1939-1944: Le Vernet concentration camp
Beginning in 1939, after the defeat of the Spanish Repulic, the concentration camp at Le Vernet, near Pamiers in Ariège, was used to detain the 12,000 Spanish combatants from the Durruti Division. At the declaration of war, "undesirable" foreigners, anti-fascist intellectuals and members of the International Brigades were interned at Le Vernet under terrible conditions, described by the writer Arthur Koestler (himself interned there) in "La lie de la terre". In 1940 it became a repressive camp for interning all foreigners considered suspect or dangerous to the public order. From 1942 it served also as a transit camp for Jews arrested in the region. In June 1944, the last internees were evacuated and deported to Dachau in the "Ghost Train." In total about 40,000 persons of 58 nationalities were interned in the camp--mainly men but also women and children.
The barracks no longer exist but the former stationhouse still stands along the side of the RN20 motorway north of Pamiers. A cattle car identical to those in which internees were deported to the death camps sits on the track. A plaque inside the wagon lists the names of 45 Jewish children, aged 2 to 17, who were transported from Le Vernet to Auschwitz on 1 September 1942.
In the nearby village of Le Vernet is a museum about the camp and this terrible period in the history of Ariège.