FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld  

 
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[chil…] dren into the Unoccupied Zone in the south – and in many cases on into neutral Switzerland – became a constant OSE activity.

Benefiting from the less restrictive conditions in the Vichy Zone, OSE established an extensive system of social-medical centers in the south, locating them in such cities as Marseilles, Lyons, Grenoble, Montpellier, Perigueux, Toulouse, Limoges, Nice, and Chambéry. The first of these centers, in Marseilles, was opened in June 1941 with the aid of the Unitarian Service Committee. Provided with medical and dental clinics, it owed its importance both to an influx of refugees into the city and to its proximity to the internment camp at Les Milles. Lyons, the first OSE center to engage in clandestine activity, was opened in November 1941; in April 1942 it began issuing false identity papers to foreign Jews, who were the first group subjected to anti-Jewish measures in France. Limoges, with hospitable authorities and local population, became another key OSE center.

When the Vichy government began interning Jewish families in camps in 1940, OSE workers took up residence in the camps, setting up medical facilities, child-welfare centers, even libraries, and working to improve sanitation. They often managed to provide dietary supplements, particularly for children and the sick. They coordinated the work of various organizations, both Jewish and non- Jewish, whose representatives visited or worked in the camps.

After repeated approaches to Vichy authorities – and thanks to sympathetic responses by some of them – between November 1941 and May 1942 OSE obtained the release from the camps of several hundred children under the age of 15 and of many older teenagers. To be released, children were required to have a residence permit authorized by the prefect of the department in which they were to be lodged. The Hérault prefect and his staff issued many of these permits at a time when few officials would do so. Thus, Montpellier, seat of the Hérault Department, became a center for efforts to free interned children; the surrounding countryside saw the creation of "vacation camps," which were the first step toward hiding the children. In the summer of 1941, OSE set up a shelter for released children at Palavas-les-Flots, on the Mediterranean coast near Montpellier; it soon became a way-station through which children passed en route to other homes. And once the children's status had been made legal in Hérault, it was easy to shift them to other departments, because moving those 15 or younger did not require additional formalities. In a similar way – through an oversight, whether intentional or not – at the prefecture in Perpignan it was possible to obtain the release of a large number of adolescents over 15. They were sheltered, for the most part, by the EIF (Eclaireurs Israélites de France – Jewish Boy Scouts of France).

By 1942 there were 14 OSE homes in operation, housing more than 1,000 children on a rotating basis. These homes were staffed by OSE workers and young women from the Jewish youth movements – many of whom had arrived in France shortly before the war – as nurses and social workers; and by teachers and doctors who had been dismissed from their posts under Vichy's anti-Jewish laws.

The forced incorporation of OSE into the UGIF-South, ordered by Vichy's Commissariat-General for Jewish Affairs in March 1942, widened a split between UGIF's focus on
    
   

FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld

 
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