At the edge of the D826 departmental road, the House of Vendine was until recently a building well known to nightlife enthusiasts, for having housed the Clapton, a nightclub now closed. This place occupies a special place in the minds of the inhabitants of the village and in the collective memory of Lauragais. This high place of Resistance in the South of Toulouse has had a very eventful past.

Nestled in Lauragais, the House of Vendine, a former place of reception for holiday camps, is made available to Saliege network in June 1942 by the Saint-Joseph Sisters of Bon Secours. It then became a place of refuge to accommodate Spanish and Jewish children taken from the Rivesaltes internment camp (Pyrénées-Orientales) with the authorization of their parents.

Resistance fighters Germaine Ribière and Louise Thèbe played an essential role in the installation and operation of this house. With the help of Ms. Kamnitzer, the director, and Alice Steinitz, a young Hungarian woman educated in France and of Jewish culture whom Germaine Ribière knew well, around forty children were welcomed in Vendine where they received education and special attention. However, after the occupation of the free zone in November 1942, which led to increasing threats from the Gestapo and police checks, the house closed its doors in October 1943.

After closing, the Saliege network, helped by Garel network of Children's Relief Work (OSE), dispersed the children to foster families and religious institutions to protect them.

La Maison de Vendine illustrates the commitment of Toulouse clergy, resistance fighters and residents of Lauragais in the rescue of persecuted children during the Second World War.

Discover the moving history of the Maison de Vendine

TOULOUSE, A DIOCESE-REFUGE
THE EXAMPLE OF THE HOUSE OF VENDINE (JUNE 1942-OCTOBER 1943)

Noémie Leroy, educational mediator at the Shoah Memorial, presents the Saliège network of the Toulouse Resistance and tells the story of the Maison de Vendine.

His text, presented below, was published in the book Heralds of the Catholic Resistance.

Due to the presence of numerous internment camps, the South of Toulouse was described as an “internment zone” by the historian Jean Estèbe. Paradoxically, Haute-Garonne, Tarn, Tarn-et-Garonne, Gers, Lot, Lot-et-Garonne were privileged lands and particularly active in the enterprise of helping the Jews. These would not have had such success without the support of local dioceses whose support and room for maneuver can be appreciated, thanks to little-known archives.

The awakening of the Toulouse clergy in favor of the internees

If most of the bishops of the South of Toulouse unambiguously demonstrated their loyalty and support for Marshal Pétain, they did not adhere to the racist and anti-Semitic measures put in place by the Vichy regime. The “status of the Jews” of October 3, 1940 aroused indifference in the Toulouse region, including among the clergy. However, as early as 1933, in a rally at the Capitol against the Nazi regime, Mgr Saliège evoked the strong links which united Christianity and Judaism. There disapproval of part of the clergy towards anti-Semitic legislation of the French government exists. This takes many forms, but generally it remains discreet, personal or indirect and can then take provocative forms. In 1941, these same fraternal bonds were invoked again in the speeches of Father René de Naurois, Mgr Théas, Mgr Saliège, and the rector of the Catholic Institute of Toulouse, Mgr de Solages. The behavior of Saliège and the other bishops is that of convergence with the National Revolution, rather than of “rallying”.

At the same time, the diocese of Toulouse supports and sponsors Christian charitable works which work with internees. At the beginning of 1942, following the assembly of cardinals and archbishops of the unoccupied zone, a Catholic association helping foreigners in internment camps. Voluntarily interned for more than six months, Father Lagarde is recognized by the episcopate as chaplain general. The assembly added the Jesuit Roger Braun to him. The association is also made up of several social workers, including Thérése Dauty who regularly visits the internees and attends the departures of the first convoys of Jewish prisoners from the Noé and Récébédou camps, on August 8 and 10, 1942. Mgr de Courrèges d'Ustou, auxiliary to the Archbishop of Toulouse, is responsible for the distribution of funds from the Catholic Association for Aid to Foreigners, whose offices are located at 45, Allée des Demoiselles, in Toulouse. The majority of these funds come from the Vatican. Indeed, through the apostolic nuncio in France, Valerio Valeri, Pope Pius XII sent subsidies to the diocese of Toulouse to help the internees, without distinction. The nuncio wrote to Mgr Saliège on March 8, 1942 to inform him of the first payment:

The Holy Father, as you know, during the last year, had granted subsidies to alleviate a little the suffering of the internees in certain camps […]. For the moment, I am going to send the Catholic committee of Toulouse 200 [francs], […] I am transmitting the said amount by this same letter to Mgr de Courtèges, your auxiliary bishop, so that he can take charge, okay with Father Arnou and Father Lagarde, of the use of the sums sent.
Apostolic Nuncio of Pope Pius XII in France —

In total, the diocese of Toulouse will receive 1 francs from the Vatican, the equivalent of some €390 today.

Women in the shadows: the origins of Mgr Saliège's pastoral letter

The Catholic Association for Aid to Foreigners will receive significant help from Father Chaillet's entourage. In the spring of 1942, Chaillet asked Germaine Ribière to provide assistance to the diocese of Toulouse. Born in Limoges in 1917, she occupies an important place within the Young Christian Students (JEC). Close collaborator of Father Chaillet, she is part of Christian Friendship and actively participates in the Combat network. Focusing mainly on rescue actions, Germaine Ribière is in contact with numerous organizations. The help she provides to Mgr Saliège is precious. It is also of particular importance since it allows us to appreciate the extent of the clandestine actions implemented jointly by dioceses with porous borders.

In the spring of 1942, Mgr Saliège asked him to go to Récébédou internment camp, located a few kilometers from Toulouse, in the town of Portet-sur-Garonne. Under a false identity, Germaine Ribière is voluntarily interned in the camp. Thus, she will be able to tell what she saw to Mgr Saliège and his entourage. To his testimony is added that of the Jewish communist lawyer who is also the representative of theChildren's Relief Work (OSE) in unoccupied zone, Charles Ledermann. He expressed his concerns to Mgr Saliège following the raids which took place in the occupied zone. These two testimonies are supplemented by that of the social worker Thérèse Dauty: following the departure of the first convoys, it is she who transmits to Mgr Saliège a detailed report on the conditions of internment and the first deportations. This is not signed, but it is attributed to Quaker Gilbert Lesage. Thanks to the intervention of these courageous women, Mgr Saliège then took up his pen and decided to write a public protest against the fate reserved for internees and especially Jews. The text was largely written by his right-hand man, Mgr de Courrèges d'Ustou, helped by Canon Jèze. His sentences are short and impactful, no one can remain indifferent to them:

In our diocese, scenes of terror took place in the camps of Noé and Récébédou. Jews are men, Jews are women. Not everything is permitted against them, against these men, against these women, against these fathers and mothers of families. They are part of the human race. They are our brothers like so many others. A Christian cannot forget it.

Despite the ban from the regional prefect broadcast by telegram, most priests will read this pastoral letter in the pulpit The 23 August 1942 during Sunday mass, without adding comments. Many Catholics will spread this letter in Toulouse and the surrounding countryside. Religious institutions, even the most isolated, received a copy. Newspapers and radios broadcast
the protest of Mgr Saliège; this is heard in America, in England and especially as far as the Vatican. Saliège's behavior earned him a unique place in the episcopate and in posterity.

Following the significant response to this letter, Germaine Ribière, who was based in Lyon, organized a meeting in September 1942 between Mgr Saliège and Georges Garel, through Charles Ledermann. He has just been appointed head of the clandestine branch of the OSE, which then takes the name “ Garel circuit ". The four main objectives of the OSE's clandestine action are as follows:

  • separate parents from children to allow them to survive
  • extract them from internment camps if necessary
  • give them a false identity
  • place them in a non-Jewish environment
  • ensure their supervision by social workers.

Thanks to this collaboration between Jews and Catholics, rescue in the South-West has experienced particular and above all essential growth. Georges Garel testifies to his meeting with Mgr Saliège, which deeply moved him:

George Garel
I can't say that we became friends, because that would be a poor definition of the relationship that was established between us. But there was certainly an element of friendship, from my very respectful side, from his much more paternal side. From my first contact with him, I felt that I was in the presence of a superior man. This man, I can and I must say, had the makings of a saint. It was all the more striking because apart from his eyes, which were luminous and reflected an open intelligence, he was physically very broken, aphasic, he could barely speak and wrote with great difficulty.

This decisive meeting is symbolic, it marks the beginning of the “ Saliege network ". However, and this is where all the clairvoyance of Mgr Saliège and his entourage is reflected, a few months before the writing of this letter, in June 1942, we witness the beginnings of this mutual aid and rescue network.

The Vendine house, a first place of welcome for children

Thanks to subsidies sent by the Vatican to the diocese of Toulouse, Mgr Saliège and Mgr de Courrèges d'Ustou plan to open a first reception center in the Toulouse countryside. They asked Germaine Ribière to find the ideal place. Since April 1, 1942, the archdiocese has had a house in Vendine (140 inhabitants). This house was previously occupied by the sisters of Saint-Joseph-de-Bon-Secours. Located about thirty kilometers northeast of Toulouse, the so-called “de Vendine” house is in poor condition. It's a old farmhouse which requires renovation work. Isolated in the middle of the countryside, the building contains 25 beds and equipment to set up a dormitory. It has a large kitchen, a refectory, two small rooms, a chapel and a community hall. Only one water point is accessible, a well, located three hundred meters away.

With the help of a young Jewish friend converted to Catholicism, Alice Steinitz, Germaine Ribière adapted this vast residence in a little over a week. Alice Steinitz becomes one of the monitors of the house of Vendine. Madeleine Kamnitzer is its director, from its opening to its closing. She comes from a Protestant German family. Her husband, Ernst Kamnitzer, is Jewish. It is hidden by Mgr Solages and Father Martimort in the library of the Catholic Institute of Toulouse. The entire Kamnitzer family converted to Catholicism. They were interned at the start of the war and then released because of their notorious opposition to the Nazi regime. The youngest son of Madeleine and Ernst is mixed with the other children of the house. Suzanne, his only daughter aged twenty, takes care of the little ones alongside Alice Steinitz. From its opening in June 1942 to its closure, the Vendine house was managed exclusively by women. Together, they take care of the final preparations to welcome the first groups of children. You have to find sheets, dishes, but also something to regularly supply the house.

In epistolary exchanges between Mgr de Courrèges and the nuncio Valerio Valeri, we learn thata third of the subsidies sent by Pope Pius XII to the diocese of Toulouse was used to support this first reception center. This distribution of subsidies demonstrates the importance that the diocese of Toulouse attached to mutual aid and rescue even before the first roundups of 1942. Louis de Courrèges d'Ustou did not fail to mention in his letters that this house welcomes Jewish children. Valerio Valeri's response is rather positive. However, a certain distrust qualifies his encouragement:

The Vendine reception center will undoubtedly be able to do a lot of good for these poor unfortunate little ones […]. It will, however, be necessary to be careful so that, on a religious level, their presence does not harm their comrades.
Apostolic Nuncio of Pope Pius XII in France —

For the sake of legality, each parent who wishes to entrust their child to the diocese of Toulouse must complete a form to transfer parental authority to Mgr Saliège. The archives of the diocese of Toulouse have preserved more than thirty of these forms.

To protect children, a service of false papers (identity card, false baptism certificates) and ration cards is organized annexed to the Sainte-Germaine colony. Louise Thèbe ensures its proper functioning. Originally from Martres-Tolosane, she is the director of the Sainte-Germaine work and the
secretary of social works of the diocese. His role will be crucial in the placement of Jewish children.

The Jews still at liberty knew that they could go to Place Saintes-Scarbes, to the offices dependent on the archbishopric, to ask for advice, help, and refuge. A whole action of placing Jewish children in families or colonies was, moreover, continued. But all this was interrupted with the Occupation in November 1942.

The first group welcomed into the Vendine house is made up of Spanish children whose parents are in hiding or interned. At the end of August 1942, the diocese of Toulouse succeeded in extracting Jewish children, most of them from Rivesaltes camp :

But finally, after many steps by the archbishopric, a group of little Jews arrived at the end of August. We waited for them with heavy hearts and made the house as welcoming as possible. A large bus stopped on the national road in front of our house. Two people from the archdiocese accompanied around thirty children. Everyone went down. Not a smile on their faces. They were sad, worried, painful, the little ones a little dazed. “Here’s the youngest,” said the person who accompanied them, pointing to a toddler of two and a half years old, blond with blue eyes and lovely features.
Director of the Sainte-Germaine work and secretary of social works of the diocese —

Léo Schumer, taken from the camps with a view to being collected in Vendine, remembers the long, risky journey to reach this small town in Lauragais. According to his memories, the children were accompanied by two nuns and each of them had false identity papers, sometimes with the same name as the archbishop
of Toulouse, Mgr Saliège. After a trip by train then by bus, the children arrived at the “ Saliege farm », as Léo Schumer describes it in his memoirs.

Daily life in “Ferme Saliège”

Léo and his sister Régine are part of this second group. Originally from Antwerp, Belgium, they were arrested in the town of Annemasse after an attempt to cross into Switzerland with the rest of their family. They were interned at the Rivesaltes camp in August 1942. A few days later, thanks to two nuns, the parents of Léo and Régine agreed to entrust their parental authority to Mgr Saliège. Deeply marked by his time in Vendine, Léo remembers the hunger that tormented him:

I found myself […] in a difficult situation. It was true that Vendine was better than life in Rivesaltes, but that didn't take away the fact that Régine kept telling me that she was hungry. I was in the same boat as her, we were simply starving. Breakfast was really tiny. A small piece of toast and a bowl of milk. I noticed that some children received two slices of bread, sometimes even three. Rationing was organized as follows: P1 from 4 to 8 years old, P2 from 9 to 13 years old and P3 from 14 to 18 years old. It is normal for older children to have more food than smaller children.
Child resident at the Vendine house —

Every morning, the children are used to singing a nursery rhyme composed by Maurice, a Jewish teenager taken care of by the headmistress:

At seven in the morning
Our mother Mad'laine came
Her bell in her hand, like she does every morning
Come on boys and girls
Be very kind
The towel on your back
To go to the sink
La itou la itou lalere
La itou la itou lala
Those who cry are fools
Those who laugh are intelligent.

During the day, the older ones work with nearby farmers, the. younger children make wicker baskets with the help of the house instructors. They are allowed to wander discreetly in the surrounding countryside. On sunny days, children swim near a water mill. Léo remembers very distinctly the day when his sister, Régine, almost drowned. From October 1942, the children went to school:

From October, it seemed to us that the best thing would be to give our little ones the framework of a normal life. The mayor of Vendine made the small disused station of the village available to us. The station master's office was transformed into a classroom, with a blackboard, chairs and tables. The children were divided into two groups: Suzanne looked after the little ones from two to eight years old and organized a kindergarten and a preparatory course at home. She had always dreamed of being a kindergarten teacher! This was her first attempt, she succeeded wonderfully, thanks to her multiple gifts in singing, music, drawing, an insightful psychology of toddlers and boundless dedication. For me, I took those from eight to fourteen years old. The big three, Yoppi the tailor and two girls stayed at home. My class was pretty weird. No two children were at the same level: one knew a little French, the other none at all. One had had years of regular classes, the other had not. It didn't matter. Basically it wasn't so much a question of instilling in them a lot of science as of hooking them up to life, through concrete things that were appropriate for their age. We had six hours of class and recess. The midday return to the house was a pleasant break from the day.
Child resident at the Vendine house —

Those in charge of the house make it a point of honor to celebrate Christian holidays. Catholic children go to mass every Sunday in the town of Caraman. At Christmas, each child receives a pair of clogs and a good meal of meat and potatoes. Alice Steinitz testifies:

The good of the souls of our children was a constant concern for us. For everyone, life was a tragedy, they needed an enormous amount of love to regain some calm and confidence. But the concern for their bodies was also great.
Monitor of the house of Vendine —

Protecting, loving, educating, but also making people smile are the priorities of Vendine staff. Hunger and epidemics were also part of the daily lives of the children welcomed in Vendine. Epidemics of lice, lice and scarlet fever are recurrent. Taken from the Gurs camp, Thomas Aron is one of the oldest Jewish residents. He testified to the difficult living conditions in this shelter:

We are taken to Vendine, near Toulouse: there are around twenty children of all ages under the authority of two or three Jewish instructors. They have a weakness for me. With one of them, I do French homework, I read Vigny's Moïse […] One evening I am called to the rescue to calm down a little girl with red hair: she only wants to be undressed in my presence. I'm getting scarlet fever.
Adolescent, resident of the Maison de Vendine —

Thomas is then urgently hospitalized. Alice Steinitz testifies to the children's other concerns:

When in the morning we passed through the garden, to return to the dormitories we were cleaning, how often we overheard our little ones talking. Children aged five, six or seven who spoke to each other with the utmost seriousness, worthy of adults: “Do you think Dad received the passports?”, a boy said to a little girl. The little one replied: “You know, it’s a very long time, Mom says that the procedures with Switzerland are likely to last a long time”?
Monitor of the house of Vendine —

Léo Schumer remembers waiting for long hours at the side of the main road which ran alongside the house. He feared being forgotten, abandoned.

The closure of the Vendine house and the dispersion of the children

Unfortunately, Vendine was a haven of peace for Jewish children for barely a year. Faced with the increasing number of arrests made by the Gestapo and the French police in the Toulouse region, but also the frequent identity checks carried out by the gendarmes, the security of refugees no longer being assured, the director considered it more prudent to close the house in October 1943. Some parents then organize the repatriation of their children via intermediaries. One morning, a purring sound is heard. A young woman, Jeannine, is commissioned by the parents of Léo and Régine to collect the children in Vendine and drive them safely to Nice. The Schumers managed to sell their release from the Rivesaltes camp to a gendarme who was monitoring the entrance. After a short stay in Nice, the entire family managed to reach Switzerland thanks to a smuggler. Some parents are still interned or have been deported. Germaine Ribière is responsible for finding host families for them. Some of the Jewish children were hastily sent to Notre-Dame-de-Massip convent, in Aveyron. Its director, Sister Denise Bergon, and her assistant, Sister Marguerite Roques, welcomed more than eighty Jewish children from December 1942 to August 1942.

Thanks to the mutual aid and rescue set up very early on by the Catholic Association for Aid to Foreigners Interned in the Camps, the diocese of Toulouse was transformed into a refuge for many persecuted Jewish families. Among the linchpins of this “ Saliege network », women occupy an important place. They distinguished themselves by their courage and dedication. In addition, these different women's journeys allow us to better understand the interconnections that existed between the various Jewish and Christian rescue organizations.

To learn more

Bibliography

  • Aaron, Thomas, Deep in your heart I scay, Presses Universitaires de Franche-Comté, 1993.
  • Bédarida, Renée, Catholics in the war, 1939-1945, Hachette literature, 1998.
  • Cabanel, Patrick, 1942, Mgr Saliège, a voice against the deportation of Jews, Portet-sur-Garonne, Éditions midi-pyrénéennes, coll. “That year”, 2018.
  • Clément, Jean-Louis, Monseigneur Saliège, Archbishop of Toulouse 1929-1956, Beauchesne, 1994.
  • Denis, Jean-Pierre, Our children of war, Threshold, 2002.
  • Estèbe, Jean, The Fate of the Jews of the South of Toulouse under the Vichy regime, Toulouse, PUM, 1997.
  • Steinitz, Alice, Leave your country, Le Sarment, Fayard, 1992.
  • Zeitoun, Sabine, The Children's Relief Work (OSE) during the Occupation in France, L'Harmattan, 1990.

Memorial tour in Terres du Lauragais

From Vendine to Calmont, discover a series of significant events that took place in Terres du Lauragais during these troubled years. 

You will meet heroic characters who have forever marked the collective memory of the territory. You will also pay tribute to the victims of Nazi terror.