The Vichy regime
The Vichy regime eagerly echoed the German order of 27 September 1940 on identifying all Jews in the occupied zone. On 3 and 4 October 1940, the first laws against Jews were promulgated; one of them gave the prefects the discretionary power to detain “Jewish foreigners” in “special camps”. Other laws, that declared “Jews’ status” and made their living conditions increasingly worse and more inhumane, followed in late October 1940 and early June 1941.
Vichy abolished the values of the Republic and for the first time in France, the principle of equality between citizens was renounced. Part of the French population was stigmatised and excluded from the national community.
The French internment camps, where many foreign and French Jews were gathered before being deported, were a symbol of French collaboration and France’s participation in upholding German policy, as it was them who implemented the “final solution”.
In the summer of 1942, the Vichy regime negotiated an agreement with German police officials to offer up 10,000 Jews from the free zone and 20,000 Jews from the occupied zone. To meet these commitments, the French government carried out major roundups in the summer of 1942. France’s free zone was the only area in Europe where the competent authorities handed Jews over to the Nazis of their own accord.
In July 1942, the Vichy government asked the Germans for permission to deport children under the age of 16, who up until then had been excluded from deportation convoys. The German authorities accepted this request and on 14 August 1942 the first convoy including children left Drancy for Auschwitz. The children’s homes in the free zone were no longer places of refuge.
Many of the children of Izieu’s families were detained in internment camps in the south of France, sometimes for several years.
The Germans deported from Baden and the Palatinate, such as the Niedermann, Hirsch, Adelsheimer and Leiner families, who were detained in the Gurs camp from October 1940, were gradually transferred to the Rivesaltes camp.
Other families tried to go over the border. Arrested in the free zone, they were then detained. The Halaubrenner family, who were arrested in Montbron, were detained from 4 or 6 November 1942 in the Rivesaltes camp. The father, Jacob, was made to join a Foreign Workers’ Group. Ita Rosa, the mother, and Léon, Alexandre, Claudine and Mina, the children, were transferred from the Rivesaltes camp to the Gurs camp on 23 November 1942.
The Waysenson family, originally from Luxembourg and seeking refuge in Marseille, were arrested during the major raids in Marseille in 1941 and were detained in Rivesaltes. Hélène and Bernard, the youngest of the children, were entrusted to the Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE).
Between August and September 1942, the parents of the Krochmal, Gamiel-Hirsch, Lœbman, Wertheimer, Reis, Zuckerberg, Spiegel, Springer and Bulka families were deported.
The OSE – helping children
In this context, relief organisations, such as the Œuvre de Secours aux enfants (OSE), which started working in internment camps as of 1941, stepped up their efforts to rescue Jewish children whose parents had been detained or had already been deported.
Active both inside and outside the camps, they organised children’s release from the camps, their safe return and their placement in different homes, most of which were located in the free zone. Depending on the accommodation capacity or the safety of the premises, over the months, children were transferred from one house to another.
Since March 1942, Sabine Zlatin, who was a social worker at the OSE at the time, had been running the Sanatorium Saint-Roch in Palavas-les-Flots. This house welcomed children who had left the internment camps, providing them with first aid before finding them a place to stay.
Following the increasing number of roundups and arrests in free zones in the summer of 1942, the OSE decided to close most of its houses and to separate and spread the children out across different families.