Anti-Semitic laws and French State collaboration:
a murder strategy
France’s Vichy regime eagerly responded to the German order of 27th September 1940 to take a census of Jews in the Occupied Zone. On 3rd and 4th October 1940, the French government promulgated the first anti-Jewish legislation; one law empowered the Prefects to intern, at their discretion, “foreigners of Jewish race” in “special camps”. Other French laws establishing the “status of Jews”, which made their living conditions ever more precarious and inhuman, followed at the end of October 1940 and at the beginning of June 1941. These laws were even more radical and cursory than those of Nuremberg.
The French internment camps, in which many foreign and French Jews were seized prior to deportation, were an instrument of France’s collaboration with, and participation in, the German strategy for implementing the so-called “final solution”.
During the summer of 1942, the Vichy regime negotiated an agreement with German police representatives to hand over 10,000 Jews from the Unoccupied Zone and 20,000 Jews from the Occupied Zone. To honour its commitments, the French Government organised massive raids in the summer of 1942.
Unoccupied France was then the only area in Europe, in which the competent authorities, under their own initiative, handed over Jews to the Nazis.
In July 1942, the Vichy government requested German authorisation to deport children less than 16 years old, who had been excluded from the deportation trains until then.
The German authorities accepted this request and the first train including children left Drancy for Auschwitz on 14th August 1942.
Children’s homes in the Unoccupied Zone were henceforth no longer safe refuges.
The fate of the Izieu children’s families
In the summer of 1942, many families of children who would be received by the Izieu home, were interned in camps in the south of France, some of them for several years already.
The German Jews deported from the Bade and Palatinate regions, such as the Niedermann, Hirsch, Adelsheimer and Leiner families, had been interned since October 1940 at the Gurs camp. They were gradually transferred to the Rivesaltes camp.
Other families tried to cross the demarcation line between Occupied and Unoccupied Zones. Arrested in the Unoccupied Zone, they were then interned. The Halaubrenner family, arrested in Montbron, was interned from the 4th or 6th November 1942 onwards at the Rivesaltes camp. The father, Jacob, was enlisted in a Foreign Workers Group. Mother, Ita Rosa, and children, Léon, Alexandre, Claudine and Mina, were transferred from the Rivesaltes camp to the Gurs camp on 23rd November 1942.
The Waysenson family was originally from Luxemburg and took refuge in Marseille. The family was arrested during the mass raids conducted in Marseille in 1941 and was interned at Rivesaltes. Hélène and Bernard, the smallest children, were entrusted to the “Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants” (OSE) [French humanitarian organisation for Jewish children].
Between the months of August and September 1942, the parents of the Krochmal, Gamiel-Hirsch, Loebman, Wertheimer, Reis, Zuckerberg, Spiegel, Springer and Bulka families were deported.
The OSE coming to the aid of children
In this context, humanitarian organisations like “Œuvre de Secours aux enfants” (OSE), which had operated at the internment camps since 1941, intensified their actions to save Jewish children whose parents had been interned or already deported.
Active both inside and outside the camps, they organised the release, reception and placement of a large number of children in different homes, mostly in the Unoccupied Zone. Over the ensuing months, the children were transferred from one home to another, depending on the accommodation capacity or safety of the premises.
From March 1942 on, Sabine Zlatin managed the Saint-Roch sanatorium in Palavas-les-Flots, as a social worker with the OSE. This home took in children, who had been freed from the camps, to offer them first aid and care prior to finding them a home where they could stay.
Following the raids and arrests, which became ever more frequent in the Unoccupied Zone during the summer of 1942, the OSE decided to close most of its homes and to disperse the children.
In the Italian Zone
On 11th November 1942, following the Allied landings in North Africa, the German army invaded the Unoccupied Zone. All French territory was henceforth in the hands of enemy powers.
The eight administrative Departments on the left bank (east) of the River Rhône, from Haute-Savoie in the north to Corsica in the south, were Occupied by the Italians. Jews were not hunted down in these areas and they therefore became a region of refuge for many Jews. Whilst located on the right bank (west) of the Rhône, part of the Ain Department was included in the Italian Zone; the village of Izieu fell within the area.
At the request of the Prefect of the Hérault Department, who was committed to saving Jewish children, Sabine and Miron Zlatin left with a few children in the spring of 1943 for the part of the Ain Department under Italian occupation. They were referred to Pierre-Marcel Wiltzer, the deputy Prefect in Belley. Thanks to his help, they set up a “Refugee Children’s Home” in a large house in the village of Izieu. The life of this little community was organised in just a few weeks.