Timewatch: The Hidden Children

The four photographs above are probably the last taken of Benno, Rachel, Peter and Suzanne before their lives changed in the most dramatic way imaginable. They were all children in France in 1942 when the decision was taken by the French government not only to help the Nazi occupiers round up Jews, but to round up their children as well. Thousands were sent to camps where they met their deaths. Yet some were saved. Amazingly, these four were among those who were smuggled out of their families, hidden from the Nazis and lived. They never saw their parents again - the parents of all four children were killed. The journey the children took was filled with horror and danger, not only for them but for the organisations and individuals who saved them, some of whom were tortured or killed.

Producer director Jon Hacker and associate producer Florence Gaillard took these four survivors back to the places in rural France where they had been hidden. The visit released memories and emotions for all of them and those experiences, together with their powerful stories, are captured this wonderful 1 hour documentary.

These stories would be shocking if they were about adults. But this film is about four children, aged between six and fourteen. Benno joined the resistance, and his ability to speak German meant he was selected for a dangerous sabbotage mission. Eventually he was captured by the Germans and tortured by having his fingernails ripped out. But he never revealed who had sent him. Rachel vividly remembers the moment when her mother saved her life. They had been rounded up and expected to be sent to the camps with the others held in a cinema. But her mother noticed that some children seemed to have talked the guards into letting them escape, and told Rachel and her sister to do the same. When Rachel protested at the idea of splitting the family up, her mother hit her and insisted. Rachel did escape, but never saw her mother again. Peter played a dangerous game of hide and seek, concealing himself in a bell tower and hiding from the Germans for several days until danger had passed. Eventually he was smuggled over the border into Switzerland; some of the courageous people who helped him were captured and killed.

Suzanne now lives in the UK, but her life has been deeply affected by what happened in Paris as a six year old. She remembers how one day in 1942, when she was just six, her father standing at the window of their apartment said simply "they're here". But as the apartment was invaded and the round-up began, their neighbour rushed in demanding that her naughty daughter come home at once, and dragged Suzanne into her own home next door. This amazing act of bravery probably saved Suzanne's life. She has recently learned the fate of her parents, who after that day were taken to the camps and killed. Suzanne herself was sent to a succession of families in the countryside in an extraordinary arrangement in which the safety of Jewish children was purchased from families willing to take a risk.

This is a teriffic looking film, and is both moving and dramatic. It started some time ago when Suzanne began to tell executive producer Barbara Govan, then a neighbour, about the childhood experiences she had kept secret for sixty years. We'd like to thank all those who took part.

Produced and directed by Jon Hacker

Associate Producer Florence Gaillard

Executive Producers Barbara Govan and Paul Bader

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