The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

From German Bunker Architecture to Arénas: Marseilles’ “Camp of the Jews,” 1945–1966

In the wake of World War II, the Marseilles authorities faced an urgent need to house political
prisoners, migrant workers from Algeria and Indochina, refugees, and discharged troops, at a time
when building materials and skilled workers were in short supply. The architect Fernand Pouillon
managed to complete this assignment using a method developed during the Occupation by
architect Jaques Couëlle: ceramic bottles with truncated bases, “fusées-céramique” joined together
to create a parabolic arch. The fusées-céramique” patented by Couëlle were manufactured during
the War in a Marseilles shingle factory whose owners were contracted to supply three million
bottles to the TODT company in Germany, where they were used to renovate ruined bridges and to
build deportation camps and underground bomb shelters. At the end of the War the bottles were
confiscated by the Allies and stored in American army warehouses in Marseilles until Pouillon began
using this unusual, highly charged building material to construct the Arénas Camp.
In 1945 political prisoners from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union who had been
forced by the Nazis to join in oppressing the French Resistance, were housed in the camp.
Meanwhile post-war Marseilles had become a centre of activity for Jewish institutions in France
and Jews from displaced persons camps and migrants from North Africa en route to Palestine, were
also housed in the camp which became known as the “Camp of the Jews.”