After being in Vichy France from June 10, 1940 until February 12, 1942, the French police came to our house and arrested my brother Charles and me. My father was arrested later on. The police asked Charles and I to get a few things together and they took us away. We could not ask them any questions. We were not given any reason for the arrest and were taken to Montauban police station with several other people. One of them was a man whom we knew. He was of Polish extraction and was a Paris native also living in St. Porquier. He was doing some odd tailoring jobs for people in St. Porquier and we used to go there in the evening to listen to the BBC World Service, as we could not rely on the newspapers.

At night time, we were transferred by train from Montauban to the south of Pau. Looking back now, I cannot understand why no one ran away. There were about twenty of us, following two guards and I thought to myself, it would be so easy to run away. Yet no one did. Perhaps it was because we all thought that we were being taken to a prison or could it be that we did not have the will to flee?

Anyway, we were put on a train and sent south. When we got to our destination we realised it was a concentration camp. One part was reserved for men and the other for women. The camp was called Gurs in the Pyrenees, the natural border of snow covered mountains between Spain and France. It was very cold at night in the huts. We had no beds and slept on the wooden floor, where shrubs of grass grew through the holes in the hard floors. There was no food, and I remember finding a pimento that someone had thrown out, we picked it up and boiled it in water to make soup.


This was Joseph’s identification document from the time he was a teenager during the war


Joseph in his younger days

Pictured here are:

Charles (second from left on top row), Joseph (third from left on top row), Pinhas (furthest right on top row). First on the bottom row left, is cousin John (Yehuda) Mammon.  This picture was taken during the time when the four men were interned together.


Pinchas Mammon

Interred By The Germans In St. Denis, A Camp For British Subject



But this was not our final destination. As soon as we were arrested, my parents had contacted some friends in St. Porquier and asked them to inform the Swiss embassy in Vichy France that Charles and I were British Subjects. Neither of us had a British passport, but they insisted that as British subjects we should be interned in a camp reserved for the British in St. Denis, near Paris.

My parents succeeded in convincing the French authorities that we should not be in Gurs. We were only there for a few weeks but it was terribly frightening. I remember at 3:00 am the lorries would come to load up with men to be deported. They always picked up at 2 or 3am because they knew that the men would be asleep and so it was easier to find them. I remember how the woman used to cry when the vans came to take the men away.

I was in Gurs from February 12, 1942 until February 25, 1942. Then the police came and escorted us to Pau. On the first night we were brought to a hotel. That was the best experience of my life. It was comfortable and very warm. In the morning we had a nice breakfast and about an hour later we were escorted to Paris.

Picture Of Gurs February 1943

Note:Gurs camp was one of the first and largest camps established in pre-war France. It was located in the Basque region of southwestern France, just to the south of the village of Gurs. The camp, about 50 miles from the Spanish border, was situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains northwest of Oloron-Sainte-Marie.

The French government established the Gurs camp in April 1939, before war with Germany and well before the occupation of France in June 1940. Originally, Gurs served as a detention camp for political refugees and members of the International Brigade fleeing Spain after the Spanish Civil War.

In early 1940, the French government also interned about 4,000 German Jewish refugees as “enemy aliens,” along with French leftist political leaders who opposed the war with Germany. After the French armistice with Germany in June 1940, Gurs fell under the authority of the new collaborationist French government, the Vichy regime.
For more details about Gurs click on following link Gurs

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