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.

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