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.