Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A Jewish-Roman Catholic tussle in post-WWII France -- Une Enfancee Volee láffaire Finaly

Here is a difficult subject to deal with at any time and anywhere in the world. It needs both courage and honesty, and a certain sense of fairness towards all. The story of the Finaly children -- Robert and Gerald -- is a true story, but more complicated and much more nuanced than Schindler's List. In a 90-minute telefilm shown on TV5Monde, Une Enfancee L'Áffaire Finaly looks at the many sides of the story. The parents of the children are killed in the Nazi concentration camps. The children are entrusted to the case of Antoinette Brunn, a Roman Catholic. After the war, she gets them baptised as Roman Catholic Christians. She does this because she likes the children and she feels that she is doing her duty by the children and God. At the same time, she retains her primeval prejudices against the Jews as cultivated among Christians of Europe over the centuries. The aunt of the children now settled in Israel claims her nephews back. Antoinette tells the children going to Israel would mean going to a country where the only thing to do is to break stones. When presented in a court, the children confess that they want to remain in France and they say that they are Christians.
But Moisse Keller who is deputed by the aunt pursues the case through the courts. He discovers that it was permissible to convert Jewish children to Christianity during the Vichy regime and the occupation of Nazis in order to save their lives. But the baptism was done in 1948, three years after the war ended. But Antoinette fights a surreptitious battle with the help of some in the Roman Catholic Church to save these 'Christian souls'!  But they would not break the law! Even as the children are whisked way to the safe haven of Catholic Spain under General Franco where French laws cannot reach, the Pope takes the stand that law must be obeyed and the French cardinal is forced to retrieve the children and given back to the Jewish aunt.
The children go back with her to Israel and grow up to be successful bourgeoisie while Antoinette Brunn is given Legion d'honneur for her work in saving children. Certainly less simple than the work of Schindler, and which Steven Spielberg would find it a little too messy to handle.

The telefilm shows thar ordinary people harbour all sorts of difficult prejudices which are difficult to rationalise and at the same time difficult to deny. But Moise Keller fights for the Jewish children because of the French law that ensures individual rights. The ideological hatred and tenacity between the two sides plays itself out through the courtroom battle and the commitment to abide by the law.
Here is a case where the lives of Jewish children are saved but it seems there is a desire, not entirely ignoble though certainly unfair, to change the faith of the children. The children themselves are tempted to stay with the new faith for a moment! This is indeed an indirect comment on the temptations and desires of the Jews who became Christians in the 19th century, including Karl Marx's father, who became known as assimilated Jews. It is quite a murky story of faith which is more familiar to the tortured European culture than anywhere else.

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