The Germans after their victory in France set up an internment camp at a spa resort near Epinal at Vittel, France. It was located in the Vogues mountains of northeastern France. This proved to be a rather privlidged camp. Vittel was one of several Internierunslager (Ilaq) administerd by the German Army rather than the SS. It was part of the POW camp system, although it was not for POWs. They were for Allied civilians (British and Dominion subjects) who had the misfortune to find themselves in areas occupied by the Germans. By far the greatest number of Allied civilians in German hands were in France. After Hitler declared war on the United States, some Americans were also held there. There could have been more, but many Americans left France after the outbreak of the War. Vittel (Frontstalag 121) consisted of a few requisitioned hotels in this spa town. Most of the British families and single women were transferred from Saint-Denis and Besançon. The Germans eventually decided to release women over 60 years, men over 75 years, and children under 16 years (early-1942). This mean that they were releaved of the cost for looking after them. They were allowed to live in occupied France where they found that comditions were worse then in the camp. This reduced the camp population to about 2,400 internees. Most survived the War because conditions in the camp were rlatively good. There were also Jews at the camp, mostly German Jews, including many children. These were Jews that held foreign passports, in many cases Latin American passports. NAZI Foreign Minister Ribbentrop mananaged to convince SS Head Himmler as the mass killing began, that these Jews could prove useful to exchange for Germans interned abriad. Irish and Vatican diplomats attempted to obtain their release, but without success. Many of these Jews were eventually deported and at Auchwitz. As far as we know, the killing was not done at Vittel by the Wehrmacht authorities.
France during World War I had been the bulwark against the German army in the west. Few believed that Grance could be easily defeated, included the grear majority of the lading German commanders. Many saw the French army as the strongest in the world. Large mumbers of forign narionals libed in France, many in Paris. Paris was called the city of lights. It was renowned for its toleration, culture, and beauty. here were sunstantial numbers of American citizens and British subjcts iving it France, enjoying the cultjure, food and pleasant climate. When war broke out (September 1939), many but not all went home. Those that remained could not invision France being defeated and occupied. The German Blitzkrieg victory starteled even the Germans.
The Germans after their victory in France began arresting Allied nationals. They were at first placed in POW camps, not special camps. Conditions were apparently dplorable. After the British managed to defeat the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain and prevent a quick Germany victory, a more permanent arrangement was needed. And the British began learning of the poor conditions their civilians were subjected to. One report suggests that the British thratened to send interned German civilins to northern Canada. The Germans established an internment camp in the resort town of Vittel. United States civilian detainees joined them in 1942. Thevnumber of americans were limited. Unlike the British, the americans had time to get out after the fall of France. The United States was neutral and thus the Americans had over a year to leave. The United states maintained an embassy at Vichy. This of course changed before Hitler decaled war on the United States (December 1941). The camp's at its height held about 3,000 people.
The Germans decided to set up a special internment camp (1941). They chose a spa resort near Epinal at Vittel, France. It was located in the Vogues mountains of northeastern France. The first group of detainees arrived (May 1, 1941). They were a mixed group of some 2,060 women, children, and elderly civilians. Most were British. Vittel proved to be a rather privlidged camp.
Vittel was one of several Internierunslager (Ilaq) administerd by the German Army rather than the SS. It was designated Frontstalag 121. Vittel was thus part of the German POW camp system administered by the Wehrmacht. While part of the POW camp system, it was not for POWs. They were special camps for Allied civilians (British and Dominion subjects) who had the misfortune to find themselves in areas occupied by the Germans. By far the greatest number of Allied civilians in German hands were in France. After Hitler declared war on the United States, some Americans were also held there. There would have been more, but many Americans left France after the outbreak of the War. Most of the British families and single women were transferred from camps in Saint-Denis and Besançon. These were camps were military age men were held. The camp commander was Wehrmacht Captain Otto Landhauser. He was an Austrian and as far as we know conducted camp affairs correctly.
Vittel (Frontstalag 121) consisted of requisitioned hotels in this spa town. Vittel differed significantly from the vast mjority of other camps. Living conditions were far better. In addition to the hotels there was a large park the internees had access to. The hotels and parks were surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by armed guards. The internees while living in hotels, did their own cooking. Unlike the sitution in most German camps, there was heat and running water. As with the POW camps for Western soldiers, the civilian internees at Vittel were allowed to send and receive mail. And like POWS thy received Red Cross parcels which were delivered through neutral Sweden. Not only did this supplement their diet, but it provided items they could barter with French civilians in the town. Unlike the POWs they could even receive visitors. Many had French friends and even relstives. They were not subjected to forced labor. They organized classes and lectures. As the hotels were for spa clientel, the internees had access to tennis courts, a library, and stores where they could shop. They also had access to the town hospital. Movies were shown during the weekend. And they could attend theater performances during the week.
The Germans used Vittel for propaganda purposes. Gobbels press carried photogrphs and press reports about how well people were treated in German camps.
The Wehrmacht not the SS was responsible for the camp. We arevnot entirely sure of the security arrangements. We notice that some of the internees report their luggage upon arrival was searched by Gestapo agents. [Glass] We are not sure if they were really Gestapo or other police organization or Wehrmacht security officers. But because the difference between Wehrmacht and police uniforms, it seems likely that there was some police involvement. As far as we can tell, the intenees were not subjected to any brutal treatment.
The Germans eventually decided to release women over 60 years, men over 75 years, and children under 16 years (early-1942). Thus did not mean that children were released. Young children remained at the camp because their parents were being held at the camp. This mean that the Germans were releaved of the cost for looking after them. They were allowed to live in occupied France where they found that comditions were worse then in the camp.
The release of the elderly and youth in 1942 reduced the camp population to about 2,400 internees. Most survived the War because conditions in the camp were relatively good.
The Germans as the War continued became increasinly interested in securing the release of Germans interned in foreign countries. After the fall of France (June 1940), this meant Britain and the Commonwealth, the only unoccupied countries still at war with Germany. This changed with the the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941) and declration of war on he United States (December 1941). Suddenly substantial numbers of countries began breaking relations and/or declaring war on Germany in Latin America. And the number of interned Germans abroad begn to oncrease. We are not sure Hitler was concerned about this, but Foreign Minister Ribntropp certainly was and wanted these people released and reyrned to the Reich. He hoped to exchange the citizens of belligerant countries in German internment camps for German citizens whi had been interned. Thousands of Germans were being held around the world.
One problem for Ribbentrop was that the Allies held far more civilians than the German internees the Germans had to exchange.
There were also Jews at Vittel, mostly German Jews, including many children. The Germans at first used the camp to intern British and American citizens who were living in France. This was a result of Ribentrops effort to exchange civilian internees. He did not have many Allied internnes to exchange, so he came up with the idea of collecting Jews with foreign passprts to add to his numbers. He persuaded Himmler s the SS began the mass killings in Poland to send Jews with foreign passports to Vittel. Unlike the British and Americans, the Jews mostly came from Gettoes in Poland. These were Jews that held foreign passports, in many cases Latin American passports. Ribbentrop believed that these Jews could prove useful to exchange for Germans interned abroad. Only days before the Germans began mass deportations from the Warsaw ghetto (July 1942), the Ghetto authorities ordered Jews with foreign passport to report for a possible foreign exchange. They were temprarily housed in the Pawiak Prison.
Some 200 Jews arrived at Vittel from Poland (January 1943). Another 60 arrived (May 1943). Most held foreign passports or promises of citizenship obtained from Latin American countries. Other Jews with foreign passports arrived from France and other German-occupied countries in Western Europe. These Jews were kept separate from the Western internees, but enjoyed similar living conditions. Without exception it was vast improvemnt ovr wht they had been enduring. Ribbentrop failed to arrange exchanges.
Tragically Latin American countries showed little interest in such exchanges. The henerally refused to honor the citizenship papers issued to Jews by their consulates. Nor did they show any interest in legitimate foreign Jewish citizens. Further arrkivls at Vettel ceased when the Germans stopped accepting the citizenship documents. The Germans dispatched a special commission to Vittel to assess the citzenship documents of the Jewish internees, focusing on the Latin American documents (September 1943). The Vittel prisoners alerted Allied sources as to what was happening. Humanitarian and Jewish organizations attempted to help. They secured Vatican intervention. The Vatican attempted to convince Latin American countries to honor the citizen ship documents that had been issued to Jews.
Irish diplomats intervened with the Germans. The effort largely failed. Most of the Vittle Jews were eventually deported and killed at Auchwitz. As far as we know, the killing was not done at Vittel by the Wehrmacht authorities. Some 300 Jews interned at Vittel did not survive. A handfull of Jewish internees were exchanged with the United States and Great Britain. One of the Americans was Mary Berg. Her diary became the first English language war-time eyewitness account of life in the Warsaw ghetto and the deportation of captive residents to the Treblinka death camp.
Unlike the SS camps, Wehrmacht commanders at Vittel made no effort to evacuate the camp as the Allies approached.
Free French forces were an important part of the forces that lnded in southern France as part of Operation Dragoon. And they expanded as the French Resitance joined them as they moved north and became part of the right flank of the Allied forces liberating France. Thus the Free French were part of the Allied forces that moved into the Vosges Mountains driving toward the Rhine. This it was the Free French that liberated Vittel (September 12, 1944).
We note one pot about Vittel, "My father and his sister and brother and his father were interned at the Vittel Concentration Camp..They were Cuban Jews living in Paris and were sent to Vittel. They suffered and lost everything and were eventually traded for German soldiers imprisoned in Cuba. They were sent to Spain and then another 2 years went by and they finally arrived in Cuba. The rest of my father's family were gassed in Auschwitz." [Schilling]
Glass, Charles. Under Nazi Occupation: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation (Penguin: 2010), 544p.
Schilling, Deborah. You Tube post, Seprember 2016.
Navigate the CIH Holocaust Section:
[Return to Main individual concentration camp page]
[Return to Main concentration camp page]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Allies] [Biographies] [Children] [Concentration camps] [Countries] [Decision] [Denyers/Apologists] [Displaced persons]
[Economics] [Eisatzgruppen] [Eugenics] [German Jews] [Ghettoes] [Impact] [Justice] [Literature]
[Movies] [NAZIs] [Occupied Poland] [Process] [Propagada] [Resistance] [Restitution] [Questions] [SA] [SS] [Special situations] [Targets] [Wansee Conference]
[Return to the World War II]
[Return to Main Holocaust page]
[Return to the Main mass killing page]
[Return to CIH Home page]