Rescuing the Children by Vivette Samuel

Nonfiction — print. Translated from the French by Charles B. Paul. University of Wisconsin Press, 2002. Originally published 1995. 220 pgs. Purchased.

Originally published as Sauver les enfants, Samuel’s memoir is that of a women working for the uvre de secours aux enfants (OSE, or Society for Assistance to Children), which saved thousands of Jewish children in France from deportation to Nazi extermination camps. These children were either hidden among non-Jewish families, placed in the eighteen children’s homes run by the OSE, or selected to escape clandestinely to the neutral countries of Switzerland or Spain. Thanks to organizations like OSE and other like-minded organizations, the situation of Jewish children after the war in France was as follows (pg. 132):

  • 11,600 Jewish children in France had been deported, all of whom perished in the camps, but 72,400 under eighteen years of age survived.
  • About 62,000 were able to stay with their parents or were directly entrusted by them to institutions or to non-Jewish families.
  • It was possible to save between 8,000 and 10,000 children, generally of foreign origin, thanks to Jewish organizations that helped them to emigrate overseas, to cross into Switzerland or Spain, or to be entrusted through the intervention of clandestine networks to non-Jewish families or institutions (convents, secular institutions).

This book is interested by Elie Wiesel, the author’s daughter, and the translator, Charles B. Paul. (Interestingly enough, the translator of this book and his sister were both saved by Samuel and the OSE.) With so many introductions and so many ‘I’s in the first few pages of the book, it was difficult to distinguish between the voice of the author and that of those who wrote the introductions.

I found the most interesting section of the book to be the later part in which Samuel discusses returning the children to their parents and the decisions the organization made when no parents returned. How to preserve these children’s Jewish identities and faiths? Whether to leave them with their foster parents, remove them and replace them with Jewish foster families, or move them into Jewish group homes? Certainly not at all the purpose of the novel, but the still the most interesting for me all the same.

The rest of the book did very little for me. In fact, I found it fairly boring and hard to read (whether that is the fault of the translator, the author, or myself, I do not know). The content is important to studying rescue and resistance during the Holocaust, especially because it focused on efforts in Vichy France, but it did very little for me as a reader. In fact, had it not been for school, I more than likely would have abandoned it.

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