Deportation Monument, Paris

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Deportation memorial 11 - thousands of representative lightsA large but little known monument right in the heart of Paris which commemorates the deportation of Jews and political prisoners from France to the camps in the east during WWII and the Holocaust
More background info: for some information about the general historical background of the deportations of Jews from France see under Drancy – which was the principal transit camp from where these deportations took place.
This monument, called Memorial de la Deportation in French, is also to commemorate other categories of deportees, not just Jewish, but also captured members of the Resistance and other political prisoners and "undesirables" (homosexuals, gypsies, Jehovah's witnesses, etc.). In total, the monument gives a figure of 200,000 French "martyrs" who shared this fate between 1940 and 1945.
The monument at the tip of the Ile de la Cite was constructed in 1962 to designs of the modernist architect Georges-Henri Pingusson and inaugurated by the then president Charles de Gaulle on April 12.
What there is to see: From a distance, e.g. from the Pont St Louis or even from the park entrance right opposite, there isn't much to see of the monument at all – which may partly account for the fact that few happen upon it by chance.
Only as you get closer can you see the red inscription on the low concrete slab that forms the top of the monument. Here the years 1940 and 1945 and words such as "martyrs" and "deportation" indicate the nature of the site.
There is, however, also a large text panel near the entrance. This provides some information about the history and the monument itself, in French, English and German.
The actual heart of the memorial monument is largely hidden from view from the outside. To see it you have to descend a flight of steps down to the main part. Access is controlled by a security check-point (as always, there are certain fears of vandalism at sites like this, so it's a measure to be expected).
The narrow flight of steps is already part of the monument's symbolism, in this case replicating an indication of the "Schlauch" (literally 'hose' or 'tube' – see e.g. Belzec) typical of the death camps of the Holocaust.
At the bottom of the stairs a roughly triangular courtyard forms the main element of the open-air part of the monument. The triangular shape can, of course, be interpreted as being symbolic of the system used by the Nazis of marking concentration camp inmates according to categories (together with the yellow star for Jews).
At the far end of the courtyard a spiky metal sculpture involves more triangular shapes as well as allusions to prison bars. You can see through an outer grille of similarly black metal onto the waters of the Seine – out of reach.
Turning round you then face the entrance to the indoors, underground part of the monument. Again, access is through a deliberately narrow passage, intended to replicate an atmosphere of claustrophobia. Inside there's a chamber with an eternal light (not actually a flame) set into a metal circular slab in the centre of the space. Facing this is an illuminated space, fenced off by bars from the central chamber, and this has to be the most stunning element of the whole monument: it's basically another long and narrow corridor, this time formed by two walls facing each other into which thousands and thousands of little lights have been set – to form a mass of two walls of lights. These lights, almost too small to be identifiable as individual lights are supposed to stand for all the individual lives lost amongst the deportees (i.e. some 200,000).
In niches to the side of the central elements are little triangular-shaped holes representing the various concentration camps. Above the two niches the names of these camps (a selection of them) are inscribed in the concrete wall. Extracts from poems complement the sombre atmosphere.
There isn't anything else to see – nor any additional explanatory information (other than the single panel by the entrance), so this is really a highly symbolic spot, not an educational one. More for quiet contemplation (a sign actually admonishes visitors to keep silent, as does the security guard at the entrance), rather than for wordy instruction.
It may not be a major sight, but certainly one worth stopping by when in the area – it also offers a certain respite from the boisterous tourist hordes at nearby Notre Dame.
Location: at the southern tip of the central Paris Seine island of Ile de la Cite, just behind the back of Notre Dame cathedral.
Google maps locator:[48.8518,2.3521]
Access and costs: easy to get to, access slightly restricted; free.
Details: given the bang-in-the-centre location of the memorial it's remarkable that apparently so many people walk just past it without even noticing it. Apparently you need to know what you're looking for. The monument occupies the south-eastern-most tip of the Ile de la Cite, on the edge of Ile de France Square, just across the road from the park behind Notre Dame cathedral. So from there, or anywhere in the 1st, 4th or 5th arrondissement it's easily walkable. To get there from further afield, the metro provides decent access, e.g. from the stops Cite (M4), Hotel de Ville (M1 & 11) Pont Marie (M7) or the hub of Chatelet Les Halles (RER A, B, D, and various metro lines).
At the monument itself, there are just a few steps to negotiate down to the main level of the monument.
Opening times: 10 a.m. to 12 noon and 2 to 7 p.m. (in summer, in winter to 5 p.m. only)
Admission: free – but there's a security check (where bags are inspected, as is customary at such sites).
Time required: not long, 5 minutes are enough for taking a good look at the monument, possibly a little longer for a few moments of quiet contemplation.
Combinations with other dark destinations: The Shoah memorial museum is not only thematically linked but also located quite near, also in the 4th arrondissement (district) of Paris, on a side street off the north bank of the Seine.
The actual place from where most of the deportations were organized is much further out, in the north-eastern suburb of Drancy, Paris.
For more dark tourism sites see under Paris in general.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: One of Paris's prime tourist attractions is right next door: Notre Dame cathedral, one of the world's greatest, but unfortunately so popular with tourist throngs that it's original atmosphere is quite impaired (and long queues further detract from the attractiveness of the place). But even just from the outside, it's quite a structure to behold.
The Seine islands of Ile de la Cite and Ile St Louis are pretty parts of Paris too, as are the narrow streets of Le Marais to the north (the old Jewish quarter).
Given the central location, most of Paris's attractions are within fairly easy reach by public transport.
  • Deportation memorial 01 - seen from Pont St LouisDeportation memorial 01 - seen from Pont St Louis
  • Deportation memorial 02 - entranceDeportation memorial 02 - entrance
  • Deportation memorial 03 - information panelDeportation memorial 03 - information panel
  • Deportation memorial 04 - north sideDeportation memorial 04 - north side
  • Deportation memorial 05 - south side by the entranceDeportation memorial 05 - south side by the entrance
  • Deportation memorial 06 - way downDeportation memorial 06 - way down
  • Deportation memorial 07 - main courtyardDeportation memorial 07 - main courtyard
  • Deportation memorial 08 - main courtyard looking westDeportation memorial 08 - main courtyard looking west
  • Deportation memorial 09 - into the darknessDeportation memorial 09 - into the darkness
  • Deportation memorial 10 - eternal lightDeportation memorial 10 - eternal light
  • Deportation memorial 11 - thousands of representative lightsDeportation memorial 11 - thousands of representative lights
  • Deportation memorial 12 - camp namesDeportation memorial 12 - camp names
  • Deportation memorial 13 - way outDeportation memorial 13 - way out
  • Deportation memorial 14 - main sculptureDeportation memorial 14 - main sculpture

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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