As early as 1933, several relief organizations were established to aid German Jews—particularly Jewish children. In Great Britain, the Central British Fund for German Jewry was set up, and at first its goal was to help Jews stuck in Nazi Germany. This group would later form the backbone of the so-called Kindertransport, which would bring roughly 10,000 refugee children from Germany, Austria, Poland, and the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Britain to survive the war. The vast majority of these children were Jewish.1 Other groups such as the Society of Friends (the Quakers), the Catholic Committee for Refugees from Germany, the Inter-Aid Committee for Children, and the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany were also active during the prewar period.
These non-Jewish, faith-based groups engaged in rescue efforts, and Jews organized rescue efforts of their own. Sometimes these groups drew upon earlier, prewar organizations. In France, the Organisation de Secours aux Enfants (OSE) built on its previous work that dated back to its founding in 1912 in Saint Petersburg. Its mission was to provide medical care to Jews in persecuted lands. During the war, this medical mission expanded to include the care of Jewish children.
While it began as an effort to take in central and eastern European Jewish refugees living in France, the work of OSE soon expanded to children fleeing the German occupation of France in June 1940. By November 1941, OSE was responsible for over 2,000 Jewish children throughout France. The children’s homes that OSE administered were meant to be temporary, but in many cases they became longer-term homes for orphaned children whose parents had been deported and killed.2
This amateur footage shows German Jewish refugee boys arriving at a chateau owned by Count Hubert Conquere de Monbrison in the town of Quincy-sous-Sénart, located about 20 miles south of Paris. Count de Monbrison and his wife, Princess Irene Palay, had previously used their estate to house young, non-Jewish refugee girls from the Russian and Spanish civil wars. In 1939, de Monbrison was approached by his children's Jewish physician, who was a member of the board of OSE. He asked whether the count would take in a group of 40 German Jewish refugee children. The count agreed, and the transport of young boys arrived on July 4, 1939. Quincy served as a Jewish children's home until September 1940, when the German army requisitioned the chateau after the German occupation of France. The boys were then relocated to other OSE homes.
The footage shown here is part of a much larger film which appears to have been made for the specific purpose of depicting a typical day in the life of the OSE children's home. It features non-Jewish refugee children as well, including their leisurely morning rituals, meals, and festive dance costumes. This selection featuring the Jewish boys connects to a larger narrative of a "day in the life" of this Chateau and its regular activities.
This extremely short selection is a unique record that leaves us with far more questions than answers. In the color footage, we see young boys with name cards around their necks being helped out of a bus and into the estate. The entrance to the chateau itself is decorated as if to welcome them. The full fate of each of these children is unknown. The reason why the footage was created is also unknown. We might understand this film as a unique record of rescue today, but how was it understood at the time? What was the larger purpose of the film as a whole? Where did these young boys come from, and what was their experience up to this point? While we may never know the answers to these questions, this short piece of footage challenges us to rethink the established narrative of children and rescue.