Tendrara – Vichy Labor Camp

 

 

 

 

The small town of Tendrara is the site of a Vichy era labor camp, built along the railroad stretching from Oran, Algeria, south through Morocco’’s eastern border. The railroad was largely built by the labor of Vichy prisoners, sent to camps like this one. It is the best-preserved camp along Morocco’s eastern border, perhaps in the entire country.

How to get there: Continue south for about sixty miles from the camp at Ain Benimatthar. There is no traffic on this stunning but desolate stretch of road. Tendrara is just as deserted and run-down as Ain Benimatthar. Ask around, and someone will point you in the direction of the abandoned Vichy labor camp, a little bit east of town along a dirt road. Once you find the road, follow it for about thirty minutes. You might occasionally encounter donkey-drawn vehicles. You will eventually turn a corner and see imposing tan buildings in the distance.

What Remains: The Tendrara buildings loom empty, the ceilings caved in. It is a complex abandoned to rot, with barbed wire poking out under over-grown grass. The ground is littered with French produced Marseille tiles, some of which are decorated with absurd hearts.

The buildings all face the train tracks except for one. The staircase to the station house is intact; if you walk in, you will see traces of blue or green paint, a staircase to a basement, fireplaces, shattered glass and broken bricks. Many of the walls have crumbled halfway to the floor, but the divisions are still clear.

Some buildings are larger and grander than others. According to historian Robert Satloff: “the buildings were clearly laid out for use either by soldiers or the military-like overseers of the CMO [Chemins de Fer du Maroc Oriental, railroads of eastern Morocco] and Trans-Saharan Railways. The ‘posher’ quarters closest to the tracks may have been set aside for the Europeans; the ‘steerage’-quality buildings farther back were probably for local Arab guards. The prisoners who labored there – Jews from Warsaw, Leipzig, Salzburg, and Bucharest as well as Spaniards and others – lived in tents.” [1]

Stepping back, it is an abandoned city in the desert, complete with buildings grand and small. A three-minute drive back around the bend of the dirt road and it will have disappeared from sight.

[1] Robert Satloff, Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands. New York: Public Affairs, 2006, p. 67.

By Alma Rachel Heckman