Pax Hotel - Oskar Hotel

Pax Prison: a memorial to local Resistance

Historic site and monument, Mansion house in Annemasse
Free
  • The Avenue de la Gare has been the scene of barbaric acts but also acts of great bravery. This is an opportunity to reflect on the history of the local Resistance..

  • First of all, some context. During the Second World War, Haute-Savoie was the only gateway, or rather exit, to Switzerland from the Vichy government’s Free Zone. In fact, on the border, the Pays de Gex in the Ain was occupied from the moment the Armistice was signed on 20 June 1940. In Annemasse, a new town council was appointed, in support of Marshal Pétain. However, when images of Pétain shaking hands with Hitler at their October 1940 meeting in Montoire were broadcast, there was an outcry...
    First of all, some context. During the Second World War, Haute-Savoie was the only gateway, or rather exit, to Switzerland from the Vichy government’s Free Zone. In fact, on the border, the Pays de Gex in the Ain was occupied from the moment the Armistice was signed on 20 June 1940. In Annemasse, a new town council was appointed, in support of Marshal Pétain. However, when images of Pétain shaking hands with Hitler at their October 1940 meeting in Montoire were broadcast, there was an outcry in cinemas in Annemasse and Ville-la-Grand. In 1942, the Vichy government stepped up their collaboration, tightening France’s anti-Jewish policy. Faced with an influx of refugees seeking to enter Switzerland, Resistance networks began to emerge. Railway workers from Savoie, Swiss customs officers, teachers, clerics, shopkeepers and many local people helped to gather intelligence, sabotage, smuggle supplies to the maquis and act as smugglers. In short, they resisted! Between August and October 1942, 3,700 Jews crossed the border illegally. These networks were firmly established during the German occupation in late 1942, and continued into the Italian occupation between January and September 1943.
    ***
    In June 1943, the Italians chose the warehouse of a hosiery factory at 21 Avenue de la Gare to use as a prison: the Prison du Pax. The building still exists and was acquired by the town to create a place of remembrance, since it was the site of the brutal repression of Jews and the Haute-Savoie Resistance. On the register of prisoners held in the town archives, there are 736 names: men, women and children were imprisoned, tortured, killed, sometimes even massacred in their cells, because of their origins, their acts of resistance or their beliefs. In September 1943, the Prison fell into the brutal hands of the German SS Polizei who set up their quarters just opposite in the Hôtel du Pax. The whole of France was now occupied. Despite the silence on the Avenue de la Gare, where traffic had been banned, the seriousness of the acts perpetrated at number 21 was being communicated beyond the prison walls. Acts of rebellion were punished by death, but this did not deter the the resistance fighters’ convictions.
    Among the key figures connected to the history of Pax Prison was an influential textile merchant: Jean Deffaugt. Deffaugt had been appointed deputy mayor in 1940 due to his pro-Pétain stance, but as time went on he became closer to the Resistance networks. He became outraged by the violence committed by the SS Polizei, so openly took up the fight. Held prisoner during the First World War, he had learned German and used this skill to negotiate better detention conditions for detainees, and refused to be blackmailed into executing Capitain Lottmann. He obtained releases, took food and blankets to the prisoners and used his access rights to gather vital information, which he then passed on to Colonel Groussard’s “Gilbert” intelligence network. After Marcel Collardey was forced to resign due to death threats, he became the town’s mayor. The Resistance would call on the mayor at will. Among his many heroic actions, the rescue of 32 Jewish children earned him the title of Righteous Among the Nations! The town was liberated by the Resistance on 18 August 1944, and Jean Deffaugt stepped down as mayor in 1947 to take up post as deputy mayor again.
    It’s easy to imagine his many trips back and forth along the Rue de la Gare between Pax Prison and the Town Hall. Now you can take same route to the Town Hall!
  • Environment
    • In the town centre
    • In town
    • Station district
    • Close to a public transportation
  • Spoken languages
    • French
  • Rates
  • Free
Openings
Openings
  • All year 2024
    Open Everyday
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