FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld  

 
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THE RESCUE OF
CHILDREN BY OSE

Thousands of Jewish children were saved from deportation and certain death by the clandestine rescue operations of Jewish organizations, aided by non-Jewish groups and by individuals and families who placed themselves at risk to shelter or share responsibility for these children.

One Jewish organization, OEuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE) – the Children's Welfare Organization – succeeded in gathering Jewish children under threat of deportation and swept them into hiding for the rest of the war. The OSE story is a model of the way Jews and courageous non-Jews fought the Nazis and the Vichy regime to save lives in occupied France.

OSE (pronounced "Ozay") was founded in Russia by Jewish physicians in 1912 as a preventive health care organization. Its headquarters moved to Berlin shortly after the Russian Revolution, and then to Paris when the Nazis took power in 1933. An American branch of OSE aided efforts to bring Jewish children from wartime France to the United States. Working with the Joint Distribution Committee and the American Friends Service Committee, the Arnerican branch succeeded in obtaining 300 U.S. visas for French Jewish children under 16 early in 1941, and 250 of the children left France by ship. Another 1,000 visas were pledged in the summer of 1942, but it was too late; René Bousquet, secretary general of Vichy's National Police, blocked their departure.

On the eve of the war, OSE was caring for 300 young refugees at five children's homes in the Paris area. When France declared war on Germany in September 1939, OSE's board, uncertain of the war's course, began looking for potential children's homes in central France. Six of them, opened between November 1939 and March 1940, were at first primarily used for refugee children whose families had fled Paris. In June 1940, amid the panic of the French collapse, children were evacuated from the OSE centers in the Paris region – the last of them only a day before the Germans entered the capital – and were distributed among the homes in central France, whose number had grown to nine.

In June, immediately after the French defeat, OSE moved its headquarters to Vichy, while still maintaining a Paris office; soon thereafter, the headquarters were moved again, this time to Montpellier, where they remained until November 1942, when the Germans extended their occupation to the south of France.

OSE soon found itself responsible through out the Occupied Zone for children whose parents had gone into hiding or were prisoners of war or were interned in French camps. Clearly no longer confining itself to health care, OSE set up a network to provide social as well as medical services, and to carry out child-rescue operations in the Occupied Zone. The clandestine transfer of chil- […dren]
 
 
   
   

FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld

 
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