Most people today feel empathy for the victims of the Nazi mass murders 70 years ago – but few are aware that more than 1 million Jewish children were among those murdered. And none of us can really imagine how it felt to be a persecuted youngster in central Europe in the 1940’s.
In “The Children of La Hille – Eluding Nazi Capture during World War II” author Walter Reed takes the reader along on the heretofore unknown escapes of some 100 Jewish children and teenagers from Germany and Austria – first to Belgium in 1938-39, then to southern France when the German Wehrmacht invaded the western countries in May 1940. About 20 of the youngsters were brought to the USA through the efforts of a caring Belgian Committee woman in 1941-42.
Soon after the Nazis started the mass murders of European Jews in the Poland gas chambers in early 1942, the 40 older boys and girls of La Hille were arrested by French gendarmes and taken to the nearby Le Vernet holding camp. All the Le Vernet inmates were deported and murdered in Poland, but young Swiss rescuers managed to free the 40 girls and boys and return them to La Hille.
With courageous help from their Swiss and French caretakers 23 La Hille teenagers were then able to flee (illegally) across the heavily guarded Franco-Swiss border and a dozen escaped on foot across the Pyrenees to Spain. Others were hidden by courageous French farmers until the Allied victory in 1945.
Only 11 of the 100-plus La Hille boys and girls were deported and murdered in Poland, a miracle in the history of the Holocaust.
Author Walter Reed (who was one of the La Hille children able to get away to the USA in 1941) takes the reader through the agony of parents sending their children away to save them and details the courage and devotion of the wealthy Belgian women who hosted and later saved them. He provides an intimate look into the feelings and tribulations of persecuted youngsters, their lives in the Vichy France exile and the incredible courage and escapes of so many of the youngsters.
The discovery of personal diaries, long hidden archives and other voluminous documentation makes this book a landmark description of how Nazi persecution was aimed at innocent Jewish children – but in this case with dramatic rescues and escapes.