In Maine-et-Loire, the project for a gypsy memorial in Montreuil-Bellay (almost) on track

President François Hollande inaugurates a commemorative stele, in the former internment camp of Montreuil-Bellay (Maine-et-Loire), October 29, 2016.

It’s a forgotten chapter of the Second World War, a long hidden memory. From 1941 to 1945, some 1,800 Gypsies were detained in Montreuil-Bellay (Maine-et-Loire), 60 kilometers from Cholet, in one of the 31 camps that France had during the war. Of their internment, only ruins remain as well as a commemorative stele inaugurated in 2016 by President François Hollande, who then recognized the role of the French State in the persecution of Travelers.

“No one wanted to talk about this story, neither the administration nor the elders who lived through it and who, once released, lived curled up in their HLMs with the fear that someone would come looking for them”says Jean Richard, vice-president of the association for the memory of this camp where sixteen members of his family were interned.

On January 30, during the presentation of her plan to fight against discrimination, the Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, announced without warning that a museum would soon be built there in memory of the internees. An unexpected announcement, which suddenly agitated the Romani communities. “Talking about a museum was an abuse of language that created false hopes”, regrets the historian Ilsen About, member of the scientific council of the future memorial. However, the project is more of an educational trail, completed by a place presenting the history of the stalag using interactive tools.

It remains to “imagine the content”

In a letter dated May 7, that The world was able to consult, Nelly Debart, president of the National Association of Traveler Citizens, quickly became concerned about the low representation of Travelers on the steering committee. “The project was put together without consulting usfulminates its delegate general, William Acker. Could we imagine a Holocaust memorial without our Jewish brothers, a slavery memorial without Afro-descendants? »

“Of course we listen to them, of course we hear themprotests Marc Bonnin, mayor of Montreuil-Bellay. It would be unimaginable to make this memorial without them! » But, he continues, the steering committee set up a year ago had to first ensure the feasibility of a project valued at around 700,000 euros.

It has been done since the purchase, validated by the municipal council on May 2, of a former agricultural cooperative which, once refurbished, must house the memorial. “Now that we have the hull, we are ready to imagine the content in a co-construction with the Voyageurs”explains Marc Bonnin.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers With “Barvalo”, the MuCEM composes a hymn to Romani cultures

This memorial, which is scheduled to open in 2026, owes everything to the long-term work of a local teacher, Jacques Sigot, who, for thirty years, accumulated a precious mass of oral testimonies from survivors and their descendants. Modest stories, which tell the hunger, the cold, the vexations, and which it will be a question of putting in images and space. “The difficulty will be to make this story audible to as many people as possible, and in priority to young people”acknowledges Virginie Daudin, director of the Resistance and Freedom regional center of Thouars (Deux-Sèvres).

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