Amongst all the horrors endured, that of the internment camp in the castle at Sedan retains the worst memories of this tragic history. It was used from January 1917 until November 1918. It was a veritable ‘death camp’, run by torturers, a forerunner of the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. This hellhole, ignored by the public in neighbouring regions, was called ‘the Penal Colony’ by the Sedan people, where both French and Belgians died as a result of such inhumane treatment. It was the desperate need for labour which drove the enemy into taking these criminal and inhumane actions. In the Belgian and French occupied zones, civilians from 14 to 60 years old were requisitioned into labour battalions (Zivil Arbeiter Bataillon). Those who put up any resistance were sent to the internment camp in the castle at Sedan or the discipline camps (Kommaandos) at Bazeilles or Mont Saint Martin.
When they left to go to construction sites, the prisoners were recognised by their red armband worn on the left arm, their heavy wooden shoes or their bare feet, but particularly due to their thinness and their haggard eyes. Denzin, the camp commander, Michaelson, the doctor, and Holz, the head of the guards, feared by the prisoners, were mainly responsible for the appalling death rate that afflicted this camp. Deprivation, abuse, appalling malnutrition, frightful hygiene, general dysentery, slavery conditions at work, 5-600 prisoners squeezed into 400 possible places: everything worked towards speeding up the death march.
The exact number of victims remains uncertain, but in less than 2 years it exceeded a thousand deaths and was probably significantly more. In 1919, the commander and the prison doctor were sought to be tried as war criminals, but in vain...!
Today, after 75 years of suicidal wars, we take our own last words from the memorial plaque located in the Sedan castle:
"Let us erase the hatred, but keep the memories."
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