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Mementoes of a Partisan

A wallet containing photos, an armband and an inmate’s tag with the number 38870 from the Royallieu internment and Transit camp near Compiègne: those are the personal belongings her father Victor had to relinquish when the Nazis deported him in 1944. Jacqueline Debusschere received these mementoes from the International Tracing Service (ITS) in April 2018.

The French partisan Victor Debusschere was just over thirty when the Nazis arrested him and deported him to Compiègne. There is no record of the exact date. From there he was transferred to Watenstedt/Leinde, a subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp, on June 7, 1944. This subcamp provided accommodations for male inmates forced to perform extremely heavy labor in the Braunschweig steelworks. The SS began clearing the camp on April 7, 2018. In completely overcrowded freight cars, some open at the top, they transported the inmates to the Ravensbrück concentration camp on Odyssean trips lasting days. Many died. Victor Debusschere survived the torments and was able to return home. As his daughter reported in a letter to the ITS, however, he suffered from impairments to his physical and mental health for the rest of his life.

Jacqueline Debusschere was taken completely unawares when Irma Bousquet of the “Amicale de Neuengamme et de ses Kommandos” inmates’ association contacted her. She had never heard of either the association or the ITS before. She was deeply moved to learn that there are sites devoted to commemorating victims of Nazi persecution, including her father, who died in 1985. Irma Bousquet is one of the many volunteers helping the ITS look for family members in the framework of the #StolenMemory project. The volunteers’ efforts enable the ITS to return even more of the personal possessions of concentration camp inmates it is keeping in its archive until the rightful owners are found. 

It was also very moving for Jacqueline Debusschere to learn more about her father’s persecution. As she wrote to the ITS: “My father was incapable of talking about his internment, especially as regarded his deportation. I didn’t try to ask him questions. I was afraid of what he might tell me. The little bit I knew was already horrible enough.” The unexpected contact with the past triggered a lot of emotions in her. But one of them was the joy she feels about getting the items back from the ITS. “You do wonderful work. I thank you for your campaign, and for sending me my father’s belongings.”