le camp d'internement 1914-1919
Le camp d’internés 1914-1919

Dieser Internet-Auftritt verfolgt das Ziel, möglichst viele Informationen über das Internierungslager auf der Ile Longue zusammenzustellen, damit Historiker und Nachkommen der Internierten sich ein Bild von den Realitäten dieses bisher wenig bekannten Lagers machen können - nicht zuletzt auch, um die bedeutenden kulturellen Leistungen der Lagerinsassen zu würdigen.

Le but de ce site est de prendre contact avec les familles des prisonniers allemands, autrichiens, hongrois, ottomans, alsaciens-lorrains... qui ont été internés, pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, dans le camp de l’Ile Longue (Finistère).

Aladar Kuncz’s testimony
Article published on 5 February 2015
last modification on 10 January 2016

by Roger
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In 1914, the francophone and francophile Hungarian writer Aladar Kuncz, spends his summer holidays in Brittany. Interned in August 1914, he spent the entire war in captivity on the Ile de Noirmoutier (Vendée) and on Ile d’Yeu (Vendée). During his repatriation, in 1919, he spent three weeks in Ile Longue.

Aladar Kuncz immortalizes his five years of captivity in "The Black Monastery“, published in 1931, and translated into French in 1937. One of the last pages gives an interesting testimony about the camp of Ile Longue:

"The plan seemed a little adventurous, and yet it happened like that. At 9 pm, a group came for me. With the permission of the captain of the guard, I spent the night until dawn among the French, at a party celebrated the Hungarian way.
But this night of freedom was still followed by five weeks of captivity in France. The next day at dawn, we left Challans, and arrived three days later in the afternoon in Ile Longue, near Brest. On the way, we spent an afternoon at La Roche-sur-Yon where girls of the brothel, at the end of the city, cooked a meals for us. At Lorient station we met American soldiers, who supplied us with cans, meat, chocolate and tobacco. The condition of these gifts was the same as that of our visitors of Ile d’Yeu, that is, not to give to the French. There were a lot of American soldiers in Brest. Two large ships were waiting in the port to return them to the United States. I hardly recognized the port, as the Americans had transformed it so much. We landed on Ile Longue, after half an hour.
This elongated island, mainly uninhabited, was transformed into a large prisoners camp. Behind barbed wire fences were many barracks where 4 to 5 000 civilian prisoners stayed during the First World War. Today, there are about 4000 people.

Coming down from the small hill, we saw a small group of internees who were waiting for us at the entrance of the camp. Among them, there was a Hungarian friend from Paris, Pogány, an employee of Credit Lyonnais, whom we said goodbye to in Paris in the early months of the war. There were several young Hungarians well dressed with Pogány. They had heard about us and we got on at once. Among them, Lajos Molnár and Aczél, both from Pest (Budapest), who were on a study trip when the war broke out. There were also two artists living in Paris, Beck (Bor) and Pál Kovács (Kurpataki). They welcomed us as good hosts do, they choose good spots for us in the barracks, and they helped us to get into the daily life of this factory of prisoners which was very different from our little Ile d’ Yeu camp.

In Ile Longue, civilian prisoners could improve their lives with their money as they wished. They had their own theatre and library. Artists could develop a workshop. There was enough room for everyone In the barracks, which the prisoners could transform the way they wanted. Thus, during the day, small restaurants and cafés appeared in the barracks, held by prisoners who were waiters in civilian life. The camp had a football field. The prisoners themselves were responsible for the order in the camp. The camp food was bad. But as there were among the internees some rather wealthy people, who had been captured by the French during the first weeks of the war on board liners from America, the less fortunate internees could earn some money from them and and no longer were hungry.
After Ile d’Yeu, Ile Longue camp seemed to be a real rest cure centre. It was the only civilian internees camp in France, apart from “family aid”, where prisoners were able to improve their living conditions by themselves.

In the evening, the Hungarians of the camp invited Soltész, Németh, Dudás and myself to the Kovács workshop. After all, it was only here that we could speak about things in detail. Pogány, Molnár and Aczél spent their captivity in Lauvéve (A/N: probably Lanvéoc - Finistere), a camp similar to that of Ile d’ Yeu. Lehel István was also with them, but he was repatriated in a convoy of patients. The Spanish flu also raged terribly over there. But in Ile Longue, where the environment was healthier, it was better.
.After 5 years we were together again with Pogány. All the projects that we made in our little hotel room of Saint-Michel Boulevard were now behind us. We have found that the reality was much darker than what we had imagined ... And now, what is going to happen? ... They themselves had neither received any news from home
The discussion stopped. We all had our thoughts far away. In our imagination a vast area over which the stormy clouds gathered.
Suddenly, behind the workshop wall, we heard the heartbreaking sound of a violin: Away in the large forest ... To surprise us, our friends brought a group of gypsy musicians from the camp ... We stayed three weeks in Ile Longue and at the end, despite the incredulity of our Ile Longue’s companions, the order to move the Austro-Hungarians towards Switzerland arrived here too.
We started on May 15, and it took eight days to arrive to a small town in the Alps near the Swiss border. On the way, one of our Austrian comrades, not bearing the emotions of returning home, cut his veins with his razor. In the darkness of the wagon, we noticed to late what the poor man had done. He was disembarked in Lyon where he would have survived only a few hours.
A brand new depot awaited us in Annecy. It was used to ensure the repatriation of prisoners to their country. It was in a French Alps valley and we were welcomed there to luxurious barracks like villas, with beds, running water and meat every day ... We stayed there two days. But after 5 years, it was not long enough to leave France with “good memories”, as desired by the sub-prefect, who gave us an enthusiastic speech, when we were in line, ready for departure. We each received a number on a sheet which we had to hang on us. As if those years of captivity had reduced us to some numbers.“

le château de Noirmoutier en 2013

”The castle of Noirmoutier in 2013"

Translated from French by Barbara and Roger.

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