The Memorial of the Deportation

entry to memorial's interior

Little-known Memorial Is On the Ile de la Cité

Paris:- Wednesday, 14. January 1998:- There are several ways to get to the east end of the Ile de la Cité. You can come from the métro at Saint-Michel or Cité, on the island itself; or as I do, from the métro at the Hôtel de Ville - crossing the place and the Pont d'Arcole.

This way, I get to walk through the nearly deserted 11th and 12th century; old Cloister area, before coming out at the rear of Notre Dame, by the square named for Pope John 23 - square Jean XXIII.

There are the usual - usual for January, usual for threatening skies - people in the square, but no great crowds buying postcards in the shops along the rue du Cloître Notre Dame.

There are only two tour buses parked in the wide quai de l'Archvêché; which cuts across the tip of the Ile de la Cité, between the pont Saint-Louis and the pont de l'Archvêché. At this bridge the quai de l'Archvêché turns and continues downstream, beside Notre Dame, to the pont au Double.

Opposite the square Pope John 23 and the quai de l'Archvêché, the tip of the island is called the square of the Ile-de-France. In 1258 this was called the Motte-aux-Papelards and a century later, le Terrail, then simply, le Terrain. This was within the enclosure of the Canons of Notre Dame.

In 1687 it was made a public garden, but for men only, as it was within the cloister of Notre Dame, where women had been forbidden since 1354. It was here that Baron Haussmann installed the city morgue in March of 1864.

This was a central one-story building with two wings. It had an exhibition hall with a leaded-glass windows, which presented the public of a view of twelve black marble tables, inclined towards the viewer - so that bodies could be identified. The clothes of the corpses were also on display. Refrigeration was added to the installation in June of 1881.

In 1960, it was decided to place an underground crypt here. The short name of this is the Memorial of the Deportation.

My reason for being here, is Metropole Paris reader Jan Shaw has visited this memorial, and wrote on Monday to ask about its background.

From the wide road that is called the quai de l'Archvêché, there are two gates leading into a small, triangular park. At stairs down to memorial the opposite tip, there is a low concrete structure and when I near it I see a long, narrow stairway, going down to a triangular space with high walls. Facing upriver, there is a small window which is behind a spiky, black steel sculpture.

Opposite this, there is a narrow entrance, flanked by concrete slabs. Inside, there is a large metal disk on the stone floor - the tomb of the unknown deportee. Off this irregularly-shaped room there are short wings and there are inscriptions on the walls.

The stairs down are narrow, and the destination does not look inviting.

Above each of these wings, the names of the death camps are inscribed - all of them: dozens. A central wing, which cannot be entered, is long and narrow and looks like a grim passage to nowhere.

Outside, I see there is a companion to the stairway I took coming down, going up, but at the top its steel gate is closed. When I get back up to the park, I see that I overlooked the inscription on the low concrete part I first saw. It says:

"1940 - Aux deux cent mille martyrs Français morts dans les camps de la déportation - 1945" and elsewhere, "Pour que vivent les souvenirs des deux cent mille Français sombrés dans la nuit et le brouillard exterminés dans les camps Nazis."

Afterwards I talk by phone to Mr. Bernard Yamoun, who administers the memorial for the Service Départmental de l'Office National des Anciens Combattants et Victimes de Guerre.

He tells me the memorial was built in 1963, on the orders of Charles de Gaulle. The construction of the memorial was paid for by a public subscription to the 'Reseaux Souvenir Père Riquet,' who was one of the deported victims. It is now maintained by the state and paid for by taxpayers in France.

Mr. Yamoun tells me the architect, B.H. Pingusson is well-known. He also says the figure of 200,000 is an estimate, but is as close as can be calculated.

He says the 'Français' referred to in the various inscriptions include everybody deported from France during the Second World War; the figure includes all the foreigners who were in France at the time, who were caught up in the same 'night and fog' as the French.

I didn't realize it, but the memorial has an on-site caretaker and he has a brochure about the memorial available. As there is no entry charge, visitors are not counted and the number of visitors per year is unknown.

There is also a small museum inside the memorial, and this can be visited by making an appointment with Mr. Yamoun - who will also conduct the visit in person.

The memorial is not as pleasant as many of Paris' cemeteries. It is very austere, even grim. It is very effectively designed for its purpose. The only thing you can see from its 'courtyard,' besides the concrete walls and the black steel sculpture, is the sky.

I forgot to ask Mr. Yamoun for a fax number, so if you wish
to make an appointment, please email me for further information.
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