Young children play ouside the children's home in Vence.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 49514
1941 - 1942
- Vence, [Alpes-Maritimes; Nice] France
- Photo Designation
INVASION & OCCUPATION -- France -- OSE/Children's Homes -- Vence
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Joseph Fisera
Young children play ouside the children's home in Vence.
- Joseph Fisera, the son of Protestant schoolmaster, was born on June 4, 1912 in the small village of Kluky, Czechoslovakia. His family was committed to social action and the defense of minority rights. Joseph attended a French high school and studied law at the University of Prague. He was also interested in teaching mentally disturbed and abused children. During the Spanish Civil War, Mr. Fisera spent several months in Spain with a Czech organization called the Relief Committee for Republican Spain, which sent doctors, nurses and fully equipped hospitals to help those fighting against Franco. After his return, he traveled around Czechoslovakia and other countries, lecturing about the war and trying to raise support for the Republic of Spain. After the Munich Pact in 1938, the Czech government confiscated his passport since he was close to Mazaryk and the Social Democratic Party. He succeeded in getting it back and quickly fled to France via Austria before his country was totally occupied by the Germans on March 15, 1939. He contacted various Czech organizations in Paris and enrolled in the Sorbonne. When war broke out in September 1939, Mr. Fisera was director of a children's summer camp in Brittany. The children were kept there for three more months since it seemed dangerous to bring them back to Paris. Mr. Fisera finally got back to Paris and started making radio broadcasts, encouraging Czech immigrants to enlist in a special Czech division of the French army.
On June 17, 1940, the day France signed an armistice with the Nazis, he headed south trying to save the Czech military archives, but the German army overtook him, and he had to return to Paris. Early in 1941, Mr. Fisera went to Marseilles, in the unoccupied zone, to find a refuge for some of the refugee children who were pouring into France. Many of them were the children of Czech miners working in Belgium, but approximately 60% were Jewish children fleeing with their families. Joseph Fisera also established resistance networks for escaping soldiers, political refugees and Jews together with several Protestant pastors in the Alps Maritimes, near Vence, including Charles Monod, Pierre Toureille, Robert Cuche, Jean-Jacques Bovet, Pierre Gagnier, Edouard Benignus, Albert Chaudier and Emmanuel Jordan. With the help of the Czech government in exile in London, OSE, the JDC, antifascist prefects and assistant prefects and especially, Donald Lowrie (one of the representatives of the Y.M.C.A. in France and a delegate of the America Friends of Czechoslovakia), he created the Protestant relief organization, MACE or Maison d'Accueil Cretienne pour Enfants. An abandoned school, once belonging to the pedagogue Celestin Freinet, and an abandoned farm at the Chateau de Vaugrenier at Villeneuve-Loubet were put at his disposition. Other relief groups, both Christian and Jewish, provided financial assistance. Money came through Geneva, London and the United States. MACE also ran a boarding school for girls and a separate one for boys as well as a nursery, "Le Roseval", for small children in Vence. Mr. Fisera hired a group of excellent teachers, handymen and field hands to keep his little community together, which functioned like a kibbutz. There was religious instruction but no one was forced to attend and baptismal certificates were obtained only for purposes of safety. His staff included soldiers who had escaped from German prison camps, Czech students and Jews in hiding. Miss Julie Herman, who had many years of experience caring for small children, played an important role in organizing these activities. Ethel Zloczower, a Romanian Jew, and Karol Pajer, a Slovak soldier, also worked with the children. Andre Fontanier, one of Mr. Fisera's friends, told him that children were being interned in camps in Noe, Gurs, Agde, Le Vernet, and Rivesaltes. Some were non-Jewish children of Czech miners, Spanish Republicans or refugees from the Southern Carpatian area of Russia. Joseph Fisera enlisted the help of Marc Freund-Valade, the son of an Alsatian pastor, who served as regional police commissioner in Nice and later regional prefect in the Limousin. Mr. Freund-Valade gave his the authorization to enter these camps, especially Rivesaltes, and release the names of those on his lists. Fisera sometimes succeeded in liberating entire families.
Later, when the Italians left the zone in September 1943, and the Germans moved in, the entire group of 150 children were quickly uprooted and scurried 910 kilometers away to the Creuse. One teacher, Adrienne Montagude, was from that region and rented the Chateua du Theil in Saint Agnant, near Crocq. With the help of the mayor of Vence, Colonel Henri Einesy, General Goudot, and railroad employees all along the route, the group escaped without harm. Some of the Jewish children had already been placed with non-Jewish families before they left the area. Clemet Vasserot, an antifascist who became Prefect of the Creuse, protected them. A month after their arrival in October 1943, Mr. Fisera was arrested at 6:00am by SS troops and the French militia, la Brigade Detmarre. He was questioned and pistol-whipped, but the Prefect Freund-Balade succeeded in getting him released with the stern warning that he go into hiding. Fisera joined the Rossi resistance group in Gascogne and worked with them until the liberation of Paris in 1944. From September 1944 till late 1945, Mr. Fisera was second in command at the Czech consulate of the government in exile in Paris. He continued to take care of children and refugees with funds from the Czechs and the Protestant organization CIMADE at summer camps in the Basses-Pyrenees, at St. Pierre d'Uribe near Bayonne. One of his tasks was to find some of the Jewish children placed with non-Jewish families. Many were later sent to Israel or the United States. He also helped care for the Buchenwald children in Ecouis. Mr.Fisera resigned from his functions at the Czech consulate when the Communists seized power in March 1948. In 1986 Yad Vashem honored him as Righteous Among the Nations.
[Source: "A Short Biography of Joseph Fisera", Frankston, Peggy; unpublished article]
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Joseph Fisera
Record last modified: 2004-09-24 00:00:00
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