The memory of the children and adults arrested at the Izieu home has never died from 1945 to today. It remains potently symbolic and universal.
With time, remembrance of the Izieu raid has thus developed around different participants and in several stages.
The commitment of Sabine Zlatin and local remembrance
A few weeks after the Izieu raid of 6th April 1944, Sabine Zlatin returned to Izieu and found the house ransacked. She safeguarded the children’s letters and drawings along with other documents, which now form the archives of the home. This was a first act of remembrance and history.
In July 1945, she wrote the Prefect of the Ain Department, requesting authorisation to mount a plaque on the house in memory of the children.
An important ceremony was held on 7th April 1946 with the support of inhabitants and local authorities.
A large crowd gathered for the occasion and a solemn tribute was paid to the victims of the raid. A monument was erected at Brégnier-Cordon, a village adjacent to Izieu. A plaque engraved with the names of the arrested children and adults was installed on the Izieu home.
This first ceremony established the memory of the raid not only where it took place, but also in time. Henceforth, inhabitants and local authorities would commemorate the raid of 6th April 1944 with Sabine Zlatin, Léon Reifman and several members of the Izieu children’s families.
From the manhunt to the trial of Klaus Barbie
In the 1970s, Klaus Barbie was traced to Latin America, where he had been exfiltrated in 1951. He was living in Bolivia under the name of Klaus Altmann, when Beate and Serge Klarsfeld launched the search for him. After a manhunt of nearly 10 years, supported by two of the Izieu children’s mothers, Fortunée Benguigui and Ita-Rosa Halaunbrenner, Mr and Mrs Klarsfeld succeeded in bringing Klaus Barbie back to France, to Lyon no less, in February 1983.
That same year, Serge Klarsfeld published the first historical reference work on the Izieu children, featuring not only their origins, families and images, but also their deportation convoy dates and numbers. Through this research, Serge Klarsfeld recalls that the Jewish identity of each of these children was the only reason for their murder. Thanks to this work, the story of the Izieu children was incorporated in Jewish remembrance of deportation and extermination.
In this context, a major ceremony was held in Izieu on 8th April 1984. For the first time, Jewish institutions were officially represented. The Grand Rabbi of Lyon and Théo Klein, chairman of the “Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF)” [French council of Jewish institutions] attended this ceremony.
That day, Théo Klein declared, ”Like others, we have been guilty of forgetting these children”.
The local authorities and inhabitants of Izieu and Brégnier-Cordon, who had preserved the memory of the children and their adult helpers since 1946, felt this statement was aimed at them and categorically denied feeling any guilt for forgetfulness.
Robert Mériaudeau, mayor of Brégnier-Cordon, made this known during the speech he gave on 29th April 1984, the day chosen that year to commemorate the raid: “Like others… That statement was certainly true for the community on behalf of which the chairman of the CRIF was speaking, and for some other associations. It did not apply to the institutions of the Republic, in particular to the one, in whose name I’m speaking to you.” (quoted in: Richard Schittly, Izieu, l’innocence assassinée [Izieu, murdered innocence], Comp’Act, 1994)
Klaus Barbie was tried in Lyon in 1987 and sentenced to life imprisonment. During the pre-trial investigation, Serge Klarsfeld found the telex from Barbie, in which he ordered the deportation of the forty-four children: a decisive piece of evidence. This trial gave rise to the first sentence for crimes against humanity to be pronounced in France.
The memory of Izieu truly entered French national history through the legal action and the trial’s repercussions.
A place of national remembrance
On 8th March 1988, in the wake of the Barbie trial, an association was set up around Sabine Zlatin and Pierre-Marcel Wiltzer with the aim of creating the “Izieu Memorial Museum”.
National fund raising enabled the association to buy, in 1990, the house which had accommodated the home.
A scientific committee bringing together recognised scientific and institutional personalities was formed to convert the house into a living memorial open to everyone. Historian Anne Grynberg was entrusted with the design of the museographical project.
In 1992, French President François Mitterrand, who was made aware by the various people concerned or affected by the Izieu story, included this museographical development in his programme of Presidential Major Projects. The French State therefore took on a role in this memorial museum.
On 24 April 1994, the French President inaugurated the “Musée-mémorial des enfants d’Izieu” [museum memorial to the Izieu children], which in 2000 became the “Maison d’Izieu, mémorial des enfants juifs exterminés” [Maison d’Izieu, memorial to exterminated Jewish children].
By Presidential Decree on 3rd February 1993, the Republic designated the Maison d’Izieu as one of the three national places of remembrance where official ceremonies are held during the “national day commemorating racist and anti-Semitic persecutions committed under the authority of the so-called ‘Government of the French State’ (1940-1944)”.
The memory of the Izieu raid now forms part of the memory of the French Republic.