The Camp des Milles is an internment camp that was used to house prisoners during the Second World War – some of whom were sent to Auschwitz. It’s just outside Aix en Provence and the only internment camp remaining intact in France. Here’s a guide on what to expect, the history surrounding the site and its cultural significance today.
September 1939 – June 1940
Just outside Aix sits a staggering piece of national history. In the small village of Les Milles (in the middle of Marseille and Aix) is an old tile factory. At the start of World War Two in 1939, this building was used to house Germans and Austrians who were living in the area – as Germans they naturally became the enemy of France who were fighting against each other.
The camp briefly became a holding area for a lot of artists and intellectuals – people like the Nobel Prize Laureate, Otto Fritz Meyerhof, and one of the primary pioneers of the surrealist movement, Max Ernst. These people were released in 1940 when the French signed an armistice with Germany. Throughout this first period, the camp was kept in pretty good condition and the inmates treated relatively well.
July 1940 – July 1942
After the Vichy government took over in France, the camp began to be used to house ‘undesirables’ of the German Reich. This is the period immortalised in the Kristen Scott Thomas movie, Les Milles, in 1995. People would board the train to Les Milles, because it became the camp from which people were successfully able to leave the country. Jewish people arrived who had been expelled from Nazi Germany, fleeing Paris and looking to arrange passage to the US or the UK. The camp’s population rose rapidly and the situation inside began to get progressively worse – there wasn’t enough food to feed people, disease became commonplace and rats arrived in greater numbers. This movie is in French but it’s possible to understand the role of the camp by watching the images.
August & September 1942
Over August and September 1942, the Vichy government deported the remaining Jewish people in the camp to Auschwitz. Around five trains left Les Milles on the railway track that runs beside the building. Over two thousand people including one hundred children were deported in this convoy, the youngest being just a year old. A list of their names can be found here. After they left, the camps doors were closed and it was never used as a prison again.
A way to remember – 2012
After the war, the building was used as a factory for a short period before it fell into disrepair. Its future was always the subject of huge debate in the local area. Some of the locals wanted to tear it down to forget about the whole thing; many of the same families have been in the area for centuries and feel complicit in allowing the deportation to happen. Others fought for government funding to allow a memorial to be established. In 1993, the site was accredited as a World War Two memorial but, even then, it was a political hot potato for any President. Eventually, President Sarkozy gave the go-ahead on the funding and restoration work began. In 2012, the memorial opened.
Planning your visit
The camp is accessible from the town of Les Milles, so any bus to the town centre will work, from Aix or Marseille, as it’s just a short walk. Les Milles has a couple of bakers and bars for a sandwich, but if you’re looking for anything more substantial food-wise, it’s probably better to take something with you. You can eat it in the main square in Les Milles. Alternatively, head back to Aix or Marseille for restaurants and cafés.
Opening hours: Daily, 10am to 6pm. Except Jan 1, May 1, and Dec 24/25 & 31.
Camp des Milles, 40 Chemin de la Badesse, Aix-en-Provence, France +33 (0)4 42 39 17 11
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.