“Fanny’s Journey” is a French movie about the Holocaust (Shoah) in France during WWII. Many Jewish families prior to being arrested left their children in the hands of orphanages that sprung up in the Vichy section of France. Often these were run by non-Jews who sheltered the Jewish children at the risk of their own lives. The Jewish children were given French names that did not sound Jewish. When the Germans occupied Vichy France in 1943 the lives of these children became precarious. Fanny was one of those children who at 12 years old was looking after her two younger sisters. The loose organization that protected these children decided to move all of the children if possible to Switzerland, although they were told not to reveal the destination, but that they were going for a vacation in the mountains.
Fanny is taken with a group in a truck to the railway station, but there the lady in charge pretends to faint to draw attention of the gendarmes away from the children who get on the train. A teenage boy is now in charge of the group, but at some point when he sees German soldiers on the train he panics and runs away. This leaves Fanny in charge. When they get to a station they are told everyone must disembark because the resistance has blown up a bridge They are directed to take a bus to Lyon. but Fanny decides this is too dangerous and so they take a freight train that is going to their destination.
When they arrive they are taken on a truck which is intercepted by the French gendarmes who suspect that they are Jewish. However, Fanny attracts the attention of a nun who takes them in and gives them food. They soon escape and once again set out. Fanny leads them into the woods, going ever higher into the mountains. They find a small isolated cabin to stay in, but some of the children in their hunger eat berries that make them sick. Fanny goes to find a local farmer and asks him what to do. He says they will recover in a few days and he lets them stay in his barn. But, then the Germans arrive and they must leave again. One of the boys has a cache of money so they bribe a smuggler to take them to the Swiss border, and they run the last distance to the border. The film ends with a video of Fanny as an older woman now living in Israel.
It should be noted that these were only a few of the tens of thousands of Jewish children throughout the length and breadth of Europe who were hunted down and murdered by the national forces of all the countries occupied by the Germans (see “Run, Boy, Run,” IsBlog, Oct 26). During this period the Head of the Gestapo in Lyon, Klaus Barbie, was known as the “butcher of Lyon.” It was his practice to take Jewish children down to the river and throw them in to drown. He personally ordered the arrest and deportation to Auschwitz of an orphanage of 44 Jewish children from the village of Izieu, that was considered a crime against humanity and he was captured and tried in 1987 and died in prison in 1991.
Note also that the Swiss authorities returned thousands of Jewish refugees to Germany knowing they were sending them to their deaths. Of the approximately 6 million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust, ca. 1.5 million of them were children.