World War II as a child

• We the children of war. 1939-1945

by Dominique Missika and Bénédicte Vergez-Chaignon

Tallandier, € 24.90

We know in broad outline the history of this France caught in the storm of the Second World War. But there are few books that take us through this troubled period from start to finish – with its acts of bravery and its worst villains – under the unique prism of children. Of all children, from Jewish children forced to hide under a false identity in an attempt to avoid, sometimes in vain (1), deportation, to those who grew up in a collaborationist family or were born of a relationship with a German soldier who saw themselves as “bastards of Boches”.

The school, propaganda tool in the service of Pétain

This is the contribution of the book We war children, of Dominique Missika, historian and editor, and Bénédicte Vergez-Chaignon, specialist in France of the Occupation. Richly illustrated, divided into short chapters that are read in one go, it mobilizes archival documents (letters, drawings, essays, etc.), extracts from books, propaganda posters, to shed light on the daily lives of these young people. beings in the throes of deprivation, of the fear that tugs them to the bottom of the cellars at the time of the bombing, to the pain of being cut off from a father taken prisoner or from relatives who will not return.

A crowd movement on the roads of the exodus and destiny can change… There are 90,000 “lost” children. It sometimes takes years before the family can be reunited again with one of these classified ads massively published in the press.

Of course, the book gives pride of place to school. A school that, at the start of the conflict, only admits children with gas masks – the trauma of the Great War remains alive. A school which especially, after the defeat of 1940, is transformed, in the free zone, into a propaganda tool in the service of Pétain, whose portrait is invited in the classes. The infamous Marshal, here we are! extends to blotters, notebooks or pen holders bearing the image of “Savior of France”.

Still children, already resistant

In middle or high school, however, some refuse to sing the marshal’s anthem, at the cost of zero conduct, or embolden themselves to stealthily cross the blackboard of a “Long live de Gaulle!” “. In fact, children and adolescents are not always kept out of the “big stuff.” Especially in families who have chosen the Resistance and who teach them disobedience. “The most resourceful give a hand, carry ration tickets, false papers intended for newcomers, keep watch on their bikes”, observe the authors.

The gravity that can be seen on the faces, according to the photos, does not prevent children from playing. Even if it is a question of playing war or the merchant selling secretly butter or eggs. Some even transform traditional games like this Tickets please! revisiting the principle of Goose game, with the reward, on the finish line, an imaginary meal …

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