The Holocaust Memorial in Paris
Understand the past to illuminate the future – that’s the vocation of this memorial, museum and research center. One of Europe’s first Holocaust archives, it contributes to the fight against all forms of racism and intolerance.
The memorial commemorates the 200,000 Jews deported from Vichy France to concentration camps during WWII. Its austere architecture and pedagogical presentations are powerful.
Located in the Marais district (broadly the 3rd and 4th arrondissements), it houses a memorial, museum, research center and library—France’s largest physical bookshop on the subject—an auditorium for screenings, symposia, debates, presentations and offices. A memorial garden and a square also surround the complex, which can be visited on our Paris WW2 Nazi Occupation guided walking tour.
It commemorates the 200,000 Jews, resistance fighters, children and other political opponents who were handed over by Vichy France to Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Its austere architecture, designed by Georges-Henri Pingusson, and pedagogical presentations tell the moving history of these people caught up in the great whirlwind.
The Memorial houses a museum, documentation center, reading room, France’s largest physical bookstore on Holocaust history and other genocides, and seminar rooms. It also hosts conferences, symposia and trainings.
“Pardon, n’oublie pas,” reads one of the many quotes inscribed on the walls of the memorial. This message serves as an introductory note to the museum, which is a long, dark and claustrophobic corridor that contains vignettes of artifacts. Understanding the past to illuminate the future is the vocation of this place, which strives to contribute to the fight against all forms of racism and intolerance. The Memorial’s activities are carried out in cooperation with regional heritage centers and organizations.
Designed by modernist architect Georges-Henri Pingusson, the memorial is meant to invoke feelings of claustrophobia and entrapment. Visitors descend a narrow staircase to enter the memorial and are warned not to speak while inside. A long dark hallway stretches in front of them with walls studded with 200,000 crystals to symbolize those who died.
The museum focuses on both individual and collective history and is expanding its research to encompass the 20th century’s other genocides. It also runs educational campaigns to discourage racism and anti-Semitism.
While walking around Ile de la Cite is a great way to see the memorial, a Seine River sightseeing cruise provides an entirely different perspective.
The long corridors of the memorial are ornamented with 200,000 crystal points that enumerate the 200,000 deported to concentration camps. On both sides are triangular urns with earth from the camps and ashes from the crematoria. Inscriptions speak of pain, loss and tragedy. “Forgive, but never forget” reads one.
The crypt in the center contains a tomb with the remains of an unknown deportee. The inscription reads: “They descended into the mouth of the earth and did not return.” The memorial is free but you have to book your visit in advance. All the information is in French. It takes about 30 minutes to go through the entire memorial/museum.
During the Holocaust, many Jews had to say farewell to their loved ones as they were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. These hasty partings created within them treasured memories and painful echoes. Artifacts preserved in those moments acted as permanent memorials to the deceased.
The founders of the archives, known as the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine or CDJC, started to collect these objects. However, the September 1943 German invasion of the zone in which they were located stopped their efforts.
According to Peter Carrier, the memorial “symbolicly assimilates specific Jewish memory of the French deportation into national memory”. The generic inscriptions on the walls prevent non-Europeans from accessing this particular history.
The museum and documentation centre cover a wide range of topics relating to the Holocaust. There are research, educational and meeting rooms along with a comprehensive shop. The entire centre is accessible to the public.
A major part of the exhibition covers France’s involvement in the Holocaust under the Vichy regime. Displays include documents, personal belongings and photos.
The memorial museum is located in Le Marais, Paris’ quaint Jewish quarter. It’s a great place for strolling around the narrow streets, seeing historic synagogues and Jewish bakeries. It’s also a short walk from the Drancy transit camp and the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum. A free shuttle bus runs between the two locations on Sundays.