Last night, by accident, I watched a French film 'Nina's House' on TV5, the French cable channel. It took me a moment to realize this subtle, incredible film dealt with an exhibition I saw in May at the Mairie of the 3rd Arrondissement in Paris. The exhibit showed photos, documentations of 'Houses of Hope' set up in France during the Occupation but in full steam at Liberation and into the 60's. These 'houses of hope', many in old abandoned chateau, were run for French and Jewish orphans. After the war France accepted many Jewish children (Polish, Rumanian, Russian) freed from the camps who'd lost their families. Some later found them, many didn't. One of them was Elie Wiesel.
But it explored something I've always wondered about...WW2's aftermath - the diaspora, the displaced and the orphans.
Here's more about the film In the waning days of World War II, as the Nazis were pushed east and Jews began to emerge from hiding, the French government established "houses of hope" to care for Jewish children until their parents could be located. "Nina's Home ," dramatizes a year in the life of one such house, and in the process becomes a deeply affecting meditation on cultural identity. What does it mean to be a Jew when you're 9 and your people have been reduced to ash? How much is owed to the past and how much to the future?
The present is a limbo freighted with sorrow and possibility. The film opens in September 1944, when most of the children hold out hope their parents will return from Germany, where they have been sent "to work." The Allies control western France and a contingent of Nazi POWs labor on the grounds, a vivid reminder of recently conquered conquerors who some of the children can't resist tormenting. "The Krauts did plenty worse to us," reasons one boy, to which Nina soberly replies, "Do you want to be like them?"
Nothing connects these kids except their heritage and their suffering. One little girl, obviously hidden by Catholics, crosses herself before each meal. Others are ardent communists. By and large they're secular and cosmopolitan, atheists because they see no reason for God's existence and much evidence to the contrary.
The liberation of the death camps in Poland in early 1945 knocks another leg out from under them; the older children read the newspapers and silently understand they're orphans. Like Nina herself, "Nina's Home" makes room for them all, searching for common ground. It's the work of writer-director Richard Dembo (he won a foreign language Oscar for 1984's "Dangerous Moves "), who died during post-production, yet the film survives its maker as a stark, cohesive experience.
The director follows the children's individual stories with straightforward style, making each narrative thread clear, always circling back to Jaoui's wearily compassionate Nina and to the future coming into focus. Small moments of joy intrude: a visit by the painter Marc Chagall , bearing a milk-cow, leads to an impromptu mural on the wall of a shed. Here's one of those orphan today
But moving to the present after more than 65 years the French government announced EVERY police document from France's time under Nazi occupation is to be digitised and published online.
Thousands of cardboard boxes of documents currently stored in a basement in the Musée de la Police in Paris are to be scanned and uploaded to a website.
They include every police daybook from the period under German occupation, from 1940 to 1944, plus details of arrests, fines, notes from questioning and official reports.
The documents will shed further light on the Gestapo's work in France and the role of the Brigade Spéciale, the force responsible for tracking down resistance workers, dissidents and Jews.
The archives also include full records from the épuration légale, the wave of official trials for collaborators following the fall of the Vichy regime in 1944.
The Paris préfecture de police will begin the major operation to digitise the records in the coming weeks.
It will take several years and the scanned documents will be published in batches from 2015, as they are legally protected for 75 years.
The final batch should therefore be ready by late 2019, to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of France.
As well as improving transparency, the project will also help preserve the archive - the paper used by the police during the Occupation was of a poor quality and some of the documents are beginning to fade.