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Jun 2005 Journal

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Return to 'a land of refugees'

In 1940 and 1941, when I was 10, I lived in France in Château Montintin, run by the OSE (Organisation de Secours aux Enfants). In October 2004 I returned to the area for a colloquium on 'Jewish Children in Limousin from 1940 to 1960'. Attending were various academics and those of us who had been Jewish children in OSE homes or hidden by the Resistance and the OSE. The academics had researched the history. We were invited to give first-hand testimony at the two-day event. There were also programmes and tours of interest to us, the subjects of the colloquium.

There was a great deal of press and TV coverage of the returnees. During the colloquium major points made were that the OSE sheltered children coming from Paris and from camps in the Vichy-controlled area of France in 11 castles and houses throughout Limousin. Among those who helped place and save Jewish children in addition to the OSE and the Resistance were the French Jewish Scout Organisation, priests and ordinary gentiles. Limoges became 'a land of refugees'.

Policemen sometimes warned families when raffles (general arrests) were imminent. In one small village with 82 Jews only one was deported. About 30 per cent of French people were willing to help Jewish children. Most of the children who did not survive were non-French.

At a 'round table' for the returnees, the most notable point made by several speakers was that children were sometimes misused, abused, and even raped by farmers and others who provided shelter. Even gentile children were maltreated.

An exhibit about the 90-year history of the OSE showed that by August 1942 the OSE and the Resistance had managed to hide 1,600 Jewish children. Through OSE's efforts 4,000 children were saved from deportation, including arguably the most famous resident of an OSE home, Marcel Marceau.

The tours took us through wartime Limoges and the surrounding areas. We visited Oradour sur Glane, where in June 1944 the Waffen-SS burned 643 inhabitants of the small village to death.

I was taken to Le Couret château, an OSE home deep in the Limousin countryside, where my mother became the cook in autumn 1941, after my sister and I left for America as part of the Quaker children's transport. Le Couret is surrounded by mountains, where my parents hid in 1942. Could I have done what they did when Resistance workers told them it was their only option after Vichy issued an arrest warrant for them? Standing there on a cold, wet October day, I was in awe about what they had done and endured.

On our last day we went back to Montintin. We already knew that we would not be able to go inside the château, but could view it only through a high-security fence installed by the current owner. We did, however, go to La Chevrette, the OSE home for Orthodox children up the hill from Montintin, where my mother was the cook before Le Couret. I have a photo of my parents standing on a small porch on top of a flight of stone stairs leading into the house. I stared at the spot, oblivious to the pouring rain, then slowly made my way up the steps to where they had stood. Norbert Rosenblum, who had lived at La Chevrette, was standing next to me. We passed our cameras to his wife to take a photo of us there. What my parents had lived through became truly real for me. It was an overwhelming, deeply moving experience.
Eve R. Kugler

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