One of the bravest epics of the war and the German occupation is being revealed in Paris as the first of thousands of hidden Jewish children are being reunited with the parents from whom they were separated in order to save them from deportation.
The details of the greatest human rescue set-up since the American under ground railway of pre-Civil War days are just now coming to light. Catholic priests and Protestants aided Jews in placing half of the Jewish children in Paris in the countryside with friendly Frenchmen or spiriting them out of the country.
After July, 1942, when the Germans suddenly swooped down on the Jewish quarter of Paris and arrested 20,000 women and children, the remaining Jews began the underground task of hiding youngsters. While many families managed, individually, to place their children with French families, three organizations undertook mass placement. They were the OSE the Jewish Health Society – the Federation of Jewish Societies and the Zionist Youth Organization.
Dr. Eugene Minkowski, president of the OSE, directed much of this risky campaign. In two years the OSE hid 600 children in northern France and 2,500 in the southern part of the country. A similar job was undertaken by Mme, Rebecca Youchnovsky, who was in charge of the Paris office of the Federation of Jewish Societies, while her husband, Dr. Aaron Youchnovsky conducted a dispensary there. The Federation placed 700 children.
JEWISH WOMEN TOURED COUNTRY SECRETLY CHECKING ON CARE OF CHILDREN
Together with the OSE it carried on a never-ending detailed check-up which would do honor to the most elaborate New York social service agency. Yet every thing was done in enforced secrecy, every contact was carried on through intermediaries. The records of the children, with their false names and the key to their identities was kept secret in the home of Mne. Paulette Karnoveky, whose husband Alex was killed during the battle for Paris. Mne. Karnovsky and a group of women – including non Jews – travelled throughout the country for a monthly check-up on the condition of the children. The committee even managed to send toys to the youngsters.
The foster families were paid in advance, monthly, for caring for the child. The average payment ranged around 900 francs, and was made through devious channels. The money was often hidden in the bottom of a shopping basket or carried by a third party. Several women were arrested while doing this work, but everything was carried out to the last painstaking detail. Several young women members of the Zionist youth group were captured and executed by the Gestapo while engaged in guiding groups of children to safety.
In addition to those hidden by the OSE and the Federation, about 800 were placed in French homes through the efforts of Mme. Juliette Stern, who worked in the Union Generale de Juifs de France, a German-organized agency. Frequently the Gestapo deported adults leaving the children behind to be placed in institutions. With the cooperation of women leaders of Catholic and Protestant organizations, Mme, Stern was able to spirit the 800 children out of the German institution using various devices.
Two Catholic priests named Father Chaillut and Father Du Vaux were also very active in this work. Du Vaux, himself, placed 400 children and secured medical aid for many expectant mothers. He secured funds from bankers and other wealthy Fuenchion. Of the 400 children about 60 have already been reunited with their parents.
Dr. Minkowski told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent that he believes that about half the hidden children will eventually be returned to their families, but that provision will have to be made for the others. Many of these are children who were so young when their parents were deported that they have no knowledge of them, while most have been orphaned.
Minkowski said that the children without families will require considerable assistance and appealed for aid from abroad. At the same time, he paid tribute to the Joint Distribution Committee, whose funds, he said, had financed ninety percent of the child rescue work.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.