A New Holocaust Memorial For Paris

Tomorrow, 27 January, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day – the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp by the Soviet troops in 1945. This anniversary had been variously observed by different groups and nationalities for some time, but it was only in November 2005 that the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 60/7 designated 27 January an international day of remembrance.

The abandoned railway station at Bobigny, Paris. Photograph by Jérémy Saint-Peyre on Flickr.

This week the national French railway company, SNCF, handed over to local officials the former railway station in the Paris suburb of Bobigny for the creation of a new memorial to the French victims of the Nazi concentration camps. Not only was the state-owned SNCF’s equipment and staff used to transport some 76,000 French and other European Jews to Germany, and on to various concentration camps, it was from the station in Bobigny that these final journeys began. Fewer than 3000 people are thought to have returned to France.

For the first time, SNCF last year expressed its “sorrow and regret” for the role the company played in the deportation of Jews during World War II.

There is no timetable for the construction of this new memorial. But when it is complete it will join the Mémorial de la Déportation on the ÃŽle de la Cité behind the Notre Dame Cathedral – looking out onto the waters of the Seine River.

Photograph by paspog on Flickr

The Île de la Cité is generally perceived to be the sacred center of France, and built on the site of a former mortuary, this is an appropriate place to remember the 200,000 people who were deported by the Nazis to their death in the concentration camps. This memorial is one of the most poignant memorials I have ever visited.

Photograph by beccabrian on Flickr

Standing behind the Notre Dame Cathedral you are abundantly aware of the hustle and bustle of a busy city all around you. You then descend a set of steps down on the very tip of the Île de la Cité, where you become surrounded by walls and the city all but disappears. You can still hear the sounds of the city, but you can only see the sky above and the river through the bars of window.

Photograph by Airships on Flickr

Another evocative part of the monument is a narrow chamber on which the walls have been covered by 200,000 crystals – each with light shining through them. Each one intended to represent the life of a French citizen who died in the concentration camps.

And, as with many other Holocaust memorial monuments, the exit of the chamber bears the words; Forgive but never forget.

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About Thomas Dowson

Hello, I am Thomas Dowson - a freelance writer and archaeologist living in Normandy, France. My field of expertise is prehistoric art - such as the cave paintings in the Dordogne and South Africa. But I am becoming passionately interested in France more generally, and Normandy in particular, and what this country and one of its very well known regions has to offer people with all sorts of tastes and desires. In 2005 I exchanged a university archaeology lecture room for a Bed & Breakfast in Normandy. More recently I started the Archaeology Travel website; sharing my expertise and love of archaeology and travel with others who also want to explore the many different pasts around the World.