Tuesday, September 22, 2015


A CONVOY OF WOMEN 1944-1945 
by Pierre-Emmanuel Dufayel

Review found/translated from: http://clio-cr.clionautes.org
Published: Monday, February 20, 2012

The Vendémiaire editions, in their collection "Investigations" publish a new book, based on research by Pierre-Emmanuel Dufayel, historian, doctoral student at the University of Caen Lower Normandy within the quantitative history Research Centre, and a member the research team at the Foundation for the Memory of the Deportation.

This historian devotes his research to French deported due to repression measures. They were more than 9,000, or 10% of the deportees of "political" nature listed by the Foundation for the Memory of the Deportation. In the spirit of the collection, it is a historical work undertaken from primary sources, archives and written testimonies.

Pierre-Emmanuel Dufayel dedicates this work to the study of the convoy of a thousand women deported from Compiegne, January 31, 1944, for the women's concentration camp Ravensbrück, whose identity is summed up upon arrival at camp , their serial numbers between 27,030 and 27,988 They become the "27000".

Of all the convoys of women, it is the only one for which a transport list has been preserved. Saved from destruction, the document for service at the camp was maintained by the secretaries held in the infirmary. As for other transport women it is sometimes difficult to determine accurately the identity of the remote, it delivers the names, first names, dates of birth, date and place of some transfers. To this are added major source of featured articles written by deportees on their return to obtain the statute of "political deported" and "CERD".

A problematic fueled by questions of historiography, a thorough analysis of sources, a rigorous and systematic review, allowing Pierre-Emmanuel Dufayel presented in eight chapters women of the convoy, the conditions of their arrest, internment and their journey, and their ordeal (and resistance) in the camp or in work Kommandos who depend on him for their return at last.

Who were the "27000"?
Over 70% of them were resistant, 75 members of different organizations. Three quarters were working for intelligence networks and escape, others were members of the great movements of resistance. Some had taken part in the armed struggle against the occupier, others parachuting operations or activities Assistance resistant families interned or deported, and others had participated in breakout networks; many had done intelligence work or had participated in the drafting, printing and distribution of newspapers and leaflets. More than 200 of them, of the 500 resistant whose author was able to identify the business, were liaison officers. Nearly half of the officers and members of the organizations had provided food and shelter to the resistance hunted, airmen fled or refractory seeking asylum, while hiding weapons, materials, equipment, or harboring resistant illegal. About 85% of them had entered the Resistance in 1942 and 1943.

Besides these explicitly committed women, we find a group of prisoners who, without having acted in an organization, had participated in what could be called "civil resistance": a hundred of these women had supported Resistance spontaneously passing housing agents, camouflaging sought clandestine resistance or hiding weapons and materials. Several were arrested for merely expressed their aversion to the Nazi regime, their sympathy for the Allies, or their patriotism. Those that were not were either resistant women, mothers, sisters, girlfriends, often arrested as hostages, either accidentally women arrested in a raid or prostitutes: at least 45 of those deported are arrested in connection with the measures taken to control sexual relations between French and Israeli troops, and thus ensure the safety of the occupied territory.

Just over two thirds of them resided in the departments of the occupied area, especially in large cities. A high proportion had a job, which clearly distinguishes them from the French female population of the time, where more than one in two women had no profession. They were of all generations, almost three-quarters were under 45 years; The oldest of them, Emilia Tillion, mother of Germaine Tillion, network member of the Museum of Man, was 68 years old; the youngest was 17 years old. Two-thirds of these women were married and mothers, including large family.

We see from all these details work quality and importance of the table that allows to draw the realities of the Resistance.

Arrest, conviction and detention
Some have been arrested by German authorities (the first Wehrmacht, Gestapo then) and sentenced by German military courts; the others were by French police, tried in French courts, jailed in French prisons and handed the hands of the German authorities: the story of these women demonstrates the interpenetration of French and German and repressive systems collaboration of the Vichy government. This is usually in this case, activists or sympathizers Communists. The arrest dates clearly show the emphasis and radicalization of repression from the beginning of 1943.

The arrested women were interned in German quarters installed in the French prisons. They were held incommunicado, interrogated and sometimes tortured and jailed in overcrowded jails, malnourished and kept in dreadful conditions promiscuity and unhealthy. The "27000" spend an average of six months in prison before being deported. Period of resistance, but also creating links almost "family", who sometimes maintain even in the concentration camps, and it will become synonymous with survival. ".

Compiegne in Ravensbrück
About two-thirds of women in this convoy were transferred to Compiegne Royallieu-camp during the weeks prior to departure. There they received the registration that will be theirs to Ravensbrück. On January 31, 1944 at dawn, they gathered outside their barracks for a call before setting off for Compiègne Train Station. She discovered the conditions of their journey, "a dusty wooden floor on which a bundle of straw was spread for convenience only iron can tinette converted to sole source of light and oxygen a screened window barbed son ." They arrive at the camp on the night of February 3, 1944.

Then begins the process of dehumanization: they are stripped naked, stripped of everything that could keep them épouillées, showered, accoutred mismatched clothes. They then undergo a period of quarantine, of varying length, during which the previously arrivals are French windows of their blocks warn them of the essence of what you need to know to have more chances to survive. This period is over, most are employed in drudgery Kommandos where the work is extremely difficult. Of these women, five, expecting a child, were returned to France: such a decision "is difficult to explain and remains rare." After August 1944 the Pregnant prisoners give birth in the camp under conditions more appalling; and almost all of the more than 500 infants die.

The concentration camp archipelago
70% of the inmates are sent to an outside Kommando in Ravensbrück, and more or less distant (50 to 550 km). They are first selected by a "commission" comprising representatives of private companies and the head of the labor camp office.They inspect the hands, teeth, the bodies of these women should be scrolled completely naked. They are then sent to the Kommandos they are still employed in the service of the German war industry: manufacturing shells, aircraft engine parts, gas masks, variety of weapons etc. These are almost always Kommandos whose operation is just beginning. The work is hard; monitoring of production is entrusted to foremen foremen and civilians but also to the SS supervisors outside working hours. All the witnesses stressed the extreme brutality of the supervisors and civilian managers.Medical care is almost absent, endless appeals in the cold have not disappeared, but overall are less abused prisoners at the camp so that they remain productive. The bombings and alerts add to the daily terror and, from the winter of 1945, the rations are dwindling.

However, a multifaceted daily resistance is organized. The instructions quickly become clues, telling gestures especially not commit, and that many are seeking to commit for the manufactured parts are faulty. The task requires more precision, more sabotage are unimaginable. The importance of resistance among those deported is probably explained by the fact that, in their great majority, they were resistant before their arrest. Several of them were severely punished or even executed.

Towards the extermination
Ravensbrück was one of the last camps and liberated, by the second half of 1944, convoys from different concentration camps got there. To cope with overcrowding, disposal of the largest possible number of inmates is organized. In early 1945, a provisional gas chamber is installed near the crematorium: Ravensbrück became an extermination camp. About 200 prisoners, among the "27 000" are still present in Ravensbrück on 1 January 1945, when snaps the extermination program. Two thirds they are over 50 years. "The death of this device is the selection of mechanical lower", organized by the head of the office of labor accompanied deputy commander of the camp and two doctors. The women selected are sent to a small camp where living conditions leave almost no chance of survival. Meanwhile dozens of women are from each camp to be gassed in the evening. SS doctors daily round up the inmates they encounter in the camp, women with white hair, complexion too pale, with swollen legs. In late April 1945, the balance sheet is terrible: the 200 detained, at least 35 were gassed and more than 60 others died. But the record is actually heavier, since this murderous program also extended to women employed in Kommandos satellites.

In the last weeks of the war, most of the prisoners of the satellite camps were evacuated in terrifying circumstances: it is the "death marches". Slightly more than 400 women from the convoy of "27000", two thirds of those who have been exploited by many Kommandos, one undergoes the ultimate test evacuations. These steps have been fatal for at least fifteen of them.

"The long way home"
The release of these women circumstances were different depending on where they were located: in the Kommandos, on the roads of death marches, or Ravensbrück. But the journey was always long and painful. Amidst the chaos of the GreatReich collapses, many women are left to themselves for several days, until they are collected by the Allied armies, American in most cases. The worst was the horrors experienced by those that were conducted at the Bergen-Belsen camp. Most "27,000" who survived these terrible conditions returned to France late May and early June 1945, more than a month and a half after release.

Of the 959 women who left Compiègne January 31, 1944, 199 died in the deportation, slightly more than 20% of prisoners. The last months were by far the deadliest and twenty prisoners succumbed after release. Older and less politically engaged were the most vulnerable.

"The return idealized, dreamed of for over a year, is not such that they have imagined. Rather, it will be for many an additional test. Collide with the real, still marked by the universe they just left, the vast majority of these "27000" has a deep confusion (...) For many, the first time the return is accompanied by appalling revelations and suffering (...) Only witnessed the death of their comrades, they must also inform the disappearance of these loved ones (...) Many are shocked by the incomprehension and disbelief of the population. Hurtful words, clumsy remarks, expressions usually unimportant, causing a mixture of indignation and disappointment among these vulnerable women (...) Before this misunderstanding, often felt like tearing the immediate postwar period was marked by a downturn self."

The interest of this work, in the spirit of the collection, is to offer the public a clear and widely accessible text (still accompanied by more than 200 notes), fruit of work based on clearly identified sources archive and fed a perfect knowledge of historiography. It will interest those who are eager to read something new about a topic they know, but it will also allow those who do not know him, to experience most aspects of the deportation through the adventure of these courageous women .

© Joel Drogland

  • The 959 women of the "27000" were deported from the Paris, Montluc, Fresnes, Dijon and Toulon prisons. 
  • They were assigned identification numbers 27030-27988. Their concentration camp badges patches bore an inverted "V" but, unlike other political prisoners, the letter "F" (France) was not added in order to further crush French national pride. 
  • All French political prisoners, including women of the Convoi des 31000, were eventually reassigned to the new Block 32. None of them knew it at the time, but they had been designated NN (Nacht und Nebel), meaning they were supposed to literally disappear into the night and fog, and nobody would ever know where.

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