Deportations and internments in France

At the beginning of the 20th century, the word “deportation” referred to a sentence of exile and internment: it evoked imprisonment but not death camps.

In 1914-1918, civilians of enemy countries were forcibly interned by the French and German armed forces. 32,000 “foreigners” were also detained in Great Britain.

In early August 1914, German-speaking people in France (Germans, Austro-Hungarians, some people from Alsace-Lorraine) had to register and were gathered in camps. About 45,000 people, including 8,000 Alsatians, were interned in French camps. A committee checked the loyalty to France of the Alsaciens-Lorrains. As early as 1915 many were set free.

A succession of agreements with Germany allowed the progressive repatriation of prisoners who were about 12,000 at the beginning of 1918.

During their detention, the interned civilians were gathered in enclosed spaces by nationality and criteria of dangerousness. They settled there in discomfort and promiscuity, living to the rhythm of the bugle and orders. Some notables, “paying hostages”, escaped that fate by paying to stay in hotels.

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  • Civilian prison camps on the French and German sides, © Agence Point de Fuite

  • Bedeau-les-Pins (Algeria). Interned civilians, February 1916, photo, coll. BDIC

    Spies were feared, especially in the early days of the conflict. The internment of foreign nationals was considered an effective solution to prevent them from transmitting information to the enemy.

  • Hôtel de la plage (Carnac, Morbihan). A paying hostage. A room, May 1916, photo, coll. BDIC

civilian prison camps on the French and German sidesBedeau-les-Pins (Algeria). Interned civiliansHôtel de la plage (Carnac, Morbihan). A paying hostage