find the original text. I contacted people at the USHMM who stated that I will be hard pressed to find such information here and that there are very few people around with an institutional memory of the change.
[5] Ibid, 26-27.
[6] Ibid, 26.


Popular posts from this blog

Les Femmes Tondues

It is no great secret that some French collaborated during the Nazi Occupation of France. Some did it for less than admirable reasons, such as political gain, anti-Semitism, or true fascist ideology. Other people were frightened and saw no end to the Occupation, while some were motivated simply by the desire to survive. Many women who collaborated fall into the latter category. Food, clothes, and fuel (among other items) were scarce during the Occupation. Nearly everything needed to sustain life was rationed, and much of France's food and other necessary commodities were shipped to Germany. One way to ensure warmth and a full belly was by making nice with a German soldier. 
In a desperate attempt to survive, some French women took on German soldiers as lovers. It return, the soldier ensured the woman's basic needs were met. Not all women had affairs for material gain - some simply slept with German soldiers because they were lonely. Either way, these sexual liaisons produced man…

La Rafle du Vel d’Hiv (The Vel d’Hiv Round Up)

Photo Source: 1st Art Gallery
Every Holocaust survivor – every ghost of those who did not survive - has a story to tell. Each story is unique, yet equally tragic. Some we have heard more than once, while others lay silent, buried in the dusty pages of a nation’s shame…
Occupation and Anti-Semitism 14 June 1942 marked the two-year anniversary of the Nazi occupation of Paris. By this point, many French had joined the Résistance, while others felt it in their best interest to collaborate with the Nazi regime. Many Jews had fled France, and those who remained behind lived in chronic fear. The Jewish Decrees (France's version of the Nuremberg Laws) saw the Jews of Paris stripped of their livelihoods, property, and rights. As in other occupied areas of Europe, the French Jews were required to wear the yellow stars of David. Inscribed with a single word in the center, Juif (Jew), the badges had to be sewn neatly on the left side of the chest. Failure to do so could land a person in jail – o…

A Little Zazou ~ Pour Vous

Sorry Disney fans, but I am not talking about Simba's little feathered hornbill friend in the Lion King (that's spelled Zazu anyway). No, I am talking about the Zazou Jazz Era that began in Interwar Paris and les zazous who, in their own way, defied Vichy and the Nazis when they occupied France during the Second World War. 
Thanks to my ADD that always manages to kick in when I am supposed to be doing serious research, I stumbled upon the concept of zazou when I was - you guessed it - researching for my Master's thesis on the French Resistance last year. 
While I was disappointed that I could not use this newfound knowledge in my thesis, all was not lost. This detour introduced me not only to the fascinating history of les zazous, but some really remarkable Manouche Jazz (a.k.a. Gypsy Swing Jazz) that I knew would some day make a great blog. Lucky you, mes chers, that day is today!
What the Heck IS Zazou? Zazou describes a style of jazz as well as a group of people. Les zazous