French Gypsies recall forgotten wartime internment
It's a thistle-tangled field behind a hedge of blackberries, with little to catch the eye but three surreal staircases that rise out of the parched grass and lead to nowhere.
Not much is left of the camp where thousands of French Gypsies were interned in this village in the Saumur wine region during World War II. Here, hungry children once crowded behind barbed wire, hoping Sunday strollers might toss them leftover food. Anyone caught trying to escape was locked in a filthy hole underground, a prison within a prison.
As today's France expels a wave of Romanian gypsies seeking an escape from hardship back home, children of the camp's survivors have been drawing up plans for a memorial to the site's chilling past. They have been caught up in a battle against what they say is state-sponsored discrimination today against some of Europe's most marginalized, misunderstood minorities.
This shameful episode of French history is little known and isn't in the school textbooks: Under the German Occupation, thousands of Gypsies, mostly citizens of France, were rounded up and put in 31 internment camps administered and guarded by their fellow Frenchmen.
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