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A Personal Look at the Finaly Children Affair
-- a Tragic Holocaust Byproduct with a Fortunate Ending

 

 

by Michael Rosner, DVM
Metar, Israel
Email: ilamic@actcom.co.il

March 2005

 

 

What's All About?

This paper deals with the fate of two Jewish orphan kids of the Holocaust. One might say, well, unfortunately there were so many Holocaust orphans… true, but this one is a rather unique case in the somber history of relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Jews. This is because it was the first time the Church was forced to deliver baptized Jewish children to their relatives. In the early 1950's the sso-called L'Affaire Finaly was the main issue in the French public life and, according to some modern French history authorities, the intensity of this outrageous scandal was second only to the so-called Dreyfus Affair (we Jews have always had a knack to enrich the media).

 

A Personal Opening Note

I am the son of Judith (née Finaly) and Moshe Rosner, both now deceased. My mother was a nurse and my father was a bookkeeper and a farmer in Gedera, a small town in Israel. I was able directly to eyewitness how my parents succeeded to face and overcome a formidable adversary, if not an enemy, the almighty Catholic Church that did everything in its power to deny us the natural right to obtain custody over my two orphaned Holocaust cousins. Sparing no effort and personal sacrifice, my parents have managed to successfully challenge the Church, with no institutional support whatsoever. For the first, and perhaps only time in history, the Curch reluctantly relinquished to us, as their next of kin, in 1953, my kid cousins that were illegally and deceitfully baptized against the last wish of their massacred parents.

Throughout the paper, I will refer to my cousins as either kids or children. The "kids" however are now respectively 63 and 64 years old….

I can still remember asking my parents at the family dinner's table, more than 50 years ago, (I was 15 or 16 years old at the time), whether they really believed that they could successfully defeat such a powerful institution. Their unhesitant answer came right away:

"It was the last wish of your murdered uncle and aunt to make your cousins join their relatives. Even if such a will does not exist, we will do all what we can to achieve this family goal…"

Nobody had assisted them in that endeavor at the time. The Government of the then fledgling State of Israel shunned away of getting involved into a fight with the mighty Vatican. They had far more pressing problems at hand considering the presence of five well-equipped Arab armies surrounding the Israel's borders that were plotting Israel's annihilation.

Beside my personal knowledge that are based on my parents' and cousins' stories, the main part of the presentation given in here is derived from Moshe (Moise) Keller's book: L'Affair Finaly, published in French by Librarie Fischbacher, Paris, 1960. The book is no longer available. The majority of the copies, in all likelihood, have been purchased and made inaccessible by Church's agents as they had all the reasons to do so. Unfortunately, and in addition, there is neither a Hebrew nor an English edition. The book is an exciting read with a highly intricate "plot," with various twists of ups and downs worthy of a Hollywood thriller. The only difference here is that nothing was fictitious. The book also contains a vast amount of documented facts, mainly regarding the Church's efforts to keep, at all cost, our next of kin away from us.

As we shall see from the presentation below, the late Moshe Keller was not only the major authority on the subject, but he was also the key person responsible for the ultimate successful results. Motivated by his bitterness following the fate of his family members during the war and the betrayal by the Vichy regime, Keller literally devoted more than five years of his life in fighting those who have chosen to ignore the Nazi crimes against the Jewish people -- this time disguised under the insidious name of "Christian charity." Through his long, painful, and immensely intense public and legal struggle, Keller risked in the end his own livelihood as his a well-established chemical engineering business in Grenoble was eventually forced to be closed. May thus these lines presented herein be my humble tribute and, a token of gratitude for his incredible sacrifices and achievements.

 

 

Background of the Affair

My two cousins, the Holocaust survivors, Robert and Gerald Finaly were born to Jewish parents on April 14, 1941 and July 3, 1942, respectively, in La Tronche, a small town nearby Grenoble, in South-Eastern France (then under the pro-Nazi Vichy regime). They became known worldwide during the early 1950's as the Finaly Children and their story, called The Finaly Affair, was then a main story in the French public life. Why was this such an important story, not only for the French government and for the ordinary Frenchmen "on the street", but also and foremost for all conscious Jews, religious or secular?

For the citizens of the French Republic, the clear crisis of the Finaly Affair and its eventual positive outcome symbolized perhaps the supremacy of secular law over canon law. For Jews worldwide however, the story epitomized an unprecedented case, in which the Catholic Church was forced to relinquish two illicitly baptized Jewish war orphans to their next of kin. There were thousands of similar illegal baptisms during WWII, and many others during history, most notable being that of the Edgaro Mortara case. (Mortara was a Jewish child, whose baptism was initiated 1858 in Bologna, Italy, by a Christian maid with the complicity of a priest, against the wishes of the parents and contradicting also the laws of the Church herself. Yet once the act became known, papal soldiers kidnapped the kid in order to assure his Catholic education. International petitions and worldwide high-level diplomatic lobbying wouldn't help, the child never saw home again, and became eventually an Augustine monk.)

WHY this evil conduct of the Church against its own declared laws persisted in keeping, by all means, every baptized Jewish kid within its sphere of influence?-- is an important question that need to be address into the open.

 

The Conduct of the Church

The Church does not preach enforced baptism, but according to its own dogma, once an act of baptism has been performed, even illicitly, it inevitably becomes an irreversible fait accompli, hence the necessity to take all required measures in order to assure the kid's continuing ecclesiastic education, against State's law, if necessary.

This explains both the 1858 kidnapping of Edgaro Mortara and the insistent refusal of the Catholic highest authorities during the mid-twentieth century to render the Finaly (and thousands of other Jewish ) children to their natural family, ignoring, in this case, several verdicts rendered by various French courts. This behavior of the Church was indeed consistent with its long standing priority placed in its missionary activity. An important such activity can be seen in a number of missions of specific Roman Catholic orders such the proselytizing of Jews by the Notre Dame de Sion which ironically ensued from the Jewish Zion! As we shall see in here, the kidnapping, smuggling from France to another country and sequestration of the Finaly children in order to "save the kids' souls" and keep them apart from their legal custodians and their caring family, is at the center stage of this entire paper.

  

How Did It All Start?

Fritz (Feriedrich) Finaly, MD, an Austrian Jew with Zionist views was still able to graduate 1939, well after the annexation of Austria by the Nazis took place, from the Viennese School of Medicine. The fact that a red swastika and a bald inscription was smeared all over his diploma, declaring the bearer of the document is not permitted to practice medicine within the boundaries of the German Reich, was definitely not the only reason why the young couple -- Doctor Finaly and his wife Annie, née Schwarz -- decided to flee to France as at stake was, as we all know, not only their livelihood, but also their very lives.

They settled down in La Tronche, South-Eastern France, in the vicinity of Grenoble. Life wasn't easy of course in France either since Dr. Finaly's foreign diploma was not recognized by the French authorities… But for the time being, their lives were not immediately in danger, and the doctor even managed to make a living, thanks to the good will of certain fellow physicians. Conditions deteriorated soon after the breakout of war; both were jailed, being German citizens… They were released however after awhile and able to go on living and make a living. In that part of the country the persecutions carried out by the collaborating Vichy Government have not been organized as in other regions ruled by them, and the situation was definitely better than in the territories governed directly by the Nazis. Their children, Robert and Gerald, were born in April 1941 and July 1942 respectively. Both kids were circumcised, as their parents, fully aware of the hazards, expressed their last wish of wanting their kids to be raised in the Jewish faith and tradition. This was an important fact that would later also served to refute the claims raised by the Church claiming that the parents had wanted their kids to become Christians!

In February 1944, when the Gestapo took finally over the entire France, the situation changed rather abruptly. Both parents were arrested and deported to Auschwitz, never to be heard of them again. However, early arrangements had been made by the parents, in an attempt to assure their children's survival. The children, three and two years of age at the time, were confided in good time to the care of a good Christian neighbor, bless her soul, and after passing several Catholic boarding institutions, bless them too, they finally landed in a municipal, i.e. secular crèche, of which the director, a demoiselle fifty six years of age at the time, was a devout, or rather fanatic Catholic, as the reader is soon bound to discover. The Finalys had requested the said neighbor, that once the war was over, (as everybody at the time already knew that the final collapse of the Hitler regime was a matter of time), to contact Dr. Finaly's sister, living since 1938 in New Zealand, explicitly expressing their wish to make the kids join, as soon as possible, the family of a surviving aunt.

Here is the place to stop for paying due gratitude to Mlle Antoinette Brun, the director of the crèche, later, however, the bitter enemy of the Finaly family, for risking her life and saving the children. As the reader will later see, she made them illicitly baptized in 1948, thus assuring the support of the Church in her categorical refusal to let go of the kids, against the expressed last wish of their parents.

 

First Measures Taken to Retrieve the Children and the Church's Reaction

In February 1945, as soon as France reestablished its pre- war international postal connections -- the war wasn't even over yet -- the aunt living in New Zealand, Margarete Fischel, mailed a letter to the mayor of La Tronche, the residence town of Fritz and Annie Finaly, inquiring about her brother and his family. He answered her on the very day of receipt, informing her about the fate of her brother and sister in law. He was happy to be able to let her know that the couple's kids, Robert and Gerald, had survived the war and were living now in the municipal crèche of which the director was Mlle Brun noted above.

Soon enough Margarete Fischel addressed Mlle Brun by mail, thanking her for rescuing the kids, and requesting her to assist in the children's departure to New Zealand. Aided by the New Zealand House in London, she had already made all necessary arrangements for the journey, including the hiring of a qualified accompanying nurse. She also offered Mlle Brun a full reimbursement for any expenses she might have had. Simultaneously, the Fischels got an immigration license, and made all necessary preparations at their house to enable appropriate accommodation of the expected nephews. That was the only time the aunt was granted with Mlle Brun's answer, insisting that the children were too young to be sent on such a long voyage... Mlle Brun has never responded to numerous additional letters.

As we will see, both the evading answer and the lack of response were the first echelon in Mlle Brun's deceiving scheme to gain time. She perfectly well understood that once they have reached a certain age and they were sufficiently brainwashed, the children would never agree to leave and be among the killers of God (as this is what they were told about their relatives). And indeed, she almost succeeded with that scheme.

The initial steps to retrieve the children started February 1945, when they were three and four years old. They stepped down off an El Al plane in Lydda (Ben-Gurion) Air port, Israel, July 1953, aged 11 and 12. Another three, four years of stalemate, and we would be on the verge of gaining a Catholic clergyman in our family, because this was the vocation Robert's God fearing tutors had chosen for him…

Were did this stubborn, categorical refusal came from? Did it have anything to do with a motherly love Mlle Brun might have developed? Certainly not. She hardly saw Robert and Gerald more than twice a year (in the Christmas and Easter vacations) as the kids, in the first year, have been kept in a successive series of Catholic boarding institutions. Even then, during the first year, in the crèche, it was a maid who took care of the kids, and Mlle Brun had hardly any direct contact with them. So why this recalcitrant, seemingly unnecessary approach, concerning two little Jewish kids she didn't particularly care about? The answer to this question is very simple: because of unmitigated, morbid hatred to everything Jewish, stemming not just from the conventional nonsense about deicide (the killing of Jesus Christ) and the Jewish outrageous, continuous refusal to see the light of Christ. In her case, as she would carelessly admit in a hateful letter sent many years later to her ex "protégés", it originated from her resentment toward her stepbrothers -- her mother's first husband had been Jewish…

What measures did Mlle Brun take after she became aware of the family's desire to obtain custody over the kids in order to keep their efforts at bay? Stalling for time? Certainly, but not just that, she found a much more powerful means, and made an accomplice priest baptize my cousins, becoming thus -- in the Church's view -- Catholics for good.

To cut a long story short, Margarete Fischel, soon realizing that something must be fishy, didn't give up, but rather doubled her efforts, and spent the next three years writing scores of letters (the copies of some of them may be seen in the referenced Keller's book) to all possible personalities and institutions, painstakingly keeping copies and receipts for registered mail, a fact which would later help to refute another malicious allegation raised many years later by Mlle Brun and her supporters --that in the early 1950's, as they would claim in court, the "family had never shown interest" in them. Well, the presentation of the voluminous correspondence file proved the proof for their deceitfulness claims for the whole world to see…

 

 

Further Steps Taken by the Family

In 1948, after three years of exhausting efforts, all of which seemingly to no avail, yet later, as mentioned, would prove fruitful in the legal litigations, my and the children's aunt, Margarete Fischel, gave finally up, and asked my parents to take over, Israel being nearer to France. And indeed, geography and personal connections did help; a cousin of my father, Menachem Rosner from Reshafim, a kibbutz in Israel, related the problem to an acquaintance of his, a chemical engineer called Moise (Moshe) Keller, living in Grenoble. Following my father's request, Keller went in July 1948 to pay a visit to the formidable Mlle Brun. He didn't know then what he was bargaining for…

Before he was led to Mlle Brun's office, he was told by a maid that the kids weren't (naturally) there, but in some boarding school (one of many institutions they would be kept in later on). After the first words of polite introduction, once she heard that he came on behalf of my mother wishing to express her gratitude, all hell broke loose. Without letting him utter a single word, she started yelling at him:

"You coward ungrateful Jews, once under the slightest danger you ran away like frightened mice, leaving your kids to the care of others, and now you have the nerve to ask them back? You don't know me yet [indeed he didn't], never ever are you going to see these kids..."

There was no point for Keller to remain there, so he left the place having to hear her screaming behind his retreating back:

"You will be pleased to know that I let them be baptized, I made them little Catholics".

If it weren't so tragic, one could have fun reading Keller's description about her conduct, looks, speech, clothes, smeared makeup and screams. And yet, this disturbing woman held the key to the fate of the now already six and seven years old children…

It became now clear that the only chance to ever get hold of the kids would be by way of a court decision, which would take several years, if ever, to obtain, and impose a heavy financial toll ...

 

Finaly Versus Brun

The legal and public struggle lasted more than five years and to read about it in Keller's book is quite thrilling, although it contains almost 600 pages. So even an extremely shortened version describing the tricks and prevarications the Catholic party applied in order to avoid fulfilling of the various verdicts deciding in our favor, the various measures taken for gaining influence over the public opinion etc., would reach far beyond the scope of this paper. So let me make do with the most essential aspects and highlights of the Affair.

 

The Legal Phase and Related Events

The legal campaign of the Rosner-Finaly family versus Mlle Antonine Brun (actually the Church) was very complicated, partly because of the many types of courts having overlapping juristriction. In addition, some Catholic magistrates and judges in the lower courts, didn't really rule according to the clear principle of separation of State and Church, granting the accused party and her accomplices several strange privileges.

In more than one case there were verdicts given in our favor, which (although appealable) ordered the immediate release of the children. However, the courts did not provide a mechanism for enforcing the orders and thus, Mlle Brun and her supporters had no problem in ignoring them. In one instance, following such a Court order, Mlle Brun went happily home and on the following day the kids were hidden in some place under assumed names.

After Mlle Brun's supporters once more concealed the children in order to evade the verdict sustained by a higher court, it became incidentally known, that the kids had been hidden in a Catholic college in Bayonne, in the Basque region, hundreds of kilometers away from Grenoble. As soon as Keller became aware of the new development, he took the next train to Bayonne. Unfortunately, he arrived there next morning, one train too late... The Mother Superior of Notre Dame de Sion of Grenoble, naturally well informed, arrived there already on the previous evening, to directly assure the next step of law violation…

The District Attorney in Grenoble, based on the court's decision, promptly contacted his Bayonne colleague and strongly advising him to take immediate custody over the kids. However, noting did materialized out of that contact. The following morning, when Keller arrived, not surprising, the kids were gone once more, later be smuggled into Spain.

Subsequent Police investigation found out that several senior nuns of the Notre dame de Sion order and Basque priests had actively arranged and executed the kidnapping and smuggling of the kids. The perpetrators went happily to jail, readily admitting their crimes, only to be released a few days later, the kids still missing… It was quite obvious that they were acting upon orders from the highest ranks. Everybody familiar with the ways of the ecclesiastic hierarchy knows very well of the discipline reigning there: defining it as military-like environment would be a gross understatement. Mlle Brun was also sent to prison for contempt, released, however, long before the family's custody over the kids became an established fact.

The then 12 years old Robert kept a diary, in which he also described the passage on foot to Spain, via the Pyrenees. It took place in mid February 1953 during a snow storm, with knee-deep snow covering the terrain. Both kids wore half shoes and summer clothes… About this time, worried by the multiple attacks in the outraged press, His Eminence, the Archbishop of Lyon published an "Appeal to the Public" urging those "who might have knowledge" to inform the authorities about the whereabouts of the kids -- as if he didn't know, all culprits were his agents... He did not omit to declare, that the "Church, being a mother too" cares about the well-being and the souls of the children. This phrase "The Church is a mother too" ("Léglise est une mere aussi)" was very often used by those vindicating the Church's conduct. How very assuring! Here we have just another example of the incredible amount of hypocrisy in the name of "Christian charity." May God have mercy on it...

It became subsequently clear that the policy of those behind Mlle Brun was to absolutely ignore the verdicts, claiming ignorance concerning the kids' whereabouts. Only the final verdict, they decided, should be obeyed. Why the sudden respect towards the legal authorities? Because of the landslide change in public opinion: people gradually began to understand the Church's foul play, and became increasingly anti-Catholic and anti-clerical. Without the element of public opinion, the Church would have never rendered the children to my parents' custody, final verdict in our favor or not. Gaining popularity for our cause, highly misunderstood at first, was an additional achievement of Keller.

During one of the sessions of that last but important legal procedure, Advocate Maurice Garçon, a devout Catholic, member of the Académie française, eminent lawyer at the time and pleading on our behalf, turned towards Mlle Brun and her lawyers, dramatically raising his right arm, and said to them:

"I am in deep pain for the sake of the religion which is mine too, because so soon after the Nazi horrors you gave it such an intolerant image. You rendered it odious and I am immensely angry with you."

Because of his enormous prestige and knack for dramatic effects, the following day this outcry hit the front pages all over the country. Yet this was not really part of the legal aspect, it rather belonged to the PR campaign, which will be dealt with in the following chapter.

The final verdict of the Cour de Cassation, the French Supreme Court -- in our favor -- was given June 23, 1953. Two days later the kids were "miraculously" found and, escorted by motorcycled police with scores of reporters in their wake, were promptly driven all the way from the Spanish border to an agreed place near Paris, an estate on the Seine River belonging to a Jewish banker.

 

The Struggle for Public Opinion

Winning the legal case was definitely an absolute precondition to gain custody over the children, yet a legal victory alone would have never sufficed to compel the Church to give up its prized asset. We have already seen that the mighty Church had means and ways to ignore the law.

During the early phases of his public activity (beside the legal campaign he was conducting), Keller had satisfied himself by establishing "Committees for the Finaly Children" in all France's major cities, of which, at first, most members had been Jews and the main goal was to raise funds for the enormous legal expenses. Soon enough, however, Keller and his friends gradually understood that winning the public on their side was another essential precondition to really obtain custody.

Easier said than done. At its earlier stages, our cause was not favorably accepted, both by Jews and Gentiles. The last thing many Jews were looking for was a revived wave of anti-Semitism. After all, they were still under the trauma of the war and the immense scale of the French collaboration with Nazi Germany. In the general population hostility against Jews was even more present. Major newspapers, not necessarily Catholic, described Mlle Brun as an angel, a brave person and a loving mother, whom the Jews were ostracizing, instead of express their gratitude to her and renounce all claims. Vicious rumors were circulating in the press, according to which, the family had ignored the kids' fate for years, and that we had been motivated only by financial interest. (Beside some jewelry the Finaly parents bequeathed nothing, and even if they did, shouldn't the alleged "wealth" belong to the children?) Major public figures, notably the 1952 Nobel Prize Laureate writer Francois Mauriac (he eventually changed his mind) had also treated Mlle Brun as a hero and a caring mother, and deemed our demands unacceptable.

The next task of the Committees for the Finaly Children became thus the winning of public opinion. Counting on traditional French anti-clericalism and gaining numerous sympathetic gentiles for our cause, this was gradually and diplomatically achieved (care was taken not to offend the Faith and its believers) by way of numerous public meetings all over the country, mobilizing sympathetic journalists and politicians, and writing numerous letters to the press.

In summary, the following points, still unknown to the general public at the time, were stressed throughout the long ordeal:

  • France is a constitutional republic, in which State and Church are separated and the civil, secular law is supreme; hence every loyal citizen should oppose those who, by ignoring courts' verdicts defy this essential principle. This concept was favorably accepted by most French, including devout Catholics.
  • Jews in General and The Rosner-Finaly family in particular, are immensely grateful to Catholic institutions and all those, Catholic, Protestant, atheist, or agnostic, who had risked their lives to save persecuted Jews. This definitely includes Mlle Brun. Her courageous deed however, doesn't give her the right to impose her beliefs on orphans against the explicit wish of their murdered parents, let alone deprive them of their right to enjoy familial love and care.
  • Mlle Brun's assertions for having developed motherly feelings towards the kids are another link in her chain of lies as there was enough evidence proving that she hardly ever saw them. The public image that her supporters had managed to create depicting her as an angel and saint was at best a cynical attempt in distorting the truth and at worst a malicious fabrication. Given the fact that she has never had any motherly connections with the kids, how could her categorical refusal be explained other than motivated by bad will? How in God's name, this can be portrayed as a Christian charity?
  • The allegations according to which the Finaly family had until recently (1952) never bothered about the children's fate are another concocted fabrication. There are ample evidence to refute this insidious claim staring with the established fact that one of their aunts had consistently tried to obtain custody over them as early as of February 1945.
  • The allegations according to which the Finaly family is only after the kids' money are totally unfouded --their murdered parents bequeathed them practically nothing.
  • Kidnapping, smuggling, and sequestration of minors constitute a major crime. Why do the law-enforcement authorities not act accordingly?
  • An illicit baptism, performed against the proven last wish of the parents, with the kids circumcised and with the Nazi hazards that is being associated represents a proof beyond any other proof with respect to the intent of the parents.
  • With all the respect to Catholic canon law, the Finaly family could never abdicate its absolute natural right to receive custody over the kids of their murdered brother; this position being sustained by the French constitution and courts of law.
  • Notwithstanding it's justified bitterness because of the eight years long deprivation caused to the children by the unjustified refusal of Mlle Brun to let them join their next of kin, once having the kids returned, the Finaly family, having only the kids' interest in mind, would withdraw all its claims against the accused party and her supporters.

The campaign proved eventually successful; during the years 1952/1953 a shift in the public opinion has occurred, even among some Catholic clergymen; the Catholic establishment became highly unpopular, very often nuns and priests could not show their faces in the streets without being screamed at: "Where are the Finaly kids?"

A remarkable development of events took place: the successful, though tiresome, exhausting, expensive, legal fight would have achieved nothing, hadn't we managed to get French public opinion on our side. The immense press coverage substantially helped to favorably influence the public. On the other hand, without the Supreme Court's favorable final ruling, all the sympathy the French people felt regarding our case would have proved worthless.

 

In Lieu of Conclusion --Another Personal Note

Yes we won, but at what price? I don't only mean the campaign and its related severe problems, but also the traumas my cousins had later to endure. They acclimatized quite well at our home. But it took some efforts for them to get rid of the nonsense they had been indoctrinated with over the years about t their Jewish family and its people.

In order to respect and preserve the Finaly name, my parents decided against adopting my cousins Robert and Gerald Finaly. They have enjoyed a happy childhood and adolescence in the home of my late parents and followed their desired course in life. Robert is a senior physician in the Soroka Teaching Hospital in Beer Sheva, and Gerald is a pensioner of the Bezeq Telephone Company, living in Haifa. Both are married and have children and grandchildren, none of them Catholic…

The transfer from a strict Catholic environment into a liberal Jewish family wasn't easy either. If Mlle Brun weren't that evil, my cousins could have enjoyed normal upbringing as of their third and fourth year of age, instead of the 11'th and 12'th, and she, the pathological anti-Semite, could have become eligible for a Righteous Among The Nations Award…

I have never been able to put at rest some persistent questions, among them these ones:

  • What makes some people so obsessed with hatred?
  • What would have happened if my parents and aunt weren't that persistent, if Moshe Keller hadn't been willing to gamble with his family's livelihood?
  • What If it weren't France, but another country, in which the Roman Catholic Church enjoys even a stronger influence?

Yes, my sister Miriam and myself were able in the end to regain our two cousins who for us became as our own brothers, but at what cost... And what about those less fortunate thousands of kids deprived of familial care, and growing up to hate their own people?

 


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