Assembly camp (Sammellager) and detention camp for the Jews of France, from which they were sent to forced labor and extermination camps.
The Camp Regime
Four satellite camps were added to Drancy, as part of the operations of Einsatzstab Rosenberg, to serve as depositories for objects that had been confiscated from the homes of Jews. The camp was able to hold 4,500 prisoners, and from August 21, 1941, to August 17, 1944 (liberation day), some 70,000 prisoners passed through it. Its organization and structure were modeled along the lines of Nazi concentration camps. It was guarded by French gendarmes and later by the regular French police. Until July 1, 1943, Drancy was administered by the French, although it was under the control of the Sicherheitspolizei and SD. On July 2, 1943, Alois Brunner took over the camp and ran it with four other SS officers. Under Brunner, the condition of the inmates deteriorated severely and deportations to Auschwitz intensified. Between June 22, 1942, and July 31, 1944, 64 transports left Drancy, with 64,759 Jews aboard; of these, 61 transports with 61,000 persons went to Auschwitz, and the rest were sent to Sobibor. Of the deportees, 20,000 were born in France, 15,000 were Polish Jews, and 6,000 German Jews.
Until November 15, 1942, food rations were small, and the prisoners were severely undernourished. With the help of French Jewish organizations and the Red Cross, the situation improved. However, under Brunner it turned for the worse again.
Solidarity and mutual help became the rule among the inmates, and this conduct was the first manifestation of resistance. From August 21, 1941, to August 17, 1943, 41 inmates successfully escaped. In September 1943, the prisoners began working on a plan to build an escape tunnel. Seventy prisoners worked in three shifts on the tunnel day and night. On November 8, 1943, with only 98 feet (30 m) remaining to be dug, they were caught by the Germans. As punishment, many prisoners, including the underground leader Robert Blum, were sent to their deaths.
Cultural and Religious Life
Cultural and religious life persisted in Drancy despite the difficult conditions. The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) were observed in a synagogue, established in September 1941, and many prisoners also attended regular Sabbath services. On July 20, 1942, the Germans prohibited further religious observance, but as late as the fall of 1943, the High Holidays were still being celebrated. Concerts and literary evenings were held, books were smuggled into the camp, and a school was set up for children. The school continued to function clandestinely after it was officially closed by the Germans in January 1943.
Liberation and Aftermath
On the night of August 15-16, 1944, after the Allies had reached Paris, the Germans in Drancy burnt all their documents. The next day they fled, leaving 1,542 prisoners behind. On August 17, the consul general of Sweden, Raoul Nordling, took control of the camp and asked the French Red Cross to care for the inmates; the camp was now liberated. After the war, a monument was erected in the place where the front gates once stood, to commemorate the Jews who were deported to the extermination camps from Drancy.