Monday, February 20, 2012

The Children of Chabannes (documentary) produced, directed and edited by Lucy Gossels and Dean Wetherell , 1999

"The Children of Chabannes — who 'were happy by day and ... cried at night' — does not skirt the issue of what led these children to France in the first place, but it also sheds light on hope in the dark days of war."  from a review by Andrea Carla Michaels in on 7/22/2005

From 1939 to 1943 the very small farming town of Chabannes in central France, located in the official “unoccupied zone,” became home to displaced Jewish children, mostly from Germany, Austria, Poland and France. Parents, desperate to save their children, sent them to Chabannes where the OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants), a Jewish social service and health care agency, operated several schools in the area. The Chateau Chabannes became their dormitory, their school, their home. The non-Jewish visionary head of the school, Felix Chevrier, took a leadership role and decided that the best approach was to integrate the Jewish children and local Chabannes children, so all attended school together, and in this way the community came to know and care about the refugees in their midst.

This documentary, made by the daughter of one of the former children of Chabannes, consists of interviews conducted around the time of a reunion in 1996. There are interviews with some of the surviving children and also with several surviving townspeople and former teachers. We are shown around the abandoned chateau as they reminisce. In the interviews the conversations circle around several topics. They discuss the stress they all felt at having been separated from their parents and their fears about their own safety. But they are happy to remember the positive environment created for them at the chateau by the staff and the welcoming support they got from the people in the town despite increasing hardships like scarce food and fuel supplies.

Their safety was in jeopardy once Germany invaded the “unoccupied” zone in late 1942, and Chevrier put his own life in danger many times to protect the lives of the children. As danger crept closer and closer, members of the resistance worked to smuggle the children over the border to neutral countries such as Switzerland and from there many came to the United States. Some of the older children joined the resistance.  Others were hidden by members of the community.

In the interviews we can sense the pain the adults still feel fifty years later at having been torn from their families. Most did not ever see their parents again. Their gratitude to the people of Chabonnes is boundless. Two of their outstanding teachers, the Paillassou sisters, Renee and Reine, went to Israel to accept the honor of being designated as the Righteous among Nations at Yad Vashem. Felix Chevrier, who died in 1962, received the same honor posthumously. He donated his papers to the Centre de Juivre Contemporaine in Paris which includes a book of over 170 pages made by the children and the staff in 1942. It includes children’s artwork, essays by the staff and over one hundred black and white photos.

To learn about another such school with a far different outcome, the Maison D'Izieu, now a French national memorial to the murdered Jewish children, click here.

    Norbert Bikales – married Gerda
    Ruth Keller – married Paul Keller
Charlotte Gossels
    Werner Gossels – son of Charlotte; married Elaine
    Peter Gossels – son of Charlotte; married Nancy
        Lucy Gossels – daughter of Peter; director
    Ernest Rosner – married Edith
    Jerry Gerard – married Betty
    Wolfgang Blumenreich – married Miriam
    Rolf Rothschild
    Arno Kascinksi
    Marjan Strum
    Berndt Warshauer
    Ernest Levy
Joseph Weill
Georges Loigner
Rachel Pendermacher

Chabannes, France
Paris, France
New York

This documentary is also available as a free download from Amazon for Amazon Prime members.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Flory: A miraculous story of survival by Flory A. Van Beek 2008; a version was originally published as Flory: Survival in the Valley of Death in 1998

 "The book paints a vivid portrait of life for the Jews in the Netherlands under Nazi occupation." from a review by Dennis McLellan in the L.A. Times, 2/28/1999

This interesting memoir, written by a Jewish Holocaust survivor from the Netherlands who was in hiding during the war, gives us an inside look at the situation of Dutch Jews immediately before and during World War II. Flory Van Beek was in her teens when the war broke out. She and her future husband, a German Jew living in Holland, tried to flee Holland by booking passage to Chile on the Simon Bolivar but on the second day out, on November 18, 1939, the ship hit German mines and exploded. She and Felix, badly wounded, recovered in England for many months, but because Felix was a German national, he was not allowed to stay, so they returned to Holland and went into hiding.

Because the author’s family had lived in the Netherlands for many generations, it is clear she felt very attached to her country and her fellow countrymen. She talks at length about the Dutch character and their general resistance to the Germans. The partisans went on many dangerous missions to find safe housing for homeless Jews, to make inquiries, to pass information along, to forge false identity papers and food coupons. Van Beek and her husband’s fear is palpable while being hidden away and equipped with false papers. Because they were worried about having been detected, they had to move more than once. There were many close calls when they thought they would be caught for sure.

It’s very interesting and unsettling to experience the progress of the war through the eyes of the author, her family and their protectors because we now have the larger picture. Despite the Nazi rules against owning radios, the partisans hid crystal radio sets in their attics and they gathered around to listen to the BBC and follow in an atlas the Allies’ progress. When America entered the war they were sure it would be over soon. But as it dragged on for years, the tension became unbearable and they were often in despair.  When the Germans finally did surrender, the author describes the jubilation in the streets, but then came the hard task of taking stock and seeing who had made it through the war and who hadn’t. She makes the point that out of approximately 140,000 Dutch Jews, only about 6,000 survived.

Throughout this whole period the author clipped articles and her husband kept a diary that stretched into three volumes.Their collection, buried during the war, came with them to America, but she couldn't bear to look at it for many years. In 1984 when she did start reading it, the material helped her to write this book. The the collection is now part of the archives of the US Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.

Last names are confusing in this memoir. It is clear that Flory’s maiden name was Cohen. From a document included, it’s clear that her mother’s maiden name was van Beek. She dedicates this book to her Cohen brothers and sister and to her mother-in-law Jette Aufhauser. It’s likely that to avoid having the German last name of Aufhauser, or the Jewish last name of Cohen, Felix and Flory at some point (probably during the war, when they got married) adopted her mother’s maiden name of van Beek.

To read an obituary of Flory van Beek who died in 2010, click here.
To read "400 Years of Dutch Jewry" on the website of the Jewish Historical Museum in the Netherlands, click here.

Saam Cohen – author’s father’s oldest brother; married Sophie
    Lenie – daughter of Saam
? Cohen – married Aleida van Beek
    Jes (Ies) Cohen – son of Aleida; married to Elisabeth
    Ben Cohen – son of Aleida
    Elisabeth Cohen – daughter of Aleida; married to Abraham Coster
    Flory Cohen – daughter of Aleida; Felix Aufhauser (see note above); author
        Ralph van Beek (see note above)

Aleida van Beek – married ? Cohen (see above)
Sien van Beek – sister of Aleida; married Ephraim de Haas
    Jacob, Maurits and Simon de Haas; sons of Sien and Ephraim
Flora van Beek – sister of Aleida; married Jules Frank

Felix (Aufhauser) van Beek – married to Flory Cohen (see above)
Hugo Aufhauser – brother of Felix
Sam Aufhauser – brother of Felix
Theo Aufhauser – brother of Felix
Nellie Aufhauser – sister of Felix; married Kurt
    Eric – son of Nellie and Kurt

Isse and Sierien van Zuiden – uncle and aunt of author; exact relationship unclear

Below are relatives of the author whose relationship to her is not clear:
Carolina Salzer- Erle
Bernhard Salzer
Trude Hofman-Blum
Gunther Hoffmann
Hertha Mannheimer

Amersfoort, Holland
Amsterdam, Holland
Rotterdam, Holland
Blijdorp, Holland
Newport Beach, California
New York City, NY