The Abbe Center for Jewish Life presented the documentary The Children of Chabannes, which tells the story of a group of French villagers who saved the lives of more than 400 Jewish children during World War II. The film’s director Lisa Gossels joined the HWS community and led a discussion following the film’s showing on Jan. 29 in the Geneva Room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library. Gossels’ father and uncle were two of the children saved by the people of Chabannes.
“The film presents a beautiful story—one that reminds us that even in the darkest of times, people can come together across lines of religion, culture, nationality and language in recognition of our common humanity,” says Director of the Abbe Center Julianne Miller, who thanked event co-sponsors HWS Hillel, the Human Rights and Genocide Symposium, the French and Francophone Studies Club and the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation.
The residents of Chabannes, a small village in unoccupied France during World War II, banded together to work with a Jewish child welfare organization to shelter, nurture and educate 400 refugee children who had been separated from their parents. The film uses interviews with historians, teachers and some of the children themselves to recreate the joys and fears of their daily life in the village.
The 1999 film won a number of awards, including an Emmy for Outstanding Historical Programming. It was named Best Documentary at both the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival and the Hollywood Film Awards, and won Best Feature Film at the Avignon Film Festival and Best Feature at the Nantucket Film Festival.
Despite the presence of Nazi brutality in France during the war, Miller believes that films like The Children of Chabannes shine a light on lesser-known examples of those who behaved heroically during the war.
“The people of Chabannes did what I think we all would like to do when presented with a similar situation—and in seeing their story, we are inspired,” she says. “When we study the Holocaust, we cannot ignore the ugliness and brutality—but it is important to know that in those terrible times, there were people who took great personal risk to stand up for what was right and to save others.”
The event was free and open to the public.