The Deportation Memorial is just a short walk from the entrance to Notre Dame - it should not be missed.
Often overlooked by visitors to Paris, the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, or Deportation Memorial, is located just behind Notre Dame Cathedral on Île de la Cité. It is a quiet, understated place that serves as a deeply moving memorial to the 200,000 people who were deported from occupied France to Nazi concentration camps. As the plaque on the floor of the memorial’s underground chamber chillingly states: “They descended into the mouth of the earth and they did not return.”
A Deathly Silence
The memorial was designed by French modernist architect Georges-Henri Pingusson, who wanted to create a place that would allow visitors to reflect on this terrible episode without allowing them to feel at all comfortable with it. To this end, he decided to create a long subterranean corridor which would evoke a feeling of claustrophobia. This is accessed via a hexagonal rotunda, which is in turn reached by a staircase coming down from ground level. Descending from the constant noise of Paris’ city centre, the sudden silence is unsettling, but allows for an undistracted, much fuller experience of the memorial itself.
Moving on from the two chapels off the rotunda, which contain bones and earth brought from concentration camps, you will come to the tomb of an unknown deportee. Lining the walls of this long chamber are 200,000 glass crystals, representing the deported Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and political opponents of Nazism, which glow eerily with illumination from behind. Combined with literary inscriptions on the walls, the emotional effect is overwhelming.
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