Meyer Harroch

Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation: A poignant tribute to WWII victims

Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, New York Jewish Travel Guide
Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, New York Jewish Travel Guide

Nestled on the eastern tip of the Île de la Cité, a poignant monument often goes unnoticed by many visitors despite its central location. This irony is striking, given its mission of remembrance. General Charles de Gaulle inaugurated the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation in 1962 to honor the 200,000 French citizens deported to Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

This memorial includes not only the monument itself but also the surrounding park, forming an integral part of the commemorative space. An association of former deportees and the families of those who never returned conceived the memorial, initially dedicating it to the French Resistance members deported from France. Over time, it broadened its scope to honor all deportees, regardless of nationality.

Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, New York Jewish Travel Guide

The deportees included not only French citizens but also many Jewish immigrants who had fled from neighboring European countries. Among those arrested and deported, approximately 85,000 were members of the French Resistance or political opponents, and 75,000 were Jews – tragically, 97% of whom perished, primarily in concentration camps. In 1940, an estimated 340,000 Jews lived in France, with about 75% surviving the war. Additionally, other persecuted groups targeted by the Nazi regime included Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Slavs, and the disabled.

Annually, the memorial welcomes around 180,000 visitors, many of whom stumble upon it unaware of its significance. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the site offers guided tours free of charge, although reservations are required, particularly for schools and other groups. The Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation invites visitors to learn, reflect, and remember. Even if history isn’t your primary interest, it’s an essential site to visit while in Paris.

Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, New York Jewish Travel Guide

The choice of location holds deep symbolism. This site, once a morgue, sits at the heart of Paris, emphasizing its historical and emotional significance. French architect Georges-Henri Pingusson reflected the harsh realities faced by the deportees in his design of the memorial, incorporating triangles from the symbols worn by camp prisoners throughout the structure. This geometric motif appears in the structure itself and in the specially created “roses of resurrection,” planted in 1975.

Visitors descending the narrow steps find themselves enveloped by gray stone walls and faced with an iron gate. This evokes a sense of entrapment, compelling them to proceed single-file, symbolically beginning a journey of deportation and isolation. The Seine River is visible but unreachable, enhancing the feeling of confinement. The claustrophobic descent leads to the crypt, where a circular plaque poignantly states, “They descended into the mouth of the earth, and they did not return.” This is the Tomb of the Unknown Deportee, containing the remains of a prisoner from the Neustadt camp, symbolizing the 200,000 deportees. An eternal light burns in this space, underscoring the enduring memory of those lost.

An interesting aspect of the crypt is its chapel-like shape, a reflection of the architect’s previous work on churches and chapels. This design, comprising several triangles, also echoes the hexagonal shape of France. The dimly lit hallway within the memorial is lined with 200,000 illuminated crystals, each representing a life lost. At the corridor’s end, a solitary bright light symbolizes the eternal flame of hope. The walls are inscribed with quotes from writers and poets such as Louis Aragon, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, along with the names of concentration camps where French citizens perished. Plaques, triangular urns filled with ashes and soil from the camps, and the tomb of an unknown deportee further the memorial’s solemn tribute.

Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, New York Jewish Travel Guide

As visitors exit, they are reminded to “forgive, but never forget,” echoing sentiments found in Holocaust memorials worldwide. This powerful experience serves as a solemn reminder of the atrocities of World War II and honors those who suffered.

Every year, on the last Sunday of April, the memorial hosts a ceremony for the National Day of Remembrance of the Victims and Heroes of Deportation. This annual event ensures that the memory of those who suffered and perished is kept alive for future generations. The contrast between the tranquil, contemplative atmosphere of the memorial and the bustling streets of Île de la Cité, with nearby tourist attractions like Notre Dame, deepens the impact of the visit. This hidden gem invites visitors to pause, reflect, and honor the countless lives affected by the horrors of World War II, serving as a powerful reminder of the past and a call to remember and learn from history.

For more information:

Story by Meyer Harroch, New York Jewish Travel, and New York Jewish

For comprehensive details and to arrange your guided tour, please visit

About the Author
Meyer Harroch is the founder and travel writer of the prestigious New York Jewish Travel Guide, a digital Jewish travel publication established in 2013 that promotes Jewish travel, Jewish heritage destinations, international hotels, dining, and airlines, as well as tourism. Also, Meyer publishes the New York Jewish Parenting Guide, the New York Jewish Guide, the New York Jewish Chamber of Commerce, and the New York Jewish Event Guide.
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