The Mar­cel Net­work: How One French Cou­ple Saved 527 Chil­dren from the Holocaust

Fred Cole­man
  • Review
By – March 15, 2013

Both books under review take place in the Free Zone” in France, the south­ern part of the coun­try to which Jews fled feel­ing that they were safer than in the north, the Occu­pied Zone.” 

Hunt­ing Down the Jews is about the French Mafia of Mar­seille who were paid by the Nazis to round up the Jews and deliv­er them to Nazi SS Com­man­der Rolf Müh­ler. Evi­dent­ly, the French police in this zone were too lax in arrest­ing Jews and so the Ger­mans turned to French crim­i­nals to do the job. The impe­tus for the book is the arrest of a Pol­ish Jew­ish woman, Sarah Lewen­del, who had tak­en refuge in the south and slashed her wrists as she was being arrest­ed. They missed her lit­tle son who grew up to inves­ti­gate the crime and to write this book. The entire book con­sists of the metic­u­lous research that he, a sci­en­tist and an author, did to inves­ti­gate the his­tor­i­cal facts of his mother’s arrest and the plight of the Jews at that time and in that place. On the oth­er hand, the Ital­ian sol­diers, Axis part­ners guard­ing the sec­tion of Nice clos­est to Italy, were kind to the Jews, arrest­ing them only to intern them in the moun­tains and vil­lages of Italy, safe and fed as well as the rest of the town. As an adult, the author had already pub­lished an inves­tiga­tive his­tor­i­cal mem­oir, Not the Ger­mans Alone. A metic­u­lous researcher, he col­lab­o­rat­ed with his co-author in this study of the very men, all French gang­sters of Mar­seilles, who kid­napped and pos­si­bly mur­dered his moth­er. Lev­en­del devotes a sec­tion to each of the Mafia crim­i­nals who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the deliv­er­ing of Jews to the Ger­mans or mur­der­ing them upon cap­ture. Their boss was the arch vil­lain Charles Palmieri. The author claims that the French police, the Mil­ice, played a minor role in round­ing up the Jews, not enough to sat­is­fy their Ger­man mas­ters and describes fif­teen cas­es where the Mil­ice helped Jews in danger.

After read­ing the pre­vi­ous book, read­ing The Mar­cel Net­work helps one to emerge from the dis­heart­en­ment of Hunt­ing Down the Jews. It is a book about a young Jew­ish cou­ple who, with the help of the Catholic Church, French Chris­tians, and oth­er Jews, saved 527 Jew­ish chil­dren. Warned by Dom Giulio Pen­i­ten­ti, an Ital­ian priest who, serv­ing as a chap­lain to Ital­ian troops fight­ing along­side the Ger­mans on the Sovi­et front, had wit­nessed the Nazis lin­ing up twen­ty-three Jew­ish chil­dren and slaugh­ter­ing them with machine guns. The Ital­ian sol­diers, includ­ing Mussolini’s son-in-law, were appalled by this, caus­ing Ribben­trop, the Ger­man for­eign min­is­ter, to com­plain to Mus­soli­ni that the Ital­ian mil­i­tary lacked a prop­er under­stand­ing of the Jew­ish Ques­tion.” Mean­while, in Nice, the Ital­ian troops con­tin­ued to oppose deport­ing civil­ians and did what they could to slow down depor­ta­tion to gas cham­bers by arrest­ing Jews and send­ing them to the moun­tain towns of Italy. The French police­men, how­ev­er, were now deliv­er­ing for­eign-born Jews to the Ger­mans. Mous­sa Aba­di, a Jew­ish grad­u­ate stu­dent from Syr­ia, had obtained false I.D. papers. He and Odette Rosen­stock, his fiancée, a French-born recent med­ical school grad­u­ate, could not stand idly by and see Jew­ish chil­dren slaugh­tered. Aba­di con­ceived of a plan and they formed the Mar­cel Net­work.” The account of what they did and who helped them and how, plus their many escapes from dan­ger has been gath­ered from many sources. These two young peo­ple saved 527 chil­dren. This is a book you won’t want to miss.

Addi­tion­al Title Fea­tured in Review

Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

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