Children in the Camp
The camp experience was dramatic for children: many had been separated from their families, many suffered from the insecurity of their situation and they were not adequately cared for.
Indeed, various organisations, such as the American Quakers, the Swiss Red Cross or the Jewish aid organisation Œuvre de secours aux enfants (OSE), were specifically appointed to support them. They worked alongside local participants to establish aid networks which organised accommodation in children’s homes outside the camp perimeters. Some children were hidden or were given false identification papers. However, a large number of children were deported, sometimes as part of specific raids, to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor. Almost all of them were murdered immediately upon their arrival.
The Œuvre de secours aux enfants (OSE) humanitarian organisation was originally founded in Russia and had had its office in Berlin in the 1920s, before being forced to move to Paris in 1933. Here, among other things, the organisation fought to help Jewish refugee children from Germany, and did the same in the camps later on. In 1943, the OSE established a children’s home in Izieu where at least five children from Baden and Palatinate were temporarily protected from deportation. In April 1944, the children’s home was stormed by the Lyons Gestapo and 44 children and their carers were arrested and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Many people in this photograph can be identified. Standing on the left side: Jacques Benguigui (in costume), right: Max-Marcel Balsam (balancing a hat on a stick), in the background to the left: Arnold Hirsch, in front of him is Théo Reis. From right to left, the adults in the middle are: Philippe Dehan, Marcelle Ajzenberg, Berthe Mehring, Miron Zlatin (director and administrator of the home). In the foreground, from left to right: Paula Mermelstein, Georgy Halpern, Sigmund Springer (head turned), Esther Benassayag, Nina Aronowicz, Claude Levan-Reifman (peeking over the crouching child whose identity is unknown).
As this telegram from the 10th of July 1941 shows, how the children of people who had been deported to Eastern Europe should be dealt with remained initially unresolved on the German side. While the Gestapo were planning to deport the children at a later time, the chef de gouvernement (head of government), Pierre Laval, suggested to the Germans that they be deported immediately. However, the vast majority of the children had been born in France and had therefore acquired the right to French citizenship. During the large Vél’ d’hiv’ raid in July 1942, a total of 4,115 children were arrested and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau during the course of the summer