In 1992, some eighty prints relating to a little-known episode in the First World War came into the Musée d'Orsay's collections. They evoke life in the camp at Holzminden, in the Duchy of Brunswick, in late 1916 and early 1917. Three hundred civilians mainly from northern France were interned in this camp. They had been taken hostage in November 1916 to put pressure on the French government, who were reluctant to free the Kaiser's officials, interned in camps in France and Algeria after the arrival of French troops in Alsace. The French hostages were chosen from the same socio-professional background as the German prisoners: lawyers, doctors as well as engineers, the profession of the photographer of these shots, M. Boudinhon, who was himself detained…They were side by side with "undesirable" Germans sent there after war was declared, common criminals, pacifists and prostitutes.
The photographs show daily life at the camp which consisted of about a hundred huts surrounded by a two metre high fence guarded from watchtowers. Although it looks somewhat similar to a Second World War camp, the similarity stops there. The prisoners, who wore armbands over their civilian clothes, walked around freely within the camp where they created a social life through workshops, a chapel, cafés and even a photography studio known as "le violon".
The first signs of an agreement appeared in April 1917 and the hostages were repatriated. A second wave of mass deportations took place in January 1918, involving six hundred new prisoners. Only women were sent to Holzminden, the men being deported to Lithuania where conditions were much harder and led to the death of twenty six men.