The Gates of France
The gates of France, is the nickname given by Switzerland, to the city of Annemasse, which is a French City near Geneva.
This is where the story of a Hero of the French Resistance, and famous artist of the 20th century took place.
In 1943 : the train station in Annemasse. Place where during the 2nde WW, groups of children were getting off the trains, accompanied by someone from the Red Cross, and were going to summer camps, in the mountains of Savoie regions.
This was in fact, a staging.
Saving Jewish Children
These groups were groups of Jewish children, who were going to cross the border to Switzerland.
During the summer of 1942 : the Nazi government’s policies against Jews worsened in France.
On orders from the Vichy government (French government during WW2 that collaborated with the Nazis), the rounds up will multiply, even in the Free Zone ( a part of France in the South of the country which was not occupied by the Nazis yet).
The Jewish children were gathered in different chateaux near the City of Limoges. But they are not safe anymore.
These “children houses” became traps. It becomes urgent to keep them safe.
In an emergency; a whole clandestine organization is established to hide these children with foster families. For those who can’t be hidden by a family, they need to escape to Switzerland.
Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants
Thanks to the OSE * (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants) a child rescue operation is organized : false ID papers, clock rooms, transportation etc…
Each time, a companion is making the journey with the children.
Among the resistant volunteers, Marcel Mangel.
A young man, Jewish man from Strasbourg, who decided like many other people in the Alsace region, to leave very fast in the beginning of the War (the Nazis annexed the Alsace Lorraine in 1940). Many of them went to the region near Limoges.
Marcel Mangel knew the organization OSE, because he was a theater teacher, and he was performing for the children in the “children houses” where they were hidden.
He made a remarkable imitation of Charlie Chaplin.
He had all the qualities to be a good companion for the children, and to their mind at rest from time to time.
Macel Mangle will accompany 3 convoyes of children, from Limoges to the Annemasse train station. Once they arrived, Marcel’s cousin was waiting for them. His name is George Loinge. He was a Jewish resistant man, who was the brain of this operation, and mapped it up.
Marcel Mangel accompanies 3 convoys of children by train, from Limoges to Annemasse station.
To avoid the border controls, they asked the railway workers at the train station to make some false written signs, marked “Summer camps”. This way, the children didn’t go through the controls.
Marcel Mangel is then putting the children under the care of his cousin.
But, once at least, George asks him to come along, as there were too many children. As always, the false Summer Camp goes into a room, where they can rest and be safe for a couple of hours, thanks to the complicity of the Mayor of Annemasse, who was also a Resistant.
The group has to wait until 10pm, at nightfall, because of the curfew. Then happens the last stage..As an illegal departure, and in total silence, the children are taken to a smuggler.
You can easily imagine how terrified the children were. They have to follow the smuggler, and eventually leave George Loinger behind. Many of them were hanging on to him, and crying before they had to leave.
Thanks to his facial expressions, Marcel was able to contain a little bit of their fears, and to create a subtle diversion during this stressful moment .
The children follow the smuggler and walk for 2 km through the forest, in the middle of the night.
Near the border, the children are left alone. The smuggler gives them one indication/order : to continue and walk straight ahead, towards the river. Then cross the river, and they will be in Switzerland.
The last obstacle, is a barbed wire fence, which is 3 meter high. Behind it : the city of Geneva and their freedom.
Once on the other side, they are helped by the Helvetic authorities, and the children are placed with foster families until the end of the war.
From the winter of 1942 to the spring of 1944, about 1 thousand Jewish children were saved in deepest secrecy. Silence is a question of life and death.
Marcel Mangel understands the art of silence. He will make it his profession. And he also adopted his resistant name : Marcel Marceau (name inspire by a poem of Victor Hugo).
The mime Marceau !
In 1947 he created the silent character of Pipe, a character that he will play his whole life, and that will make him famous.
Named “Living National Treasure” by Japan, the mime Marceau also became an icone in the United States.
It is in America that he received, in 2001, the Wallenberg Medal, to honour those who saved the Jews.
Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants-OSE was created in 1912 in Saint Petersburg (Russia). Its initial mission: to protect, feed and support Jewish children who were victims of poverty and persecution. During the dark years of World War II in France, OSE turned into a Resistance organization. Its leaders, trainers and educators became rescuers, caretakers and heroes, hiding children under their responsibility behind false identities.
Passionate Writer and Jewish Tour guide in Paris
Flora Goldenberg is a tour guide who writes about Paris City and The Jewish Paris History.
Flora Goldenberg is born in a Jewish Parisian Family that settled in Rue des Rosiers a century ago.
If you want a Jewish Walking tour with Flora Goldenberg in le Marais, you can ask her by email : firstname.lastname@example.org
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