Hidden Children in France During the Holocaust: A Disparate Encounter Between Judaism and Catholicism

Alessandra Cicci


On June 22, 1940, after the Nazis invaded France, an armistice agreement was signed between Germany and France, dividing the country into two zones: an Occupied Zone and a Free Zone. The German invasion drastically changed the lives and safety of French Jews, and threatened their future. Anti-Semitic laws were increasingly enacted by the Vichy government operating in the Free Zone, like the “Statut des Juifs” of 1940 and 1941, which excluded Jews from public life, dismissed them from civil service and the military, and prevented them from working in industry, commerce, and other professions like medicine, law and teaching. French Jews, especially those in the Occupied Zone, were left in increasingly precarious positions. The response of Jewish families to this unjust persecution in France varied; with some opting to flee to the Free Zone and others seeking safe hiding places. Often, families decided to separate in order to maximize their protection. Jewish children in particular became extremely vulnerable, as they depended on their parents’ decisions and the generosity of others to survive. During the occupation in France, religious institutions, through relief organizations, and host families became the main avenues for protecting these children.In many ways, religion became both  the cause of persecution and a means for protection during this period, as evidenced by the personal testimony of survivors, Michele Cohen-Rodriguez, Saul Friedlander, and Marguerite Elias Quddus. They encountered Catholicism, as both a lived ideology embodied by their hosts, as well as a practical tool for defining their new protected identity in France. The assistance of Catholic rescuers helped to save these Jewish children, whose lives changed drastically; however this safety came at great personal cost to the children. This paper will look at the personal testimonies of these survivors, accompanied by other historical research to evaluate these disparate encounters between Catholicism and Judaism in this extremely violent period of persecution.

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