a “paper monument” to get the deportees out of oblivion

Fruit of a colossal work of twenty years, the dictionary of Mittelbau-Dora finally appears. It highlights the journey of almost 9,000 deportees from France sent to this German camp, one of the least known. However, it was intended for the manufacture of the famous V2 rockets that would wipe out England.

René Gineste, a young resistance fighter, was only 23 when he was captured in a Gestapo attack in the Jura. Bernard Laveran, for his part, tried to cross the Spanish border to join the French French forces when he was stopped by the German police. Jules Rietmann, a 30-year-old digger, was in Orleans when he was charged and then tried to hand out brochures. Simone Jacob, future Simone veilShe was living in Nice when her family was arrested and then deported because of her Jewish religion.

Different origins and backgrounds, but all have one thing in common. René, Bernard, Jules and Simone all experienced hell in Mittelbau-Dora, one of the deadliest concentration and extermination camps in IIIe Reich. It is at this site, an outbuilding of the Buchenwald camp, located in central Germany, that thousands of prisoners dug tunnels to install an industrial area and assemble parts of V2 rockets that would wipe out England.

“8971 lives crushed “

These fates are now grouped in a single biographical dictionary published on 10 September. In more than 2,400 pages, France’s deported Mittelbau-Dora tells the story of “8971 crushed lives” including those of seven women, registered in this camp between 1943 and 1945. This project of a colossal scale saw the day twenty years ago. It was born out of the commitment made to the survivors gathered at that time within kind Dora-Ellrich and has been used ever since by the Coupole d’Helfaut Museum, in Pas-de-Calais, installed in a giant concrete bunker built by the Nazis from which these famous V2 rockets were to be fired.

“1998, after the publication of the book byAndré Sellier, ‘History of Dora Camp“(Ed. La Découverte) and the inauguration of the exhibition” Pictures of Dora “at La Coupole still lacked a census of deportees from France who passed through the camp,” explains the historian Laurent Thiery, who oversaw the realization of this book. “On the model du Maitron, the dictionary of the labor movement, The Center d’Histoire de la Coupole launched the idea of ​​creating a biographical dictionary.

“The impression of reviving someone”

To overcome this titanic task, Laurent Thiery has succeeded in mobilizing more than 70 writers throughout France: historians, teachers, archivists and even simple volunteers. Each was responsible for writing one or more biographical files from documents collected in various archive centers or families.

One of the pages in the dictionary of the 9000 deported from France to Mittelbau-Dora. © La Coupole Resource Center

For almost five years, Claude Favre, an associate with history and geography, threw himself into this project. On her own, she wrote more than 840 messages including her grandfather Marcel Petit, one of the survivors of Dora, a member of the Eugène-Prunus / Buckmaster network in Toulouse. “I knew he had resisted. He had poor sleep and had nightmares. He was in pain after interrogation and assault, but he did not talk about it,” said the woman, who lives in Meurthe and Moselle.

By learning about the creation of this book from Association of Friends of the Foundation for the Memory of Deportation of which she is a part, Claude did not hesitate for a second: “When I was in the best position to write my grandfather’s card. It was up to me to do so. And I finally discovered details of his journey when I realized his biography.” Encouraged by Laurent Thiery, the former teacher got involved and wrote the course for other deportees, especially from her region. “It invaded my life. It became an obsession,” she admits. “Every time I felt like I was bringing someone back to life.”

The dictionary of the deportees from Mittelbau-Dora weighs 4.2 kilos and has more than 2400 pages.
The dictionary of deportees from Mittelbau-Dora weighs 4.2 kilograms and has more than 2400 pages. © La Coupole Resource Center

Thanks to Claude and the other donors, families are now discovering the results of this long and thorough historical work. La Coupole is actually in contact with relatives of 900 deportees. Among them, Mathias Hosxe, a journalist at France 24, was upset when he discovered the file dedicated to his grandfather Pierre Hosxe, a Dora survivor. This engineer through training had put his technical knowledge in radio as well as his business at the service of the resistance and had been arrested in Lyon in 1943. “I really cried when I read his biographical note. I understood that what was wrong with him. Had moved me “It was first the story of his career and his stay there and secondly the feeling of seeing the public acknowledge what he had suffered as a member of the resistance,” he says.

This deported grandson knew little about his grandfather. During his childhood, he had only bits of his past. Seventy-five years later, he has a feeling of having returned to this family history: “It is a kind of satisfaction and confirmation of facts that what had been told in a family and limited circle, also belonged to the great story.”

A photograph of the expelled Henri Guet.  Railway worker at the SNCF, he was arrested in November 1941 by the French police in Le Mans as a former member of the Communist Party.  Sentenced to five years in prison, he served his sentence before being handed over to the German authorities and then deported in May 1944.
A photograph of the expelled Henri Guet. Railway workers at the SNCF were arrested in November 1941 by the French police in Le Mans as a former member of the Communist Party. Sentenced to five years in prison, he served his sentence before being handed over to the German authorities and then deported in May 1944. © La Coupole Resource Center

“Their name will not be deleted for the second time”

Martine Erbs also learned a lot from her father Louis Erbs, a resilient student from Alsace: “I did not know at all except the fact that it was at the faculty of Clermont that he had been rounded up and deported.” For her, it is a matter of highlighting individual stories, but also of highlighting Mittelbau-Dora: “It is important that the public can be informed about all Nazi barbarities. We know the extermination camps of the Jews, but much less is known of the extermination camps through the work. Dora is quite remarkable for her underground factory that enabled the development of aviation technology after the war “.

Pictures of Dora's camp and its crematorium.
Pictures of Dora’s camp and its crematorium. © La Coupole Resource Center

For historian Laurent Thiery, this erasure of memory can actually be explained by the specificity of this place. “He is more connected to the link between the history of this camp and the Nazi researcher Wernher von Braun. Responsible for the crimes committed in Dora for having deported manufactured the V2 rocket he had developed for Hitler. Father of the Apollo Project and the mission that led the first men to the moon in July 1969, the Nazis’ past was largely hidden, and Dora’s story with it, he said. “May this book make it possible to remember that the finest the hours of space conquest stem from this dangerous link between the Nazis and scientists “.

But above all, this dictionary will make it possible for history to record the involvement of these thousands of deportees. Of the 3,979 Dora survivors, La Coupole is in contact with about fifteen deportees who are still alive. Laurent Thiery has already personally sent some of them a copy. “They are very proud of this work, impressed by its size and weight. But above all, their feelings are marked by the thought that their missing comrades are now inscribed in this paper monument and that their names will not be erased once. The second time,” describes the historian. “Finally, the presence of family members, sometimes grandchildren, confirms to them the idea that this book will serve as a transmission belt for the private witness generations.”

The Coupole Museum invites families of deportees from France to Mittelbau-Dora and its Commandos to arrive at it, in order to provide them with a numbered copy during memorial ceremonies planned throughout France.

For more information: lthiery@lacoupole.com