A to Z Abroad: Deportation Memorial (Paris)


Behind the infamous Notre Dame Cathedral is a deeply moving memorial to the people who were deported from Vichy France to Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Upon entering the memorial, a sense of claustrophobia is created by tall walls that block all views of the surrounding city and streets. Any sense of freedom is gone, but for the sky above. However, a foreboding iron gate serves as a reminder that there was no exit for those imprisoned.

Somehow, I ended up alone in the memorial, which gave me the eerie experience of total silence. With no tourists chatting and snapping pictures, I was left with nothing but the walls, the sky, and spirits of those who did not return. I stood and closed my eyes and simply allowed the moment to become part of me.

Deportation Memorial in Paris
Photo by: c.b.w. 2013

In an inner chamber, 200,000 illuminated crystals line the walls and symbolize each of the deportees who died at Nazi hands.  I put my finger on one crystal and wondered which soul it represented. What kind of life did this person lead? How much did they suffer? Did they still have hope, even at the end?

Within the same chamber is the tomb of an unknown deportee who died at the Neustadt camp and the urns of ashes from the camps.  It’s here that I stand and say a little prayer with hope that all those lost are truly at peace.

Upon leaving the memorial, the same engraving found at almost all sites memorializing victims of the Holocaust can be found: “Forgive, but never forget.”

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Part of the A to Z Challenge!


c.b.w. 2013

47 thoughts on “A to Z Abroad: Deportation Memorial (Paris)

  1. This was very moving, words and picture alike: especially since I just returned from a trip to Poland where I visited Auschwitz and reflected on many of the same things that you did here. The impossibility of extracting the individual from the mass of the atrocities, the wondering how many thoughts, hopes, fears and revelations were lost to the world because of the extermination of so many souls, and especially the difficulty with tourists and photographs: is it disgusting that people snap pictures of these places to post on Facebook? Or is it just another way of doing what we know we must always do: remembering what happened and preserving it as a warning for the future.

    Yes, very moving. Excellent post!


    • I only took one photograph of the memorial because I was conflicted about photographing something so sacred. At the same time, I wanted to have a way to return to that memorial once I got home. I share this photograph with my students along with the story of my visit and it really does help them understand the enormity of the Holocaust.


      • Yes, it did seem strange to be photographing Auschwitz and Birkenau, but in the end I’m glad we did. We’d spoken to a fellow traveller who had said he thought the whole of the experience at the camp was disgusting and commercialised and touristy, but he was both a photographer and a tourist, so… At the end of the day, I think photography ties in with the ‘never forget’ morality, and it can and should be done. Although I must admit I did find it jarring when a group of Italian tourists posed together with smiles and thumbs-up underneath the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign.


      • Oh my, I can’t imagine what was going through the heads of those tourists. Unbelievable.

        I agree that photography serves as a powerful medium of human record, which is why I’m so careful when I travel. I don’t want to be the obnoxious tourist taking pictures only for myself. I take pictures that I can share with others, particularly my students. They tell a story that I hope is worth remembering.


    • I honestly didn’t know about it until I wandered through the “backyard” of Notre Dame. While my tour group was busy ogling the gardens and flying buttresses, I slipped across the street, because I saw the sign for the entrance of the memorial.


  2. Yes. reminds me of how I felt when I visited the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. When you see pictures of unspeakable cruel events, it just makes you shake you head in wonder. How could that happen? So sad. I’m thankful for these museums because they bring a sober reality into our lives and help us appreciate new life every day.


    • Well, that’s the place where all the tourists flock! 😉 The architectural achievement alone is enough to classify it as infamous, not to mention historical and religious elements associated with this site. 🙂 In contrast, the Deportation Memorial is lesser known and often bypassed despite its significance.


      • My agent was there two years ago with a Jewish friend. The Wall is in the old Ghetto, which still has a native Italian-Jewish population, including many Hassidim. Venice itself is a beautiful city. My agent says to get the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge done quickly, and then spend your time away from the crowd exploring all the back alleys.


  3. O my goodness – this was extremely moving CB thank you … the Deportation Memorial photograph is stark indeed .. may we never ever forget the horrors of the Holocaust. You were indeed fortunate to have those few moments on your own.


    • Thank you for stopping by. I don’t think there will ever be enough words to describe the horror of Holocaust and one of my biggest fears is that as we move further away from it, the memory will be lost. I hope memorials like this one will ensure we do not allow a repeat of such a horrific event.


      • And you are doing your part to make sure that we never forget, by taking such a moving photograph, and sharing it and the history with your students. It is only by teaching the next generations the history of our horrors that we can help assure that they will not repeat such atrocities.


      • The power of a photograph really is amazing. When I tell my students about the memorial they think it is interesting, but when I show the photograph, they fall incredibly silent. They feel what I felt standing there that day and I think it really drives the lesson home.


  4. My mother returned to France as soon as it was possible to do so once the war was over. The stories she heard of the occupation of Paris marked her forever. I grew up with those stories and have never repeated them as they are just too horrible for words. I sense that if I stood at this memorial, I would crumble to the ground in despair at the inhumanity of my species.
    You’ve not a wonderful, sensitive, job of sharing this with us. Blessings to you.


    • This is such a difficult subject to discuss, but I believe it is of immense importance that we keep the dialogue open, so no one ever has to live through something that horrific ever again.


  5. This reminds me emotionally of a visit we made to Terezin, a concentration camp for children in what is now the Czech Republic. It was overwhelming, but I recommend it to anyone visiting that country.


    • Terezin is one of the places I wish I could gone to while I was in the Czech Republic. As sad as it is, its an example I use in my classroom all the time to help my students identify with the reality of the Holocaust. Many of those children were about the same age as my students.


      • May I recommend to both of you W G Sebald’s novel ‘Austerlitz’. Like much of his fiction it weaves in reportage (in fact Susi Bechhofer complained that he had pilfered her life-story) and its main theme, as in ‘The Emigrants’, is the loss of European-Jewish culture. A fair amount of the novel concerns Theresienstadt.


  6. Moving post about a tragedy! I can see how you would have a sense of eeriness when alone in this monument — the design, however, is amazing! Thanks for sharing your experience and the story of these 2000 people.


  7. I would really like to see this in person, even with how sad it is. I know I’ll never get there, but your description seems to accurately depict how I’ve felt before other Holocausts memorials. How different is the picture in color?

    I also really really think the idea of A-Z blogging is so cool. I haven’t posted in months, but don’t want to be a copy-cat.


    • Surprisingly, the color version of this shot isn’t much different. It was a gray dreary day so most of the color was washed out. All I did was add a subtle overlay to accentuate the texture of the wall and gate.

      Jump into the challenge! It’s not too late to have a little blogging fun. 🙂


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