In December 1938 Argelès-sur-mer was a sleepy little coastal down on the Med in Southern France of under 1,000 farmers, olive growers, cork harvesters, fishermen.
By the end of January 1939 it had a population of 100,000 people.
They were refugees, fleeing Franco Spain, no different in the desperation than those fleeing the Middle East and Northern African today.
They had crossed the rugged Pyrenees in the cold and snow clutching their children and what possessions they could. This was not an easy route. Amazingly today, we can whisk across the border on modern roads without a reminder of their suffering.
They thought they would be greeted as heroes and heroines for fighting the Fascist Franco. Instead they were herded into a concentration camp on the beach without protection from the cold. Despite what people think about Southern France, winter does have its brutal moments, especially when the Tramontane blows for days.
Many died of cold, starvation.
For years the locals have ignored their treatment of the refuges but in recent years, they've come to terms with their part in this human tragedy. Oral histories, films capture the events but it can't eliminate the suffering that happened no matter how often people of today ask, "How did they let that happen?" They put up plaques.
Now there is another refugee tragedy happening as people forced from their homes thru war try and find a safe place. In a few decades will the next generation ask, "How did they let that happen?"
Will we never learn?