A Visit to the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation in Paris

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A Visit to the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation in Paris
On the eastern tip of the Île de la Cité sits a monument which everyone should visit, but which is often missed. That’s hugely ironic because its purpose is remembrance. The Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation was opened in 1962 by General de Gaulle, and its stated aim was to honor the memory of the 200,000 French citizens deported from France to Nazi concentration camps in the Second World War: 75,000 Jews, at least the same number of Résistants and members of all the other groups persecuted during that dreadful time: gays, Roma and Sinti people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the disabled. General Charles de Gaulle in 1945, Public Domain First impressions are bleak, intentionally so. Steps lead down to a cold little stone courtyard and the first thing you see is a metal portcullis through which you can look out onto the River Seine. You are standing just where some of those who had been rounded up for deportation were made to wait, “in the dark and the fog,” for the boat which would transport them away from Paris. Yes, it’s like looking through the bars of a prison. And it is no coincidence that this site, a former morgue, was chosen for the memorial. View of the Seine from the Memorial. Photo credit: Marian Jones The architect Georges-Henri Pingusson designed every aspect of the memorial to reflect the cruelty and degradation to which the deportees were subjected. Narrow steps, invoking claustrophobia, lead down from the courtyard into the crypt itself, where a circular plaque on the floor states: “They descended into the mouth of the earth and they did not return.” Here is the Tomb of the Unknown Deportee, where the body of a prisoner from the camp at Neustadt is buried, representing all 200,000 deaths. Here too is an eternal light, shining in the center of the space. A long narrow corridor has a single light burning at the far end, which reflects the 200,000 crystals embedded in the walls, each symbolizing a lost life Tomb of the Unknown Deportee, Ardfern at Wikimedia Commons
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Lead photo credit : Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, Guilhem Vellut at Wikimedia Commons

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.