Memories of childhood in wartime

- Digital communication campaign -

Children in the making of Europe

23rd August

On the occasion of the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, the REMECHILD project has launched the first digital communication campaign “Children in the Construction of Europe”. On this day we have remembered and honoured the victims through three stories. 

Ada Marchesini, victim of Nazism

Arrested in Milan, in February 1944, Ada was one of the many women arrested in accordance with the Italian police directive of 1943, which ordered the internment of Jews in camps. Taken to San Vittore prison and then to Fossoli camp, Ada was deported and murdered in Auschwitz, in August 1944.  She was survived by the letters that she wrote to her husband from Fossoli and which describe life in the camp, marked by the pain of separation, hope, fear and uncertainty. In her last letter, she said:  

My Beppi, how I would like to have seen you once more before my departure! How I would have wished for news of our treasure and of all my family and yours! This has not been granted me and I depart with my thoughts and heart filled with you, my loved ones, and no idea if or when I shall see you again.

© Fondazione Fossoli 

The children of the Maison d'Izieu

The Maison d’Izieu, founded by Sabine and Miron Zlatin, took in more than a hundred Jewish children to save them from anti-Semitic persecution between May 1943 and April 1944. On the morning of 6 April 1944, the 44 children and 7 teachers of the colony were arrested and deported on the orders of Klaus Barbie, one of the heads of the Lyon Gestapo. With the exception of two teenagers and Miron Zlatin, who were shot in Reval (Tallinn) in Estonia, the group was deported to Auschwitz. Only one adult, Léa Feldblum, returned. All the others were killed on arrival. Pursued and brought to France by Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, with the help of Fortunée Benguigui and Ita-Rosa Halaunbrenner, mothers of children from the colony, Klaus Barbie was brought before the French courts. With the help of numerous witnesses, he was tried and convicted in Lyon in 1987 for crimes against humanity. This trial definitively anchored the Izieu raid in French memory. In March 1988, following the trial, Sabine Zlatin created the association “Musée-Mémorial des enfants d’Izieu”. Since the decree issued by the President of the French Republic on 3 February 1993, the Maison d’Izieu is, together with the former Vélodrome d’Hiver and the former Gurs internment camp, one of the three sites of national memory of the victims of racist and anti-Semitic persecution and crimes against humanity committed with the complicity of the Vichy government, known as the “Government of the French State” (1940-1944).

© Maison d’Izieu

Luis Iriondo, child survivor of the bombing of Gernika (26 April 1937)

During the Spanish Civil War, the small town of Gernika suffered a terrifying bombardment that destroyed 85% of its buildings, as well as causing many casualties. Luis Iriondo Aurtenetxe was born and lived in Gernika until the day of the bombing on 26 April 1937.  

How long did it last, and didn’t bombardments, like everything else, have a time limit? Next to me there was a militiaman, leaning on the sacks and staring at the ground, lost in thought, and I thought he would know. 

– Will it be long before it’s over? -I said.  

I thought that because of his experience in the war, he would be able to answer my question. He looked at me, looked back at the ground and didn’t answer.  

After what I thought was an infinite amount of time, the explosions finally stopped. After a while of waiting, the militiaman said to me:  

-It seems to be over now.  

When I came out of the sacks to the outside, I stopped in terror. The whole village was in flames. A cloud of smoke covered the sky. I didn’t know if the end of the bombing would be definitive and I started to run past the demolished stalls of the shopkeepers and ran towards the stairs next to the girls’ schools that led up to the Casa de Juntas and from there to the road to Lumo and out into the countryside. As I passed by the “sacafaltas” without stopping, I looked down and saw that the whole of Gernika was a bonfire. 

 The people fleeing the town were heading in the same direction. Next to the Udetxea fountain, a shiny object caught my eye. I approached it and saw that it was like a metal tube. It was broken and a white mass was coming out of it. It was an incendiary bomb. According to what I read years later, 3,000 bombs like that one were thrown, as well as another 50,000 kilos of explosive bombs. 

© Fundación Museo de la Paz de Gernika 

Presentation of the REMEMCHILD project

REMEMCHILD is a larger project that aims to recover the trajectories, experiences and memories of children during wartime conflicts, with a special focus on the Second World War and the immediate post-war period, in Western and Eastern Europe, in occupied and collaborationist countries, later liberated by the Allies. Within the tragedy of children – the most innocent, vulnerable and defenceless group of the civilian population – the project focuses on Jewish and Roma children, victims of the Holocaust and Porraimos, respectively; children vulnerable to Nazi policies and persecution – children with physical/mental disabilities, children subjected to medical experiments, and Resistance collaborators. WWII had other consequences on them as internees, displaced persons, refugees, exiles, orphans, or victims/survivors of bombing and famine, etc. These children’s figures will be dealt with alongside those of women, victims and survivors of Nazism, resistance fighters and combatants, health workers and doctors, rearguard workers, humanitarian aid volunteers, and mothers, protectors and carers of children. The extensive work carried out by the women invites an in-depth reflection on this group of fighters for peace and for the protection of children’s rights, and symbols of European humanist values such as solidarity, humanity, peace and voluntary work. The project is intended as a tribute to women and children, fundamental groups in the reconstruction of Europe and the construction of peace.