The house was not the most comfortable. The buildings were not in very good condition.
There was no heating, except for small stoves, and there was no running water.
Marie-Antoinette Cojean, secretary of the Belley sub-prefecture, asked the social welfare agencies to provide the home with beds, blankets, tables and kitchen utensils.
For food, sub-prefect Pierre-Marcel Wiltzer obtained around forty ration cards. However, this was not enough to feed all the children. Miron Zlatin made up the difference by regularly going around the village and the surrounding area with his bike and trailer.
The children helped prepare the meals. In summer, they peeled the vegetables in groups out on the terrace. Miron Zlatin put teenagers, Theo and Paul, in charge of growing a small garden to provide the rest of the food. They received some pocket money for their work.
In summer, the children would wash in the large fountain. In winter, they would wash in the hall, where water was heated in a cauldron.
Daily life at the home involved playing games, swimming in the Rhône, walking or, above all, drawing, before the teacher arrived in October 1943. In a letter to Sabine, Miron Zlatin said that these children are “real bookworms” and they would always ask her for notebooks and pencils.
Every celebration was a bonding opportunity: on birthdays, the children would say happy birthday and make a wish; for Christmas, they put on shows and made costumes.
The children ran the place, but the suffering and anxiety from being separated and away from their parents was still clear to see.
« Je me souviens particulièrement bien, parmi les enfants, de Théo Reis, qui avait mon âge, parce qu’on a partagé la chambre au grenier. On dormait par terre, sur des matelas, on n’avait pas de lit régulier. Je me rappelle Léa Feldblum. Je me rappelle très bien son visage de l’époque et je me rappelle que c’était un peu la mère de tout le monde et qu’elle s’occupait énormément des petits.
Je me souviens qu’on mangeait raisonnablement bien. Je ne me rappelle pas que j’avais faim à Izieu. Les journées, on jouait, on s’amusait, on chantait, on faisait des promenades, des choses comme ça. »
“Of all the children, I remember Theo Reis the best, who was the same age as me, because we shared the room in the attic. We slept on mattresses on the floor. We didn’t have a normal bed. I remember Lea Feldblum. I can remember what she looked like so clearly and I remember that she was like everyone’s mother and that she took great care of the children.
I remember that we ate reasonably well. I don’t remember being hungry in Izieu. During the day, we played, had fun, sang, went for walks, things like that.”
Henry Alexander, who went to the Izieu home in the summer of 1943
« Je me souviens aussi d’au moins, deux fois dans l’été, des baignades dans le Rhône avec Léon Reifman, où il fallait descendre des kilomètres à travers les champs et on arrivait et, ma foi, il avait dû repérer des endroits parce que le Rhône, par endroits, c’est assez dangereux, il y a des trous, il y a des remous et il avait dû, je suppose, repérer ça très soigneusement parce que, bon, il n’est jamais rien arrivé.
Dans les moniteurs personne ne parlait l’allemand et même le yiddish, et personne ne voulait le parler ; ils voulaient qu’on parle français. Et c’était bien. »
“I also remember swimming in the Rhône with Léon Reifman at least twice in summer, where we had to go down through the fields for a few kilometres to get there and when we got there, he had to find the right spots because the Rhône is quite dangerous in places; there are holes and eddies and he must have been really good in looking out for them, I guess, because, well, nothing ever happened.
No-one spoke German or even Yiddish among the instructors, and no-one wanted to speak it; they wanted us to speak French. And that was good.”
Paul Niedermann went to the Izieu home in the summer of 1943
« Et chaque soir, je passais d’une paillasse sur l’autre, raconter une histoire parce que les garçons, il fallait leur raconter une histoire à chacun, pas forcément la même. Et là, sous cette fenêtre, il y avait Émile (Zuckerberg).
Et je finissais ma tournée par là parce qu’Émile, il fallait l’endormir. C’était un petit blond avec des yeux très bleus, avec toujours des vêtements bleus. Il était mignon, adorable ; mais alors, il était traumatisé parce qu’il avait vu arrêter ses parents. »
“And every night, I went from one straw mattress to the next, telling a story because all the boys had to be read a story and they did not necessarily all want to hear the same one. And there, under the window, was Emile (Zuckerberg).
And I would always stop doing my rounds there because I had to sit with Emile until he fell asleep. He was a little blonde boy with the bluest eyes and he was always in blue clothes. He was cute, adorable; but then he was traumatised because he saw his parents get arrested.”
Paullette Pallarés-Roche, assistant instructor/carer at the home during the summer of 1943
Forging closer ties with friends and writing to family.
Some teenagers, like Paul, Theo or Henry, knew that they would never see their families again. The little ones were still hopeful.
As soon as they had any contact from a loved one, children wrote letters and sent drawings to tell them about their daily lives, needs and hopes.
In memory of the time they spent at the Izieu home or as a promise to stay friends, teenagers swapped photographs or signed portraits. In the evening, often out on the terrace, they imagined their future together.
« Est-ce qu’on parlait de nos parents ou de notre passé, de choses comme ça ? Je sais qu’on parlait de l’avenir, qu’on avait beaucoup d’espoir. On parlait d’un avenir, qu’on allait s’en sortir, se marier, créer des familles ; mais Théo et moi, on savait qu’on n’allait plus revoir nos familles ou que, si on allait les revoir, c’était par un miracle. »
“Did we talk about our parents or our past, that kind of thing? I know we used to talk about the future and that we were really hopeful. We talked about the future, getting out of this situation, getting married, starting a family; but Theo and I knew that we would never see our families again or that if we did see them again, it would be a miracle.”
Henry Alexander, who went to the Izieu home in the summer of 1943
From May 1943, teenagers from the home, Max-Marcel Balsam, Marcel Bulka, Maurice Gerenstein and Henri Goldberg, attended classes at the Collège Moderne de Belley, where they boarded. They returned to Izieu for the school holidays. Gaston Lavoille, the head teacher, set everything up so they would be welcomed and integrated with the other pupils.
Sabine Zlatin wanted other children to be able to go to school too. On her request, Pierre-Marcel Wiltzer, the sub-prefect of Belley, took the necessary steps to open up a classroom within the children’s home.
Gabrielle Perrier was twenty-one years old when the inspectorate of education appointed her – for the duration of the war – as a teacher in Izieu on 18 October 1943.
The classroom was on the first floor of the house. It was set up with the help of the inspector of education, Gonnet, and the sub-prefect, Wiltzer. Some municipalities lent them desks, a few books, slates and a world map. Gabrielle Perrier made the most of these limited resources to teach everyone based on their age and level.
In his letters to his parents, Georgy Halpern describes his school life in detail:
« La classe est jolie, il y a deux tablaux, il y a un poêl, des cartes de geographie, des image sur les mur, il y a 4 fenetres, je mamuse bien, Il y 15 buraux » ; « (…) en classe le matin on fait de l’ecriture du calcul. Lapré midi on fait une dictée ou un devoir de grammaire est quand on saie on aprent des leçon, une resitations, des verbes la table de 1 de 2 de 3 de 4 de 5 de 7 de 8 de 9 de dix. On fait des conpositions j’ai u 64 points edemi j’ai etait le troisième sur 8. »
“The class is nice, there are two blackboards, there is a stove, maps, pictures on the walls, there are 4 windows, I like it, there are 15 desks”;” (…) in the morning, we do some writing and sums. In the afternoon we do a dictation or a grammar exercise and when we know we have learnt the lesson, we recite the verbs from the table 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. We write essays. I got 64 points and a half and I came third out of 8.”
« J’étais très émue le jour de la rentrée en me trouvant en présence de cette quarantaine d’enfants de tous âges, dont les plus grands étaient presque des adolescents.
Je remarquai leur attitude fière, parfois grave et je compris qu’ils ne s’en laisseraient pas conter ! (…) Ces enfants avaient souffert, étaient mûris avant l’âge. Jamais ils ne me dirent qu’ils étaient juifs : ils voulaient et savaient garder leur secret. (…)
J’avais une classe comme toutes les autres. D’ailleurs, ils parlaient tous français, ces enfants, ils parlaient tous le français sans accent. (…) Il y en avait parmi eux qui étaient très intelligents, il y avait des intelligences remarquables même. »
“I was very overwhelmed on the first day of school when I found myself working with forty children who were all different ages, the oldest of whom were almost teenagers.
I noticed their proud, sometimes serious attitude and I knew they wouldn’t let it slip! (…) These children had suffered and had had to grow up quickly. They never told me they were Jewish: they wanted to keep it a secret and knew exactly how to do it. (…)
I had a class like any other. Furthermore, these children all spoke French, they all spoke French without any kind of accent. (…) Some of them were very intelligent, there were even some who were exceptionally intelligent.”
Gabrielle Perrier-Tardy (1922-2009), teacher at the Izieu home