The Maternité Suisse d’Elne is truly a spirit lifter and a visit is highly recommend.
During the horrors and misery of the Retirada, and World War II, the Maternité Suisse d’Elne was a beacon of hope for the expectant mothers who were lucky enough to be taken from the concentration camps in Argelès, Saint Cyprien, Le Barcarès and Rivesaltes to give birth at the maternity hospital located in a château on the outskirts of Elne.
More than a thousand women and children passed through the maternity hospital between 1939 and 1944 and 595 children were born here, first to Spanish women exiled from Franco’s brutal regime and later to other women displaced in the second world war including Jews and Romany gypsies.
The building, constructed on four floors in the form of a Greek cross, is bathed with light which cascades down from the cupola and glass roof to the floors below. One can only imagine what a haven it was for the women who came from the squalor of the concentration camps.
The visit is well organised and signposted starting with a short film of an interview with the founder of La Maternité Suisse, Elisabeth Eidenbenz. In her 90s at the time of interview (she has since sadly passed away) she looks back on the period with obvious fondness talking about the caring ambience she successfully created and how the rooms were named after towns in Spain to make the exiled women feel at home. Find out more about this remarkable woman here.
The tour then takes you through the house with informative panels telling the story of the Maternité Suisse and putting it in historical context. There are lots of photos enabling you to picture life as it was in the very rooms you are walking through including the nursery, the delivery room and Elisabeth’s bedroom.
The château which houses the museum fell into repair for over 50 years until it was bought by the town of Elne, classed as a Monument Historique in 2013, and converted into this wonderful memorial to the inspiring woman who brought hope to so many women, babies and children in desperately dark times.
Low season: Tuesday to Sunday 9.30am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 5.30pm
High season: Every day, including public holidays, from 9.30am to 5.30pm
Closed 1st January, from 13th to 27th January, 1st May and 25th December
Reduced tarif: €3
Groups of 10 or more with guided tour: €5 per person
Groups of 10 or more without guided tour: €4 per person
Free for children under 8
It is also possible to combine entry to the Maternité Suisse with a visit to the cloister and museum in Elne for €10 per person or to either/or the cloister/museum for €8 per person.
The site has a lift so is accessible for those with limited mobility.
For further information contact 04 68 37 34 23
If you’re visiting the museum, why not make day of it and visit the town of Elne and discover its fascinating history?