The first day of the two-day colloquium took place in the Salle des Fetes school of Chateau Chervix, about a half hour’s drive from Limoges. The Resistance was active in the area, and as soon as Mayor and the Parish Council became aware of the planned colloquium, they offered all the facilities without charge. There was a great deal of press interest in the returnees. We Montintin alumni were featured on the local TV news program Sunday and Monday evening and in the Monday edition of the regional daily newspaper. Several of us were also interviewed and photographed by a national weekly magazine.
The proceedings were conducted entirely in French, of which I retain only minimal knowledge. Three women recruited on the day volunteered to provide summaries of the presentations in English. They were Nadine Sandler, daughter of the president of the Limoges Synagogue at the time of its construction in 1967, whom we had met at the Friday night services; Aline Biardeaud, the daughter of a member of the Resistance, who teaches English at a local school and whom I was lucky enough to sit next to at lunch the first day; and Raymonde Garber, who was a small Jewish child in Limoges during the war. While some of the information presented was known to me from my parents’ and my sister Ruth’s recollections, important material new to me also emerged.
A brief summary of the proceedings follows. The proceedings will be published in their entirety in 2005.
Katy Hazan, who is on the staff of OSE, spoke on “The OSE and the Rescue of Children,” about which she has also written a book. She said the current interest in Jewish children during the war was initiated by Serge Klarsfeld, when he published a memorial book in the 1980s listing the names of Jewish children who had been deported. On the role of OSE, she said the organization came to Limoges without knowing the problems known today, and adapted itself to a difficult situation, finding 11 castles and houses throughout Limousin to house children coming from Paris and from camps in the Vichy-controlled area of France. In March 1942 OSE joined efforts with UGIF [the General Union of French Jews] to save children.
Another morning speaker was Pascal Plas, Ph.D., of the Institute of Contemporary History, Limoges. He teaches history, specializing in the Resistance. Among those who helped place and save Jewish children in addition to OSE and the Resistance he listed EIF, the French Jewish Scout Organization, whose international headquarters are in Haute Vienne [the department in which Limoges and Montintin are also located]; Rabbi Deutsch [see also next page], who organized education for Jewish children with the cooperation of the Rectorat, the local French education organization; priests; and ordinary gentiles. Limoges became “a land of refugees,” he said.
A very good four-course French lunch was provided by the Regional Council at a local Chateau Chervix restaurant. Aline, the English teacher, told me her father was a teenager living in this area when he was arrested and imprisoned in Nexon, the transit camp where my parents spent a horrific winter in 1942-43. He was released, probably through pressure from local officials, and promptly joined the Resistance, which he worked for throughout the rest of the war. I had not known others besides my parents were spared deportation from that camp.
At the afternoon session we heard Michele Allali, the OSE archivist, talk about the education of children in the OSE homes. She was followed by Hubert Leboutat, mayor of the small village of Solignac, 10 kilometers south of Limoges, who said his village still remembers Father Bengen, the priest who helped Jews during the war, and who has been honored at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, as one of the Righteous Among the Nations for risking his life to save Jews. He told French families, “If you are a human being, take this child.” About 15 Jewish families lived in the village during the war, a total of 82 people, and only one of this number was deported. When raffles [general arrests] were announced, families were warned by policemen that they were going to be arrested and deported, giving them a chance to escape. It did not surprise me that some French police were sympathetic to Jews. A French policeman gave my mother a chance to escape arrest in 1942, which she refused because she would not leave my father.
Simon Schwarzfuchs, Professor Emeritus at Bar Ilan University, who left Strasbourg for Limoges with his family in 1939, talked about his life in Limoges, as a boy, as a lycee pupil and a son of a rabbi. There the family remained until the August 1942 Raffle of Vil d’Hiv, leading to the arrest and deportation of some 20,000 Jews living in France.
Talking about the OSE homes, History Professor Michel Kiener said the homes were integrated into the local environment. Cooks, maids, laborers, and food came from the local area, and the town hall, local café, and postman all had connections with Montintin. This was also the case at other OSE homes. Because they were hungry, the Montintin children used to steal vegetables. They fought with the local children, but were active in the local social life too. Like all OSE home directors, Dr.Raymond Levy, who headed Montintin from 1942 to 1944, always managed to maintain good relations with the neighbors, which is probably why, when it became necessary, dozens of families agreed to hide Jewish children on next to no notice. Prof. Kiener has produced the first definitive map of all the OSE homes and camps that existed between 1939 and 1946.
The afternoon session ended with testimony from those who had been Jewish children in Limousin during the war. One man remembered the night of the terrible raffle of August 26, 1942, and the arrests of children at the home. Another recalled his Bar Mitzvah at Montintin. A third said he and his brothers were inmates at Camp Nexon who were freed through the efforts of Rabbi Deutsch. At Montintin he had a teacher called Marinette Nape, who had a rule that at birthdays each child had to give a small piece of his weekly chocolate ration as a gift. He still thinks this kind of sharing is a fine idea and “I still do this,” he said.
recalled that when he arrived at Montintin, the chateau was completely empty
and the boys cut trees, with those who had been trained as carpenters at Villa
Helvetia, the OSE home in Montmorency outside Paris building tables, chairs,
and beds. He also spoke of food shortages, leading children to hunt berries
and chestnuts in the woods.
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