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Le camp d’internés 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).

“I have two loves - my country [France] and Pforzheim”
Ludwig/Louis Kuppenheim

Between 1914 and 1919 Ludwig Kuppenheim, a German, was interned in France. In 1982, French citizen Louis Kuppenheim died in Sainte Maxime. He had lived in France since 1928. It had been around 1937 that he was stripped of his German citizenship, because of the Jewish roots of his family [1]. Louis Kuppenheim fought against Germany under the French flag which probably saved him from being murdered by the Nazis.

Between 1914 and 1919, more than 5,000 men from the Central Powers were imprisoned in the camp on Île Longue, from 1916 onwards civilian internees only. It is the goal of the Association Île Longue to research the history of this camp. To achieve this, testimonies of former prisoners are of the utmost importance but, after some 100 years’ time, hard to come by. Quite often, unfortunately, looking for them often turns out to be a wild goose chase. If we are really lucky, we find descendants. With even more luck, the families of these descendants have kept letters, drawings, photos, even diaries, dating back to the years some family member spent in the Île Longue camp.

I came across Ludwig/Louis Kuppenheim while searching for descendants of prisoners who had lived in Baden (the region where I happen to live). The first steps of my research included an official letter to the civil registry office of Pforzheim and a visit to that town’s municipal archives. There I found a note referring to “Family archives” in Switzerland. After the Residential Services of Muri and Berne (Canton Berne) I contacted the “Regierungsstatthalteramt” of Berne and the surrounding region in central Switzerland (Bern-Mittelland). From there my enquiry was forwarded to Caroline Kuppenheim, a resident of Geneva. It was from her that I received the “Memoirs” which Ludwig/Louis Kuppenheim had composed in 1971 and in which he also briefly described the years he spent as a civilian internee in the Île Longue camp. Further information was contributed by the archivists from the archives of the French Foreign Legion in Aubagne.

Ludwig Bernhard Fritz Kuppenheim was born June 21st, 1891, in Pforzheim, into a family long established in that part of Baden. The Kuppenheims were famous for their factory producing silverware and jewellery. (Till today, Pforzheim has remained the center of the German jewellery and watch-making industry.) Albeit of Jewish roots, the family is “completely assimilated. [...] I myself was confirmed in the Schloßkirche, my parents as well as my siblings were baptized into the Protestant faith.” [2]

For the Kuppenheims, France is no “hereditary enemy”. [3] Since 1900, their company had both a branch store and a workshop in Paris (67 rue de Richelieu, from 1911 77 rue de Petits-Champs, later Rue Volnay), managed by Ludwig’s uncle Moritz, plus additional workshops in the French parts of the Vosges mountains.

At the 1900 Paris Exhibition, the Kuppenheim company is awarded a gold medal for a paper knife [4].

Ludwig Kuppenheim accompanies his parents on their regular journeys to Paris. This is reflected in his memoirs: “These sojourns in Paris would eventually become crucial regarding my further life.” [5]

In 1914, at the outbreak of the Great War, store and workshops were sequestered, business would pick up “to a certain degree but years after 1920.” [6]

Ludwig Kuppenheim is not a good student. In 1906, after six years, he leaves grammar school without taking his A-levels. Afterwards he enrols in the Institut Le Rosey on Lac Leman to improve his French language skills - he writes: “For the first time in my life I had friends and companions from many different countries. The ways of life of those many foreigners certainly had an impact on me.” [7] Afterwards it is off to London for an internship with the company of “Lacloche Frères” which in turn is followed by his enrolling at the Commercial College in Liverpool. After these stages Ludwig Kuppenheim is fluent in both French and English.

1909/1910 Kuppenheim has to serve in the military. He is stationed in “Kolmar and Neu-Breisach” [8], achieving the rank of a non-commissioned officer of the reserve. He comments on this time: “I was very happy when that service was over because I came to loathe the Prussian discipline and manner of doing things!” [9] After this Kuppenheim works in his father’s business. This is followed by a stay in Spain. He works in Bilbao, Granada and Madrid and learns how to approach potential customers - “for somebody speaking 4 languages, this was quite interesting.” [10]

1914, when the Great War breaks out, 23-year-old Kuppenheim spent a year in New York, working as “agent and salesman” for the family’s company. For him, who speaks several languages, feels at home in several cultures and hates the military, it is by no means natural to travel to Germany in order to be enlisted. Therefore, when he arrives at a decision it is not exactly a voluntary one.

“I was in New York wondering if I should return or stay in the USA. But since my father and my uncles, being officers, had joined up, I was eventually forced to consider travelling home. But how?” On the margin of his memoirs, a hand-written annotation tells us why his father joined up right away: “Father great patriot, [...], in those days, there was practically no other option for baptized Jews”. [11]

So, like many others, Kuppenheim decides on the “Nieuw Amsterdam” for the crossing, this being a boat flying the flag of a neutral country, the Netherlands, and heading for a neutral port. Laconically he notes: “With all those passengers aboard, the steamer [...] was heading directly for the roads of the French port of Brest in Brittany. All members of the hostile Central Powers [...] were made to leave the ship.” [12]

This was the beginning of five years of internment - at first in the Fort of Crozon (“[...] What a filthy mess ...”) [13], then, according to his memoirs, on the “Jean Bart”, a decommissioned war ship in the port of Brest. [14] “Already an improvement” [15], he notes. Afterwards, the Île Longue camp: “The stay there was not disagreeable.” [16]

Ludwig Kuppenheim in the Île Longue camp
Officer candidate (“aspirant”) is noted on his personal file
Source: Archives Départementales du Finistère, Quimper, photo (9 R 30)

Like many other internees, Kuppenheim suffers from idleness and is looking for an activity to occupy his mind: “Being civilians, we could not be forced to work. For most of the internees, this idleness was quite difficult to bear and many, including myself, volunteered to work. We were detailed to the Bataillon of Travailleurs Étrangers stationed in Brest. My job consisted of interpreting and the processing of the French documents of said bataillon. Besides, following an old passion, I saw to the construction of a sports field, soccer-, tennis- and a mess for Germans, POWs, convalescents; ...” [17]

According to Didier Cadiou from the Association Île Longue, this is quite interesting. As a rule, working civilian internees would be deployed in the camp on Île Longue proper, not in Brest. However, all particulars given by Kuppenheim would also fit the circumstances on Île Longue itself. Since 1916, there had been no more ’literal’ POWs in the camp. However, in some cases the civilians would consider themselves to be POWs, which might explain Kuppenheim’s choice of words. Among those POWs were quite a few of the convalescents Kuppenheim mentions [18].

The internees publish a weekly - albeit subject to censure - the “Insel-Woche” which mentions the said sports field: “By December 15th, contributions have already amounted to 654,50 Francs which is delightful. If this enthusiasm continues, especially among the volunteer workers, it won’t be long until we will be able to dispose of a state of the art sports field.” [19]

The following issues publish the subscribers’ names in alphabetical order and the respective sums, beginning with issue No. 25. [20] In the following issue we can find his name - and the sum of 10 Francs [21].

Collecting money for the sportsfield - letters “H” through “R”
column 3, line 4: Kuppenheim, 10 Frs.
Source: Insel-Woche, First series No. 26, published December 19th, 1915 , page 3 (detail)

Later years

In 1928 Kuppenheim opens an import-export business for jewellery, watches and parts in Paris. In remembrance of his grandfather it is named Louis Kuppenheim. In 1929 Kuppenheim moves to Paris. In 1930 his mother joins him (his father had committed suicide in 1925). Furthermore he is the manager of the agency of the Pforzheim-based company of Kuttroff Brothers who commissioned him as their agent to call upon clock factories in Besançon and its region as well as wholesalers in watch bracelets and jewellery all over France. Kuttroff Brothers will employ him till 1939, defying Nazi Germany’s ban on cooperating with Jewish agents [22]. While visiting Kuttroff Brothers in 1934, accompanied by his mother, the two Kuppenheims are hauled out of their beds by the Gestapo and made to leave Germany within the hour. It is only due to the exceptional standing of the Kuppenheim family that they are not arrested on the spot. They pass the border near Strasbourg. From now on, meetings will take place in France [23].
It is in the course of the same year that Kuppenheim will have his business officially registered in France.

Entry in the commercial register
of the Région Seine, August 9th, 1934, confirmed August 5th, 1947, by the office of the commercial court.
Source: Private documents of the Kuppenheim family

In 1938, after having been forced to divorce her “Aryan” husband Bruno Widmann, Kuppenheim’s sister Hilde flees to France, to Paris. From now on, the three share an apartment (288 rue Vaugirard). Kuppenheim writes: “Since around 1937, I was stateless and enjoyed protection status in France, and I possessed a respective passport. At the same time I committed myself to join the French foreign legion, should a war break out.” [24] [25]

Declaration of Ludwig Kuppenheim:
"I the undersigned Marius Emeric, staff sergeant and commander of the Brigade Sainte-Maxime (Var) [Name of the Département. Author’s note], hereby declare that on September 27th, 1938, Mr Lucaturry [sic!!] Kuppenheim, born June 21st, 1891 in Pforzheim (Germany) presented himself to the Brigade Sainte-Maxime (Var) declaring his intention to become a member of the French army, if war should break out.
Sainte-Maxime, October 13th, 1938
Source: Private documents of the Kuppenheim family

In 1939 three Kuppenheims leave Paris for Antibes, in the South of France, where they rent a small house. Friends of Kuppenheim live there.

On September 1st, 1939, World War Two begins. Almost immediately - on September 6th, 1939, Kuppenheim joins the French Foreign Legion [26]. In order to protect him, both his name and his nationality are changed; the same goes for both place and date of birth. From now on, he is Louis Noël, a Swiss citizen born in Lausanne and a resident of Dakar [27].

Personal form Ludwig Kuppenheim
French Foreign Legion personal file of Ludwig Kuppenheim, page 1
Source: Archives de la Légion Étrangère, Aubagne
Personal form Louis Noël
French Foreign Legion personal file of Louis Noël, page 1
Source: Archives de la Légion Étrangère, Aubagne
Ludwig Kuppenheim sporting the uniform of the French Foreign Legion
The white Képi (headgear) identifies members of the French Foreign Legion.
Source: Private documents of the Kuppenheim family

He writes: “Right away, [...] I signed up for the mandatory period of 5 years, because I expected the war to last at least that long. [...] At the time, I was 48 years old, not exactly fit to serve in the field. [...] as a clerk, then as interpreter [...], but I always stayed with the 2nd R.E.C. (2nd Foreign Cavalry Regiment). I participated in many campaigns. [...]” [28] [29]

Clasp of the Tunisia campaign
(Médaille coloniale agrafe «Tunisie 1942-1943» nº56234 du 18/05/46)
L.K. was awarded this clasp for fighting in the Tunisian Campaign (November 17th, 1942 to May 13th, 1943). The Allied forces prevailed which caused the surrender of the Axis Powers in Africa.
Source: Archives de la Légion Étrangère, Aubagne

“September 1945, after 6 years, I was discharged in Sidi Bel Abbes, and demobbed in Marseille.” [30] He returns to Antibes to find his mother; but learns that his sister Hilde was arrested on August 22nd, 1942.

Via the French camps in Compiègne and Drancy she was deported to Auschwitz where she was murdered on Sept 2nd, 1942.

“[...] My sister, listed as a German, faced enormous difficulties. For example, she ended up in an internment camp for some time and was released only because my mother could get her out with the help of my military papers. Till 1942, I could visit them fairly regularly during my furloughs. In 1942, however, Germany occupied all of France. My mother managed to hide in a lonely shepherd’s hut near Plassecasier [Plascassier; author’s note] . My sister, however, was arrested and deported first to Compiègne and from there to Auschwitz where she was murdered by the Nazis, as would transpire later.” [31]

Deportation list Hilde Kuppenheim Widmann
Deportation list from the camp in Drancy to Auschwitz, February 9th, 1942
The name of Kuppenheim’s sister is right at the top of page 2:
Widmann Kuppenheim Ilde [sic!]
Source: 1.1.9.9./11188553, ITS Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives
Acte de Disparition Hilde Kuppenheim Widmann
Legal declaration of death following disappearance
Source: Stadtarchiv Pforzheim - Institut für Stadtgeschichte, B41-124

He moves back to Paris with his mother - from mid-1947 their address is 94 rue de Sèvres. Before, they lodged with friends.

On September 10th, 1947, Louis Kuppenheim is naturalized - from now on he is a French citizen.

Certificate of Naturalization for Louis Kuppenheim, September 10th, 1947
Source: Private documents of the Kuppenheim family

Louis Kuppenheim resumes his job in the watch- and jewellery business (including the Pforzheim-based Kuttroff company, later known under the name of Unidor). In 1968 he retires and moves to Ste. Maxime where he has friends and where his godson lives.

Two members of the Kuppenheim family were murdered by the Nazis, three committed suicide (in two cases to prevent their being deported). Others succeeded in fleeing which more often than not meant an odyssey since many countries would not grant visa to Jewish refugees.) Only a few have survived in Germany. Thus, decades of the family’s presence in Pforzheim were brought to an end - two “Stolpersteine” (“Stumbling blocks”) [32], a memorial and the name of a street being the only mementoes.

Louis Kuppenheim never moves back to Germany. However, he feels closely connected to his native town of Pforzheim. In a letter to mayor Willy Weigelt, he quotes Josephine Baker:

Letter by Louis Kuppenheim
to the mayor of Pforzheim, May 5th, 1973 (detail)
Source: Stadtarchiv Pforzheim - Institut für Stadtgeschichte, B41-124

At this point I would like to thank the following people for their support:

  • Annette Nußbaum, municipal archives , Pforzheim/Germany,
  • employees of the Residential Services of Muri/Switzerland,
  • Roberto Bernasconi, Residential Services of Berne/Switzerland,
  • employees of the Bureau of Inheritance Matters, Berne/Switzerland,
  • Daniela Schwarz and Brigitte Steiger, Regierungsstatthalteramt Berne/Switzerland,
  • the keepers of the archives of the French Foreign Legion in Aubagne/France,
  • Bianka Geißler, Arolsen Archives (International Center on Nazi Persecution), Arolsen/Germany,
  • Magnus Schlecht, Pforzheimer Zeitung

and

  • my colleagues Didier Cadiou und Bernard Jacquet at the Association Île Longue.

Without the generosity of Caroline Kuppenheim from Geneva/Switzerland this article would not have been possible. Not only did she make it possible for me to read Ludwig/Louis’ “Memories” but she also contributed important documents and impetuses. My heartfelt thanks!