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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK
The ghosts of Roland Garros
A shadow cast on the clay of Roland Garros
Shadows of the past: Roland Garros holds some dark secrets
War has often rendered sporting venues inactive.

But the Roland Garros stadium, in a remarkable period dubbed by the French as their "dark days", was to endure a different fate as hostility broke out throughout Europe for the second time in the 20th century.

Some tennis historians have called it a "shameful" history, and the French Tennis Federation chooses to ignore it in its literature charting the life and times of the home of the French Open.

But the guardians of the championships had little choice when, in 1939, Roland Garros was converted into a concentration camp.

It was used at first by an insecure French government, as it sought to house political dissidents, aliens and other suspect types.

But, as the war raged on and as German occupation spread, it was "home" to Jews who would later be shipped East to their doom.

One such inmate was the author Arthur Koestler, who chronicled his experiences of political imprisonment in "Darkness at Noon".

Koestler, who escaped Nazi detention to flee to England, wrote: "At Roland Garros, we called ourselves the cave dwellers, about 600 of us who lived beneath the stairways of the stadium.

"We slept on straw, wet straw, because the place leaked. We were so crammed in, we felt like sardines.

"Few of us knew anything about tennis, but when we were allowed to take our walk in the stadium, we could see the names Borotra and Brugnon on the scoreboard.

"We would make jokes about mixed doubles. Indeed, compared to our experiences in the past and the future, Roland Garros was almost an amusement park."

Throughout its 74-year history, it is an episode that Roland Garros would rather forget.





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