As early as 1933, several relief organizations were established to aid Jews, particularly Jewish children. In Great Britain, the Central British Fund for German Jewry was set up and initially aimed to help Jews remaining in the Reich. This group formed the backbone of what would become the Kindertransport, which brought 9,000-10,000 Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Poland, and Sudetenland Czechoslovakia to Britain to survive the war, approximately 7,500 of whom 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, the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany were also active during the prewar (and in some cases, wartime) period, to name only a few.
While these non-Jewish, faith based groups engaged in rescue, Jews also organized rescue efforts of their own. Sometimes these groups drew upon earlier, prewar organizations. Other times, they emerged during the war itself. In France, the Organisation de Secours aux Enfants, or OSE, built on its previous work that dated back to its founding in 1912 in Saint Petersburg and aimed 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 in France, their work soon expanded to children fleeing the Nazi occupation of the country in June of 1940. Indeed, by November of 1941, OSE was responsible for over 2,000 Jewish children housed throughout France. While initially meant as a temporary respite from war-torn regions, the children’s homes that the OSE administered became, in many cases, homes for orphaned children whose parents were deported to French internment camps and then, in many cases, to the killing centers.2
This amateur footage of German Jewish refugee boys arriving to a chateau owned by Count Hubert Conquere de Monbrison in the town of Quincy-sous-Sénart, located about 20 miles south of Paris, depicts young boys disembarking to one such children's home that agreed to accept Jews through OSE's program. Count Hubert Conquere de Monbrison and his wife, the 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 the OSE, and asked whether he would take in a group of forty 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, following the German occupation of France, the chateau was requisitioned by the German army. 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 ritual, 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. Left unknown is the full fate of each of these children. Equally unknown is the reason behind the footage in the first place: to what end was this moment recorded? While today, we understand this film as a unique record of rescue, how was this 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, the film opens up these avenues of inquiry, and challenges us, in its scant 29 seconds, to rethink the established narrative of children and rescue.