From the French Foreign Legion to Nazi brutality: narratives of internment, commemorative scripts and the history of the Gurs camp.

Dr Scott Soo (University of Southampton)

Wednesday 25th May 2022.

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Built in the spring of 1939, the Gurs camp played a key role in the internment apparatus of the Third Republic, Vichy regime, provisional post-war government and the Fourth Republic. During this period, the French authorities incarcerated Spanish Civil War refugees, members of the International Brigades, Jewish and anti-fascist refugees and immigrants from Germany and Central Europe, French nationals suspected of communism and collaboration, black-market activities, and German prisoners of war.

Given the complexity of the different political administrations and backgrounds of the internees, how are we to understand the depictions of the camp from the 1940s through to the 1970ss? Can we discern the emergence of a collective or indeed overlapping set of collective memories? The transformation of the Gurs camp into a site of transnational commemoration involved the production of a commemorative script that echoed the imperatives of both France and West Germany. In contrast, the published accounts of incarceration reflected a wider range of motivation and themes. This paper will argue that while a funerary strand can be identified in the commemorative script and internee narratives, the divergent motivations and depictions of the camp reveal more about the intersections of European history than the development of a collective memory of incarceration.


Academic trajectory began in Brighton with an MA and Doctorate in history at the University of Sussex. Co-created the first online postgraduate history journal – thanks for Eugene for publishing in the first edition!

Associate Professor in European History and Director of the Centre for Transnational Studies at the University of Southampton. I’ve published on refugee history in France and notably on the Spanish Republican exile. I am the author of The routes to exile: France and the Spanish Civil War refugees, 1939–2009 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, paperback ed. 2017). With Sharif Gemie, I co–edited Coming Home? Vol. 1: Conflict and Return Migration in the Aftermath of Europe’s Twentieth–Century Civil Wars (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013) and Coming Home? Vol. 2: Conflict and Postcolonial Return Migration in the Context of France and North Africa, 1962–2009 (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013). My current project investigates the commemoration of France’s internment camps in the post–war decades with a focus on the transnational nexus of Gurs.