Deportation: at the heart of the Nazi concentration camp system

March 1933: creation of the first concentration camps.

20 January 1942: Wannsee conference (suburb of Berlin). The top Nazi leaders decide on the « final solution » for the Jews and Gypsies.

22 January 1944: Arrest in Paris of Charles and Charlotte Serre, early Resistance fighters in the northern Dordogne. Departure for deportation of the Mussidanese arrested during the round-up on 16 January 1944. 31 January: departure of the largest transport of women deported following the round-up of 16 January 1944.

Engaged in a total war on the Eastern front from 1943 onwards, the Third Reich needed slave labour which it put to work in the concentration camps, some of which had been created in 1933 as soon as Hitler came to power. First, German and Austrian opponents of the Nazi regime were interned, then, during the Second World War, resistance fighters, Jews, gypsies and homosexuals from occupied countries. In France, nearly 90,000 people were deported as a « repressive measure » between 1940 and 1944.

Created in August 1943 as a dependency of the Buchenwald camp in central Germany, the Mittelbau-Dora camp, also known as Nordhausen-Dora, was, for example, intended for the manufacture of V2 missiles. The deportees at the Gusen 2 Kommando, an annex of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, were employed to dig tunnels to house factories for the manufacture of Messerschmitt ME 109 aircraft, and later jet aircraft. Mauthausen-Gusen was specifically intended for the elimination of political resistance fighters from German-occupied countries through labour. In this annex, sometimes called « the hell of hell », life expectancy was on average four to five weeks.

Of the 2,000 deportees who left Compiègne on 22 January 1944, nearly 500 were sent to the Dora camp. The other 350 were sent to Gusen 2 – Mauthausen. The Mussidanese arrested during the round-up on 16 January 1944 were among them.

Among the deportees from the Dordogne were Andrea and Berthe Arnault and Mélanie Huet. They left Compiègne on 31 January 1944 in the « convoy of 27,000 », so called because of the matricular number. It included 959 women. They arrived at the Ravensbrück concentration camp on 3 February 1944. Located 80 kilometres from Berlin, Ravensbrück was the only concentration camp reserved almost exclusively for women.

Andrea and Berthe Arnault did not stay at Ravensbrück. On 10 March 1994, they were among a group of 132 women sent to the Holleichen Kommando, an annex of the Flossenburg Konzentrationslager (KL, concentration camp) in the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. There, they were assigned to the powder factory of the Skoda factories, which manufactured anti-aircraft ammunition.

Those considered too weak or too old to work and who do not die quickly enough from hunger and cold are eliminated by injection or by shooting. The corpses were then burned in a crematorium built in the camp in 1943. It was probably in these circumstances that Mélanie Huet was gassed, shortly before the liberation of the camp, on 6 April 1945. Despite the climate of terror and the executions, the SS could not overcome the will and solidarity that united many deportees. Some did not hesitate to engage in sabotage. But the concentration camp machine crushed men and women alike and, by spring 1945, 40% of the deportees had died.

Drawing made, after the liberation of Buchenwald, by a German prisoner at the request of Charles Meyer, rounded up on 16 January 1944 in Mussidan.