The indescribable mistreatment of Jews and other refugees, both French and foreign, during the German occupation from 1940 to 1944 is a chapter of France's history that many people have difficulty coming to terms with even today. Building upon the influence of pre-existing Anti-Semitism, the Vichy government that existed during the period systematically stripped innocent people of their rights, eventually holding large groups of them in internment camps; families were often separated, and ultimately men, women, and children alike were deported to concentration camps where the vast majority of them were killed. While the French government collaborated with the Germans and often orchestrated these roundups and deportations, there were Frenchmen as well as foreigners who recognized injustice and chose to act against it by helping to save these refugees, especially children, as seen in historical records and in the documentary film, The Children of Chabannes (Lisa Gossels and Dean Wetherell, 1999).
[...] Hitler against you and yours.” While many people seem to have turned a blind eye to the plight of the Jews and other refugees during the German occupation of France, historical examples such as those presented here show that there certainly existed many groups and individuals whose heroic actions were responsible for saving thousands of innocent lives. While different factors may have influenced their choosing to act, it is safe to say that all of these people shared a common motivation: The desire to help those in need, and the willingness to [...]
[...] Of the many ecumenical organizations and groups committed to aiding the refugees facing repression and internment in France during the occupation, the largest and most effective were the Oeuvre de Secours Aux Enfants (OSE) and the World Council of Churches (WCC). Between 1940 and 1942, the efforts of these groups, along with those of the Swiss Red Cross, American Friends Service Committee, and various smaller groups were organized and coordinated to a great extent by the Committee of Nîmes, which actually worked alongside Vichy authorities as a means of alleviating what officials referred to as the ‘refugee problem'. [...]
[...] In some cases, religious affiliation was likely an influential factor in determining someone's choice whether or not to actively participate in protecting and rescuing Jews and other refugees during the period of German occupation in France. The majority of French Protestants declared themselves against anti-Semitism, due not only to its conflict with theological ideals (to ‘love thy neighbor') but also because of parallels to the persecuted past of the Huguenots in the collective Protestant memory (Zasloff p. 69). Unlike the Catholic Church in France, which fully supported Vichy initially and never officially protested the internments and deportations, the Protestant Church was more unified in its resistance to Vichy's anti-Jewish policies. [...]
[...] Arguably the most important organization in hiding and rescuing Jewish refugees during the occupation was the OSE, a group originally founded in the early 1900s in Russia by physicians to provide aid for Jewish victims of pogroms, or violent hate crimes. OSE France was founded initially to help German and Austrian Jews who sought refuge from persecution in France, where it took the name ‘Oeuvre de Secours Aux Enfants', or Society for Assistance to Children (Samuel p. 46). As the name suggests, saving children was the primary focus of the OSE, and the organization cared for over 6,000 children during the occupation, as well as helping many more to cross the border into Switzerland or Spain. [...]
[...] During the summer of 1942, Boegner issued two letters that became public, denouncing Vichy's roundups and deportations of Jews; this action “galvanized those Protestant communities of the south, in particular, who were already aroused by their local pastors” (Zasloff p. 67). Another high- ranking pastor, Pierre-Charles Toureille, was personally responsible for saving hundreds of refugees, the majority of whom were Jewish, through his efforts as chairman of the Committee of Nîmes, until the aid groups it coordinated ‘officially' disbanded in 1942; afterwards, he immersed himself “with a fierce zeal and sustained energy” in covert actions including fabricating false identity papers and baptismal certificates, helping hunted Jews escape authorities and live in hiding, and finding people safe passage along escape routes into Switzerland and Spain (Zasloff p. [...]
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