CREATION DATE > 1943-1944
DESCRIPTION > Produced on 12 x 16 cm French style paper, this Asian elephant is signed in blue ink with an underlined Georgy as if to proudly confirm that he is the author.
THE MUSEUM IN > 6 April 2022
DISTINCTIVE SIGNS > This drawing is one of Georgiy’s rare ones. Its fold suggests that it was placed in an envelope addressed to one of his parents.
MORE INFORMATION > Other drawings from the Klarsfeld collection have been exhibited since 2000 at the Imperial War Museum in London. iwm.org.uk
With slightly raised eyebrows and big black eyes, the elephant looks a little surprised. It is frozen in this expression that the pachyderm with the skin tinted in green presents itself. Georges Halpern aka Georgy, aged 7, traced it with carbon paper before coloring it. This drawing, preserved by his parents and then by the lawyer and historian Serge Klarsfeld, is one of the unpublished works exhibited in the Maison d’Izieu (Ain), one of the three sites of national memory of the victims of racist and anti- Semitic persecution and crimes against humanity committed with the complicity of the Vichy government. Seven letters, fourteen photos, some of which are unpublished, accompany it. “As far as I know, there are no other reception centers where the children drew. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Sabine Zlatin, director of the colony, was a painter. She must have offered this activity, so classic for little ones, which enabled them to live, for a time, their childhood, notes Stéphanie Boissard, curator of the exhibition. Miron, Sabine’s husband, said of them that they were papivores.” So he was in search of this war paper, so easy, whose use was divided between drawings, letters and courses. Also in Georgy’s letters, colors and notebooks appear regularly: “Send me a notebook because it is plin” [sic]he asks his father.
30 October 1935 > Birth in Vienna (Austria) of Georges Halpern, known as “Georgy”.
1939 > The Halpern family arrives in France
Autumn 1942 > Georgy is entrusted with the children’s relief work.
Reporter in shorts
Writing is Georgy’s unique character. “He has a reporter page that tells everything that happens in the colony”, explains Stéphanie Boissard. He tells his parents about his schedule, meals, activities, classes, excursions in the surrounding mountains, the weather… His letters betray all his age and the exaggerated emotions of childhood. “I feel well”, he wrote several times from Villa Anne-Marie (the name of the house in Izieu), when on his arrival in May 1943 he had complained about a boy and asked to leave. He regains his joy, his good character praised by former protectors and his smile. Serge Klarsfeld assumes: “Maybe he was more cheerful and optimistic than others because he still had his parents.” He saw them from time to time, especially his mother Sérafine, who was being treated at the Hauteville sanatorium, about sixty kilometers from Izieu. “I was looking for information about all the children gathered in Izieu by order of Klaus Barbie. But it is Georgy that I feel closest to. We had the same experience. We were the same age, were welcomed in the same house in Creuse, Château du Masgelier. I spent six months there and he, briefly. I had to meet him…” laments the president of the Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France (FFDJF), who still seems to in his memories to look for the silhouette of his junior by forty-three days.
proof of life
These lines, drawn on thin airy sheets of paper, traced Serge Klarsfeld and his wife, Beate, to the Klaus Barbie trial in 1987 and beyond. Evidence of life, they are one of the supports for the work of memory. Beate had met the Halperns. As Sérafine wrote to him in February 1986: “When the subject is George, I feel a crack in my heart and I cannot utter a single word.” But Beate knew after seeing them “in a little box” that the parents had kept letters, drawings and photos of their only child. This cardboard box, yellowed by time, with a tarnished lid, and whose interior is covered with purple patterned paper, was sought after by memory activists. “After the Halperns passed away in 1989, I hired someone to search their apartment in Haifa, Israel. But the box was gone, so it was in London, with the uncle I had briefly met. Eliane Rawicz, member of FFDJF, who lived partly in London, bribed her concierge for information. One day he called her: after the uncle’s death, while repainting a cupboard, a workman had found the box. For another bribe, he gave it to us.” Inside, the drawing of the elephant, sweet words, family album… In 2020, Serge Klarsfeld entrusts Stéphanie Boissard with six boxes from his archives to the residents of Izieu for an inventory in 2020, before he can finally donate it on April 6, 2022 to the institution. “I am approaching the moment when I will join these children. In Izieu, these documents will not end up in the dustbin of history. The children have left a work. I am one of the few who have played the role they wanted have wanted to play: help them survive.” In this place of life, which was Izieu’s house, become a memorial site under the impulse of Sabine Zlatin and maintained by the museum team, the peace of mind that reassured the refugees remains. The splash of the fountain, bath and laundry for toddlers and the wind in the linden tree that shades the terrace dampens the memory. Behind Georgy’s brilliant smile, frozen on a few negatives and in his words, forty-three faces appear and as many unforgettable lives.
feed the memory
The summer camp before and after the war welcomed Villa Anne-Marie, led by the social worker from the Children’s Aid Work, Sabine Zlatin, and her husband, 105 children between May 1943 and April 1944. And this in all legality. Absent on the day of the roundup – because she was looking for another place of refuge and felt the danger approaching – Sabine collected all the traces of life she could get days after the tragedy. She placed them in a box which she never opened again until in 1993 she left it to the French National Library.
In 1988, Sabine created the association Museum-memorial for Izieu’s children, who bought the building to turn it into a memorial museum in 1994.
To read: “We played, we had fun, we sang”, Words and Pictures of Izieu’s Children, 19431944 (Éd. BnF/Maison d’Izieu, 224pp.; €29).