History: why were there Jewish children in Izieu?

6 April 1944

A growing threat

Dr Bendrihem and his son Gerard

Italy surrendered on 8 September 1943 and the German army immediately occupied the departments of the former Italian zone. As a result, there was an increase in anti-Semitic persecution.

In the early months of 1944, several events convinced Sabine Zlatin of the need to separate the children of the home and to spread them out across different families. On 7 January 1944, Dr Bendrihem, their doctor, was arrested in the neighbouring hamlet of  Glandieu. On 8 February 1944, the Gestapo rounded up the locals and arrested the staff in the headquarters of the Union générale des Israélites de France’s third address in Chambéry, which the Izieu home depended on. Two social workers from the Garel network, Lili Garel and Margot Kahn, managed to travel to Izieu to persuade the Zlatin family to provide shelter for children in rural families. On 6 March 1944, Pierre-Marcel Wiltzer was transferred to the Châtellerault sub-prefecture. Sabine Zlatin lost her main support. Danger drew nearer: in Voiron in Isère, the Gestapo rounded up the Jewish children of La Martellière at night from 22-23 March 1944.

On 2 April, Sabine Zlatin was in Montpellier, where she was hoping to find places of refuge for the children; she planned to return to Izieu on 6 April and the children were meant to leave in small groups on 11 April.
It was there that she received the news of the roundup, by a telegram from Marie-Antoinette Cojean, the secretary of the Belley sub-prefecture: “The family is ill – contagious disease.”


The roundup

Thursday 6 April 1944 was the first day of the Easter holidays. As soon as class was over the day before, the teacher, Gabrielle Perrier, went back to see her family for a few days.

In the morning, the teenagers attending school in Belley returned to Izieu with Leon Reifman, who came to spend the Easter holidays with his sister, a carer at the home, and his parents. Fritz Lœbman, who worked at Lucien Bourdon’s farm in Brens, also went back to the home.

As the children were preparing for breakfast, a Wehrmacht group came in two trucks, requisitioned in Belley, and a car from the Gestapo de Lyon came rushing up to the front of the house. They brutally arrested the forty-five children and seven adults who were taking care of them. Only Leon Reifman, who was warned by his sister, managed to escape by jumping out of a window. The neighbouring farmers, the Perticoz family, then helped him hide.

The neighbours, the Perticoz family, and their farm worker, Julien Favet, watched on helplessly.

« […] Et quand je regardais dans les camions, une chose […] m’a frappé […] Les plus grands, ceux qui avaient 10, 12 ans, essayaient de sauter par-dessus les plateaux du camion et, aussitôt, ils étaient remis en place par deux Allemands, qui les prenaient et qui les rejetaient dedans comme des sacs de pommes de terre, comme de vulgaires sacs […] Et en arrivant dedans, un autre les prenait à coups de pied […] J’ai vu Monsieur Zlatin, le directeur de la colonie, qui s’est levé de dessus le banc du camion et il a crié à mon patron, qui était sur la porte : « Monsieur Perticoz, ne sortez pas, restez bien calé chez vous ! » Et puis un soldat allemand lui a enfilé sa mitraillette dans le ventre et un grand coup de pied dans les tibias. Le coup de mitraillette l’a plié en deux et il était obligé de se coucher dans le camion et puis je ne l’ai plus vu. »

“[…] And when I was looking in the trucks, something […] hit me[…] The older ones, the ones who were 10 and 12 years old, tried to jump out the back of the truck and they were immediately put back in place by two Germans, who picked them up and threw them in like sacks of potatoes, like they were just sacks […] And when I got inside, another soldier was kicking them […] I saw Mr Zlatin, the home’s director, who got up from the truck and shouted at my boss, who was at the door: “Mr Perticoz, don’t come out! Stay inside! “And then a German soldier slammed his machine gun into his stomach and kicked him in the shins. The blow from the machine gun made him double over in pain, forcing him to lie in the truck and then I couldn’t see him anymore.”

Julien Favet’s testimony at the Klaus Barbie trial at the hearing on 27 May 1987

Telex of 6 April 1944 (© CDJC Shoah Memorial)

The convoy left the hamlet of Lélinaz. The local villagers heard the children singing “Vous n’aurez pas l’Alsace et la Lorraine” [You won’t have Alsace-Lorraine]. It stopped to refuel in front of the Bilbor sweet shop in Brégnier-Cordon. The German soldiers let little René-Michel Wucher, aged 8, down off the truck who was recognised by a relative; the only child of the terrain and who was not Jewish.

On the evening of 6 April 1944 at 8:10pm, Klaus Barbie signed and sent a telex to Paris, addressed to the head of the security police and security services in France, for the attention of the Gestapo’s Jewish Affairs Department.

He announced the roundup of the Izieu children’s home, declared the number of people who had been arrested and said they were being sent to Drancy on 7 April 1944.

During the roundup of the Izieu children’s home, 44 Jewish children (aged 5 to 17) and 7 Jewish adults were arrested and deported. Miron Zlatin and 2 teenagers were shot in Reval (now Tallinn) in Estonia. 42 children and 5 adults were killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Lea Feldblum, a carer, was the only survivor.



The question of denunciation

It has often been talked about who denounced the Izieu home. People heavily suspected Lucien Bourdon, a farmer and refugee from Lorraine, who was there on the day of the roundup with the Germans. Charged with treason and for being complicit with the enemy, Lucien Bourdon was tried in Lyon on 13 June 1947. The denunciation charge did not hold up, as there was no evidence, no confession and no witness, making it impossible to legitimise it. The Court only found him “guilty of national indignity”. He was sentenced to “dégradation nationale” [stripped of political, civil and professional rights] and was immediately released.

The fact that there were Jewish children in Izieu was not a secret or clandestine. With existing historical research, it is impossible to know how the Lyon Gestapo was able to order and organise the arrest of the Izieu home. There are many different leads: letters exchanged between children and their families, administrative records of the establishment of the home and its daily management, the schooling of the older children in Belley, information gathered by the Gestapo during the raid on the Union générale des Israélites de France’s premises in Chambéry and many others.

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