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Los Angeles Times, Nov. 23, 2000
All for the sake of the children: A French village's courageous efforts to shelter Jewish youngsters during WWII is chronicled in a documentary days presentation by film critic Kevin Thomas

Lisa Gossels' The Children of Chabannes, one of the most heartening Holocaust films ever made, continues the Laemmle Theaters' current Documentary Days series, which has offered some of the year's finest documentaries.

Chabannes, which screens at 10 a.m. Friday and Saturday at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood immediately brings to mind Pierre Sauvage's Weapons of the Spirit in that it also chronicles a doughty French community that gave refuge to Jews during World War II.

Chabannes is a tiny village in the Creuse, a remote, beautiful and unspoiled region in central France with a strong spirit of independence, freedom and justice carried over from the early days of the French republic and reinforced by the precepts of Freemasonry.

Geographically and politically, it was the ideal location for the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants, or OSE, a Jewish social service organization that brought 400 Jewish refugee children to the village between 1939 and 1943. Under the direction of Felix Chevrier, a Freemason and courageous journalist, the town's fine old chateau became a home for the children, who ranged from 2 to 17.

Chevrier, who was 56 when he established the shelter, died in 1962, but four principal colleagues and his secretary appear in the film. They are the elegant and vivacious Paillassou sisters, Reine and Renee, who were local schoolteachers; Rachel Pludermacher, the first teacher recruited by the OSE to instruct Jewish refugee children, and Georges Loinger, also of the OSE, who forsook engineering to teach the children gymnastics so they would be fit if they had to run for their lives or survive a round-up. (The still-vigorous Loinger subsequently helped more than 1,000 Jewish children escape to Switzerland.)

These individuals help to explain how at least 250,000 Jews survived the war in France--even though the Vichy regime helped send 76,000 others to the death camps.

When Gossels, a seasoned documentarian whose father and uncle are Chabannes children, learned of a Chabannes reunion to be held in May 1996, she knew she had to make this splendid, informative and emotionally involving film about people, children and adults alike, who may seem ordinary but who rose to meet extraordinary demands that fate and circumstance demanded of them.

2000, Los Angeles Times


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