Recovering from the long hike yesterday, I went to the salt baths in the morning and spent a good hour alternating between the steam room and the pool. The baths did their job and I wandered out feeling refreshed.
In the afternoon we all went to visit the Gurs camp. This was a camp originally set up to hold refugees from the Spanish Civil War, and people returning from the conflict. As the Spanish Civil War blended into the Second World War the camp was emptied and then used to hold Jews deported from Germany. Several categories of other people ‘undesirable’ to the Vichy regime were also held there.
They lived in long wooden huts.
Toward the end of the Second World War the camp was attacked by local resistance fighters. After the war it was used to hold collaborators and, in a moment of deep confusion, some Spanish republicans. Then, most of the camp was burned down and a forest grew over the top.
It’s an awkward history, the camp is signposted, but also not the sort of place you would go out of your way to visit.
There is a cemetery at the far corner of the camp.
The flag of the Second Spanish Republic was tied to a tree near a monument to the Spanish people who died there.
It is undeniable that a lot of people died here, and the overwhelming majority of the dead were the Jewish deportees. At the same time it’s important to distinguish that Gurs was not an extermination camp, the victims were killed by horrendous conditions of disease and starvation. This does not diminish the crime, but there were no gas chambers or facilities for systematic killing on a mass scale, that happened elsewhere.
The history of Gurs is full of twists and turns. When it was first established, the camp could have been considered a humanitarian endeavour, it was a ‘welcome centre’ to accept people fleeing Franco’s regime. It became a prison, and later integrated into the infrastructure of the Holocaust. It’s strange to consider that people who initially supported the construction of the camp, could have been interned there themselves at one point.
Facing the camp, in the village of Gurs, was a house adorned with weird objects. Here is a creepy gnome.
On the way home we stopped by Sus to visit a farm shop operated by a cult which my parents used to visit when they were younger. There was a small cafe area furnished with crafted wooden tables, the walls were decorated with romantic scenes of rural life. A woman came out from the back wearing a long dress and hair tied back. It’s a Christian sect along similar lines to the Amish in the USA,1 at least that’s what clicked in my mind once I heard the shopkeeper speaking in a thick US accent.
The cultists live in a large wooden roundhouse and seemed welcoming, in an eerie sort of way.
Christine was shocked to discover that they were under investigation following multiple allegations of child abuse. This group was also banned in Germany for systematic mistreatment of children. What you see is smiling people with organic vegetables, and underneath the surface there’s something much more troubling.
On the way home the storm finally hit, and we took shelter in a supermarket.
In the evening we watched a documentary about Diana Spencer, as there was nothing else more worthwhile on television.
I’ve not heard of them before but the Sus cult is part of the ‘12 tribes’ communities originating in Chattanooga, USA. ↩