FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld  

 
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legal activities tolerated by Vichy and what had become OSE's true mission: the physical preservation of the Jewish population, and especially its children, using whatever means were necessary. The growing severity of anti-Jewish persecution pushed OSE officials to create an underground network that could continue to operate despite surveillance and efforts by the Nazis and Vichy to root it out.

The Vel d'Hiv roundups of July 1942 in Paris, in which women and children were arrested for the first time – in fact, they made up nearly 10,000 of the 13,000 Jews seized – marked a turning point. The Vel d'Hiv captives were put on freight trains for deportation to Auschwitz within weeks, and it was becoming evident that these journeys had a terrible conclusion – not resettlement or forced labor but extermination. Responding to the growing number of parents who wanted their children hidden, OSE set up an office in Paris disguised as a social club. Children who visited the "club" left it to be placed with Christian families, with OSE workers monitoring their care and subsidizing their foster families. The placements were made in close cooperation with other Jewish organizations and with non-Jewish individuals and groups who, unsolicited, provided many forms of aid. OSE also provided false identity papers and ration coupons for children and adults alike if they were needed. In all, some700 children were successfully hidden by OSE in the Occupied Zone.

The great wave of roundups, arrests, and deportations aimed at foreign Jews spread to the Vichy Zone in August following the Vel d'Hiv arrests. Carried out by French police, who seized thousands of people, they con- firmed the gloomiest of expectations. The first groups of Jewish internees transferred from the Vichy Zone to Drancy for deportation were allowed to leave behind their children under 16, and OSE, together with the EIF, the American Friends Service Committee, the YMCA, the Swiss agency Secours Suisse, and Amitié Chrétienne, a non-denominational Christian group active in underground work, set up an emergency program to feed, clothe, and shelter these children. At Vénissieux, a temporary camp near Lyons, on August 28, OSE workers were able to persuade interned parents awaiting transfer to Drancy to give up 108 children and spirited them out of the camp and into the care of Amitiés Chrétiennes. When the Lyons regional prefect realized there had been a mistake and demanded that Cardinal Gerlier, the Lyons archbishop, send the children back, he was told they were hidden and would not be returned.

But OSE children's homes were an easy target. Beginning in late August 1942, French gendarmes and police surrounded several homes, arresting some children over 16 of German, Austrian, Czech, Russian, and Polish origin; most of these children had come to France to escape the Nazis and had been in the OSE homes for a few years. The police also picked up younger children whose parents were in the camps – on the hypocritical pretext of reuniting them with their families – before sending them off, either alone or with their families, to their deaths.

The German military move into the previously unoccupied Vichy Zone in the south in November 1942 destroyed whatever illusions remained. From now on police operations against Jews would be coordinated throughout the country; immediately, the German police ordered each prefecture to post
    
   

FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld

 
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