One might think that these drawings were made by children of today, but they are the last traces of the lives of the children of the Izieu colony, the Jewish children rounded up in 1944 and murdered in Auschwitz.
Dominique Vidaud, current director of the House of Izieu: “We arrive at a great place where the children left traces of happiness. It is a totally unique site of the Shoah. The paints, the watercolors, the crayons, etc. have left marks that are incredibly fresh, it looks like kids just drew them.”
A retreat with the atmosphere of a summer camp, despite the context
It is a large, isolated house in a rural idyll on the banks of the Rhône and at the foot of the Chartreuse massif. From 1943 to 1944, this house housed dozens of Jewish children, many of them orphans, fleeing the war.
Dominique Vidaud, commenting on a drawing: “We see how the stork carrying this little child on his back strikes down a wolf. And if you go back to the back of the drawing, there is a dedication from Max Teitelbaum, a child from Antwerp, Belgium. Max dedicated this drawing to his brother Hermann, who had just turned 10 years old, he wrote to him ‘for your 10th birthday I’m giving you this drawing, I hope you like it, keep it forever’. That ‘keep it always’ resonates extremely loudly.”
On April 6, 1944, a few months after his 10th birthday, Herman, his brother Max, together with 42 Jewish children and the adults accompanying them, were rounded up by the Gestapo and taken to Drancy before they left for the extermination camps.
Dominique Vidaud : “There is a very beautiful drawing, it is an Indian encamped on a hill. It is treated with extremely strong, extremely contrasting colors. The headdress of the Indians is decorated with magnificent feathers of all colors. The Indian is in such a position, he’s so solid with this rock he’s standing on, it feels like something unshakable.
But the drawings in question are far more cheerful and colorful than might be expected given the context in which they were made.
Dominique Vidaud : “Curiously, most of the drawings make no reference to the current war the children are experiencing, no reference to their previous situation, to the fact that many of them were interned in camps, for example. We’re somewhere else. We are in the imagination, in their film or book culture, we are in the fairy tales, there is Puss in Boots.
The only allowed luxury
Despite the war all around, the misery, the severe winter, the children live in a holiday camp atmosphere, supervised by a few adults, including Miron and Sabine Zlatin, two Jewish resistance fighters. Sabine Zlatin, herself a painter, makes sure that the children never run out of paper and colored pencils. She says it’s the only luxury they can afford.
Dominique Vidaud : “We are not in Anne Frank’s diary, we are really in something else. In addition, the children are not in hiding, they can move about freely, even in the nearby village, they go down in the Rhone to swim in the summer, everyone knows them.”
In the evening, everyone gathers for a presentation of stories drawn using the Lantern Magic method.
Dominique Vidaud : “There is Ivan Tsarevich, the story of a war between Russian Cossacks and Crimean Tatars, there is another story of bandits in the United States, and finally a story inspired by the film captain blood with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, filmed in the 1930s, so you see extremely different influences.”
Sabine Zlatin was not present on the day of the raid. A few weeks later, she returns to the scene of the crime, retrieves the drawings and the letters. She keeps them at home without touching them for more than 40 years.
It wasn’t until 1987 and the trial of Klaus Barbie, the mastermind behind the crime, that these testimonies surfaced again. During the trial, attorney Serge Klarsfeld read one of these letters, signed by Liliane Gerenstein, 11, and asked God to protect her parents: “Bring back my parents, my poor parents, that they do not suffer, my parents who are so good, protect them even more than myself.”