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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 33, New Delhi, July 31, 2021

The Banquet of Nations - a mural painted by Karl Bodek interned at Les Milles camp for ’Enemy Aliens’, in France, at beginning of the Second world war

Friday 30 July 2021

The Banquet of Nations: a mural that satirises "The Last Supper" painted by Karl Bodek in the guards’ canteen at Les Milles, painted between June and October 1941

Internment camp at Les Milles in France

After World War II broke out, the French government ordered that Germans and Austrians living in France be interned. Many of them had fled from Nazi Germany because of racist or political persecution to find refuge in their neighbouring country, where they were now seen as “enemy aliens”.

The Camp Les Milles opened in September 1939, in a former tile factory near the village of Les Milles, part of the commune of Aix-en-Provence.

Most of the internment camps were only provisional set-ups like the brickworks in Les Milles near Aix-en-Provence. After the outbreak of war, more than 1,500 internees were kept there with insufficient sanitary facilities and not enough supplies. Hygiene conditions there were catastrophic. The prisoners also included famous artists like the writers Lion Feuchtwanger, Walter Hasenclever, Alfred Kantorowicz and Golo Mann as well as the painters Max Ernst and Hans Bellmer. Almost all of the internees were released at the beginning of 1940, however, when the German army once again attacked France, prisoners were brought to Les Milles again. Until its closure in the late autumn of 1942, around 10,000 from 27 countries had been kept there.

Karl Robert Bodek

In April 1941 Karl Bodek was transported to Camp Les Milles, near Aix-en-Provence, where he taught painting, drew portraits of fellow prisoners, and worked on the murals still visible on site. Bodek’s attempts to be released failed; in August 1942 he was transported to the Drancy camp, and then to Auschwitz, where he was killed.

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