More than a dozen of our members journeyed to Paris to join the commemoration of the founding of OSE in St. Petersburg in 1912. A grand outdoor gathering took place exactly 100 years later on Sunday, July 1, 2012 at Pelouse de Reuilly and culminated with the presentation of a check of $36,500 from Friends and Alumni of OSE-USA to OSE France to continue its work.
The presentation was made by Herbert and Vera Karliner and accepted by OSE president Jean-Francais Guthmann. The gift is specifically earmarked for OSE’s summer camps in France and OSE’s archives and history department.
The OSE-USA members who came to Paris and participated in the events were: Leon Berliner, Leo Dreyfuss, Vera Freud, Ruth Hartz, Margo Kaufman, Herbert Karliner, Eva Kanner Kugler, Beate Zimmern Michaels, Michele Regnier, Norbert Rosenblum, Frieda Rosenblum Rosenthal, Edie and Martha Rosenfeld, Ruth Steienfeld, Felice Zimmern Stokes, Hugo Zarnel, and Barry Zimmerman. Many were accompanied by members of their families.
American OSE alumni were joined by OSE Anciens, as we are referred to respectfully these days, from Israel, Canada and a large French contingent.
The July 1st event was for OSE members of all ages, and participants in OSE’s current programs as well as OSE alumni attended.
A program of events took place on the days preceding and following the Sunday gathering, including a visit to the OSE home at Taverny, a meeting and luncheon with Amicale OSE France, a visit to Villa Helvetia, Montmorency and a tour of OSE health facilities. Many of us also visited the Memorial de la Shoah and a special exhibit at the Hotel de Ville of Jewish children hidden in France during World War II.
The first program on Thursday, June 28th, was a tour of three current OSE facilities in Paris: a walk-in medical clinic, a center for teenagers with psychological problems and a day center for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
On Friday morning, a large bus came to the hotel where many of us Americans were staying. It was our first meeting with members of l’Amicale des Anciens de l’OSE Francais, who went with us to the OSE home at Taverny outside of Paris. During the hour-long journey French and American OSE veterans joined in songs learned almost 70 years ago. Today Taverny is home to 50 children from troubled families placed there by the courts.
A long table laden with snacks and drinks was set up outside the home, and shy, well behaved OSE children passed snacks around to us. We were then invited inside the original home and served a sumptuous luncheon of cold salmon, couscous and a variety of salads. After the meal Richard Josefsberg, the director of Taverny, spoke to us about the history and present work of the home and answered questions.
OSE-USA members Beate Zimmern Michaels and her sister, Felice Zimmern Stokes, now of New York City, remembered 3 ½ happy years at Taverny after the end of the war. Beate was surprised to be reunited with Suzanne Hochsbaum Lissak of Amicale des Anciens Francais who shared a room with her at Taverny when they were children.
Today’s OSE children attend local schools and can live at Taverny until age 21. As they are placed by the French courts, their care is funded largely by the French government. Because these are children with huge problems, the ratio of social workers per child is an amazing 2 to 1. The original Taverny home is now used for offices, meeting rooms, kitchen and storerooms; the children live in new houses that surround the beautiful grounds.
On the Monday after the 100th anniversary gathering, we headed for OSE headquarters at rue de Faubourg for a get-together and luncheon sponsored by Amicale Francaise. Fifty people crowded around two long tables set up for us. After we Americans socialized and exchanged histories with our French hosts, Jean-Bertrand Chalfen, vice president of Amicale Francaise, spoke about the history of the OSE homes, their warm family atmosphere and how sport brought people of different origins together. Members of the French organization meet weekly to hear speakers and for conversation, tea and cake.
Following his talk, M. Chalfen invited the visitors to list their OSE homes and talk about their wartime experiences. The universal theme uttered by each and every speaker was, “If it weren’t for OSE, I wouldn’t be here.”
After the program, a chartered bus took everyone to the Novotel, where a dining room was set aside for us for an excellent luncheon of appetizer, choice of entrees, desert and bottles of red and white wine.
Spending time with our French counterparts at Taverny, at the anniversary gathering and at the meeting and luncheon they generously put on for us was the highlight of our time in Paris. With our shared histories we formed an instant rapport that even language difficulties some of us experienced could not dampen.
On Tuesday, July 3rd, I travelled to Montmorency to return to Villa Helvetia where I spent a year in 1939 and 1940. “What do you want to go there for? It’s become a police station!” I was asked. The answer: I wanted to see the place where I had spent such an important year of my life once more. The visit was arranged by Jose Ainouz, the filmmaker who is a resident of Montmorency and created the film, les orphelins de la shoah de Montmorency.
Felice Stokes who accompanied me on this pilgrimage and I were met at the entrance gate by Jose and his wife, Evelyne. Though not open to the public, Jose arranged access to the building for us. The outside of the building has not changed. Inside, Jose pointed out the large door that led to Lene Papanek’s office and the original colorful tile designs on the walls. Only one of the two circular staircases to the second floor is still there. We walked up to the second floor now occupied by many offices; there is still a large room occupying most of the side of the building.
I don’t remember much of the Villa Helvetia itself. What I chiefly remember is the grass-covered grounds with huge trees where we played. That and the land in back of the building have been sold off and are not accessible or even visible.
After touring Helvetia, Jose showed us the building that housed the OSE La Pouponiere where my sister Lea stayed and then drove us to Ecole Maternelle that some of the girls including my sister Ruth attended. It is still functioning as a school 72 years later.
Many of us who stayed on after the official program ended also visited the Memorial de la Shoah. The Memorial has a record of every single individual who resided in France who was deported. All their names, dates of birth and year of deportation are engraved on a series of walls, and there we found the names of our loved ones. Trained researchers who man the Memorial’s resource room will provide detailed information about the fate of Jews deported from France.
A spacious crypt occupies a corner section of the ground floor of the Memorial. An eternal flame in the centre of a large sculpture in the shape of a Magen David dominates this hallow space. Near the entrance are mounted four small remnants of a concrete wall from a prison where Jews were held prior to deportation. The graffiti scratched on one of these reads, “Martin Spindle 13/04/44.” A printed sign next to it offers more information: “Arrested Marseilles 3/1944, Drancy – Auschwitz 4/13/44.” Martin Spindle was the young cousin of OSE-USA member Renee Spindle Eisenberg of Los Angeles. It is a solemn reminder that the Paris Memorial de la Shoah commemorates the history of us all.
- Eve R. Kugler, July 2012
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