6th April 1944
A growing threat
On 8th September 1943, Italy capitulated and the German army immediately occupied the French Departments within the former Italian Occupied Zone. Henceforth, the anti-Semitic persecutions intensified throughout the area.
On 13th December 1943, Sabine Zlatin forwarded her resignation letter to the OSE [French humanitarian organisation for Jewish children], specifically to the 3rd Division of the UGIF [Union Générale des Israelites de France – French Israelite general organisation] in Chambéry.
The last children to leave the home (Angel Elert, Georges Traube and Samuel Pintel) were still listed in January 1944 in the register kept by Miron Zlatin.
During the early months of 1944, a number of events finally convinced Sabine Zlatin of the need to disperse the children at Izieu.
On 7th January 1944, Dr. Bendrihem, Sabine’s physician, was arrested in the neighbouring hamlet of Glandieu.
On 8th February 1944, the Gestapo raided the premises and arrested the staff of the UGIF 3rd Division headquarters in Chambéry, on which the Izieu home was financially dependent.
An OSE social worker, Margot Cohen, visited Izieu and urged dispersion of the children.
On 23rd February 1944, the Department of Social Aid to Immigrants in Lyon drew up a report after a visit to the home at the request of Sabine Zlatin, who was “seeking to give up this house” and disperse the children.
Early March 1944, helpers Serge and Rachel Pludermacher left the home.
On 6th March 1944, Pierre-Marcel Wiltzer was transferred to Châtellerault Sub-Prefecture: the home lost an ally in the administration.
Sabine Zlatin was at Izieu in March 1944. She left at the end of March/early April for Montpellier, where she worked with her contacts to try to find a safer refuge for the children and disperse the home. It was there that she received news of the raid by telegram from Marie-Antoinette Cojean, secretary at the Belley Sub-Prefecture, stating, “Family ill – contagious illness”.
Thursday 6th April 1944 was the first day of the Easter holidays, which were particularly short that year since the return to school was scheduled for Tuesday 10th April.
The day before, primary teacher Gabrielle Perrier (her married name was Tardy) returned to her family for a few days after preparing her lessons.
In the morning, the teenagers at school in Belley returned to Izieu accompagnied by Léon Reifman, who had come to spend Easter with his sister, a helper at the home, and their parents. Fritz Loebman, who worked at Lucien Bourdon’s farm in Brens, also returned to the house.
When the children were getting ready to have breakfast, a detachment of Wehrmacht soldiers in two lorries requisitioned in Belley and a Lyon Gestapo car suddenly drew up in front of the house – under the orders of Klaus Barbie, they brutally arrested the forty-five children on the premises and the seven adults looking after them. Only Léon Reifman managed to escape by jumping out of a window. The farmers next door, the Perticoz, later helped him to hide.
Eusèbe Perticoz was at home and was prevented from going outside by the German soldiers. His labourer, Julien Favet, witnessed the arrest helplessly. The children and adults were thrown into the lorries.
“ […] and when I looked into the lorries, something […] struck me […]. The oldest, those who were 10, 12 years old,were trying to jump over the sides of the lorry and were immediately thrown back by two Germans, who threw them in like sacks of potatoes, like common or garden sacks […]. And, once they were back inside, another German kicked them […]. I saw Mr. Zlatin, the director of the home, who stood up from the lorry bench and shouted to my boss at the door: ’Mr Perticoz,don’t come out, stay safe inside!’. Then a German soldier rammed his submachine gun in his stomach and kicked him hard in the shins. The submachine gun blow doubled him up and he had to lie down in the lorry, and I didn’t see him again.”
Witness account of Julien Favet at the Klaus Barbie trial, given during the 27th May 1987 session.
The convoy left the hamlet of Lélinaz. The inhabitants of the village heard the children sing “Vous n’aurez pas l’Alsace et la Lorraine” (you’ll never get Alsace and Lorraine).
The lorries stopped for food at the Bilbor store in Brégnier-Cordon. The German soldiers let little René-Michel Wucher, aged 8, get down when he was recognised by a female relation; he was the only local child and was not Jewish.
At 8.10 pm, the evening of 6th April 1944, Klaus Barbie signed and sent a telex to Paris, addressed to the German security police in France, specifically to the Gestapo department of Jewish affairs.
He announced the raid on the Izieu home, stated the number of persons arrested and referred to their transportation to Drancy on 7th April 1944.
The denunciation issue
It is often stated that the Izieu home was denounced.
Farm worker Lucien Bourdon, a refugee from Lorraine, who was present with the Germans on the day of the raid, was strongly suspected. Accused of treason and secret dealings with the enemy, Lucien Bourdon was tried in Lyon on 13th June 1947. The denunciation charge was not retained because there was neither confession nor proof nor testimony in support of this charge. The Court simply judged him “guilty of national indignity”; he was sentenced to “loss of civil rights for life” and immediately released.
The presence of the Jewish children at Izieu was neither secret nor clandestine.
Based on current historical research, it is impossible to know what information enabled the Lyon Gestapo to order and organise the arrest of those present at the Izieu home. There are many possibilities: letters between the children and their families, administrative traces of the home’s set-up and management, school attendance of the older children in Belley, information gathered by the Gestapo during the raid on the UGIF premises in Chambéry, etc.