A substantial number of French parents in Paris and other big cities during World War II and the immediate post-war (baby-boom era) sent children to live with family or family friends in the country. Only a few children were cared for in orphanages. This topic has not been adequately analized. As soon the war began, many children were deplaced in the country for their security, far from the more dangereus cities. The British and Germans (later in the War) had Government run programs to coordinate the evacuation. We have less information on this in France. The children were often raised by relative and sometimes did not return to their families for several years. They were thus sometimes raised differently than had they stayed in their parent's home. It often meant that the clothes and education were those of their grandparents or uncles and aunts. Many children left for only some months other were away for years. Some never returned home. For a child, even a short period seemed like a major part of his life. Some children were anxious to return home. Other children were not happy to come home at all. Sometimes the relatives did not want for the children to return home. Those children who lost their Parents were called "Les pupilles de la nation" (pupils of the nation) and were looked after as much as possible after the War. The French Government granted many adventages for their current life and career. Despite all the assistance, those children were traumatized. A classic movie telling one of these cases 'Les jeux interdits'. Virtually every French person has seen this film and the music is known through the world. A French reader tells HBC that it is not possible to see this picture without some emotion.
Unlike World War I, displaced children in World War II were not placed in orphanages. By 1939 there were few orphanages left in France. They were no longer necessery as the World War I children had grown up. A few orphanages were opened, but the numbers of children were far smaller than in World War I.
As soon the war began, many children were evacuated to the the country for their security, far from the more dangerous cities. The British and Germans (later in the War) had Government run programs to coordinate the evacuation. We have less information on this in France. Quite a few children were evacuated by their parents, but not as part of any government program. Many children were sent by their parents to live in the country or rural villages with grandparents and aunts and uncles.
The Germans proceeded to conquer virtually all of Western Europe. After a few months of the "Phony War", France's turn came. The Germans struck on a wide front against the neutral Netherlands, Belgiym, and Luxemburg. The terror bombing of Rotterdam convinced the already hard-pressed Dutch Army to surrender. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) rushed north to aid the Dutch. The Germans then struck in the Belgian Ardenes which allowed them to avoid the formidable Maginot Line. The French and Belgians considered the Ardenes impassable to tanks. The Germans managed to easily penetrate the rough terraine, crossed two substantial rivers, and the XIX Panzer Corps rapidly reached the English Channel--cutting the BEF off from the French and rendering the Maginot Line uselss. The French entrenched behind the Maginot Line simply could not cope with the exposive highly mobil style of Blitzkrieg warfare. The Panzers surrounded the Belgian Army which King Leopold III surrendered. The BEF was within Hitler's grasp. Paris soon fell and the French signed a NAZI imposed armistace. The collapse of France after only a few weeks was a disaster of emense proportions. It was the French Army that had provided the bulk of the allied War Western Front in World War I. The German victory was not accomplished with massivelyu superior numbers or weaponry. In fact they had fewer men and tanks. What they had was a superior tactical doctrine. The Germans were amazed to find, for example, that French tanks were not even equipped with radios, and a more disciplined fighting force. NAZI propaganda began to describe Hitler as " Der grösste Feldherr Allerzeiten " (the greatest field commander of all time). [Davidson, p. 483.]
In France during World War II and the immediate post-war (baby-boom era), a lot of children left their families in Paris and other cities. They left the city to move in with family or family friends in the country. Many displaced children were cared for by relatives. The extended families were in most cases anxious to take in these children. Some of the children were sent by their families to safe rural areas when the War began. Other were taken in after their parents were killed or intered. In some cases mothers could not support the children when their husbands were killed or interened in prisionor of war camps in Germany. Some parents were sent to Germany for slave labor and were not allowed to bring their children. The children involved might be gone for only a short period, but some did not return to their families for several years--if ever. They were thus sometimes raised differently than had they stayed in their parent's home. It often meant that the clothes and education were those of their grandparents or aunts and uncles. For a child, even a short period seemed like a major part of his life. Some children were anxious to return home. Other children were not happy to come home at all. Sometimes the relatives did not want for the children to return home. This did not end immediately after the War. Many parents, especially in cities, found it difficult to support their children and might send to live with family in the country.
Displaced children during World War II were also cared for in Catholic boarding schools where they were well cared for. The children at these French schools and institutins were often better treated and fed than the population in general. The movie Au revoir les enfants recounts a true story of a Catholic boarding school trying to hide a Jewish boy. He was reported and dramaticly taken away by the S.S. (as was the head master of the school) and of course never came back. (The noted French director Louis Malle's was a boy at the school and the film in his memories of his relationship with the Jewish boy.) The boys and girls were divided. The boys were cared for by Catholic brothers and the girls by Catholic sisters.
Notice that the German occupation authorities never interfered or threatened French schools and the few orphanages that existed--except as part of their efforts to find Jews. (Note German policies varied greatly in different countries. In Poland, for example, schools were closed. Many teachers and professors were arrested and killed as part of the NAZI policy of exterminating the Polish intelegencia and cultural life.)
Tuberculosis through he 1940s was a terrible sourge throughout Europe and the United States. There was no real treatment for the disease. As a result, there ere many centers, sanatoria, and preventoria established for treating patients. Children were often sent to these centers for tretment. In other cases children were sent to live with reaktives in what was considered healthy country environments. Sometimes these stays could be for extended periods.
It seems that in many of the sanatoria, he concern was primarily clinical. The children involved now rport tht there was little affection and separtion from thei parents was very painful. Sometimes if the family was well off, a parent might accompany a child placed in one of the sanatoria. This subject was treated in the classic French film, Le Souffle Au Coeur ("Mummer of the Heart").
There are two French Governments which have to be considerd. The first was the government set up in Vichy during 1940 to administer the area of France not initially occupied by the Germans. The second was the Free French authorities that took over after liberation.
One has to say that the French Vichy officials often many French collabored with the Germans to seek out Jews and communists. The Communists (after the invasion of Russia in June 1941) were very active in the resistance.
After France was liberated in June-August 1944, some orphanages were opened by "Assistance Publique". This institution no longer exsists. Today children who are orphaned or more commonly not being well cared for by their parents are placed with foster families under the supervision of goverment aithorities. Those children who lost their Parents were called "Les pupilles de la nation" (pupils of the nation) and were looked after as much as possible after the War. The French Government granted many adventages for their current life and career. The Government orphanages ("l'assistance publique") opened for the children didn't mix boys and girls. In this way, brothers and sisters couldn't be together. A French reader growing up in the late 1940s recalls many actions to assist the pupilles de la Nation and to fight tubrtculosis. The boys placed in the "Assistance publique" wore a uniform consisting of a cap and short pants. Despite all the assistance, those children were traumatized. A classic movie telling one of these cases Les jeux interdits. Virtually every French person has seen this film and the music is known through the world. A French reader tells HBC that it is not possible to see this picture without some emotion.
Many French children were killed by the NAZIs in the Holocaust or were orphaned. Even more harrowing was the plight of foreign Jews in France. Here it was not just the NAZIs, but Vichy authorities enthusiastically joined in the persecution of the Jews. France is unique among all the countries which experienced the Holocaust. France was the only defeated Allied
country whose government actively assisted the NAZIs. After the French surrender. The Vichy authorities actively assisted the NAZIs track down and deport Jews.
The Catholic Church played an important role in carrying for displaced children. This was especially important during emergency situations such as the fall of France and then the figting that followed D-Day and the liberatiin of France. Here we see a Churchcarrying for displced children near Brest (figure 1). Gradually as DeGualle and the Fee French established arovisional government, more permanent facilities with Government finding could be established.
France was occupied by NAZI Germany for over 4 years (1940-44). The French people were shocked by the collapse of the French Army (June 1940). After the Armistice, most of the French people thought the War was lost and the only alternative was to make an accomodation with the Germans. Most French people supported Maréchal Pétain and the Vichy Government which attempted to do just this. The Germand had no difficulty in the first years of the occupation. French Vichy authorities and the police ( Gendarmeries ) cooperated with the German occupation authorities. Unlike the German policies in the East, the Germans in France made efforts to behave correctly. The Armistace signed with the French was the only armistace the NAZIs signed with any occupied country. The terms were harsh, but not draconian. German soldiers for the most part behaved correctly. There were no rapes or widespread looting carried out against ordinary French civilians. Hitler personally ordered the occupation authorities to behave correctly. During that period there were of course many liasons between the German soldiers. These liasons were never looked on favorabbly by the French, but at first they were not as negatively viewed as they were in the later years of the occupation. It is not difficult to understan what happened. After the Armistace, the French Army surrendered and over 2million French soldiers were transported to the Reich as POWs. Later French workers, mostly men, were conscripted to do war work in the Reich. Many French women had to find jobs to support themselves and their families. Left alone many French women were impverished and lonely. At the same time German occupation soldiers with spending money were themselves lonely and seeking affection. These men were heathly and vigorous. The result was not brutal behavior on the part of the Germans. There was rostitution, but in most cases there were loving relationships. These relationships did not result in marriage. German military regulations prohibited this. There were, however, marriages after the War, although ant-German sentiment in France and depressed economic conditions in Gemany complicated this. There were about 0.2 million children born during the War with German fathers. Most were born in France, but a smaller number were born in Germany or Austria where French women did forced labor. Himmler was interested in adopting many of these children through the Lebensborn program. This presumbably would have been instititionalized had the the War gone differently. A French source suggests that today about 1 million French citizens have German ancestry, including these children and their descendents. A French reader writes, "I must be say, the French attitude was not honorable concerning these children. Some of the mothers went to Germany and there the children were normally well accepted. Most of the mothers stayed in France. Here the mothers and their children were looed down on. They were called " enfants de boche ". We French should be ashamed of this. France very often give advices to the wold, but we do not alwats set a good example."
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