Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Elul 5764 - August 18, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Children who were Rescued from the Convent
Fifty Years after the Case of the Finaly Children

by D. Tzaftman

Part III

The personal saga of two Holocaust children whose rescue from the clutches of the Church triggered a story of long abuse and an international legal affair centered around the authoritarian-patron conflict of the Catholic Church.

During World War II, Dr. Fritz Finaly and his wife found out that the Germans intended to deport them. They made a desperate attempt to at least save their children, two-and-a- half year-old Robert and one-and-a-half year-old Gerald. They handed the children to a neighbor and included a leather bag containing medical equipment that the doctor had used in his work, some jewelry, pictures and documents. The bag also contained a letter stating that, if the worst came to the worst and they were not able to return, they requested that the children be given over to the father's sisters in New Zealand.

The Finalys were religious Jews. Two of Fritz Finaly's sisters lived in New Zealand and one in Eretz Yisroel.

The young boys wound up, along with other orphans, with Miss Baron who ran the Catholic kindergarten in Grenoble. After the war, the sisters tried to reclaim their nephews, but Miss Baron refused to give them up. Backed by the Church, she was willing to go to any lengths to keep them in her custody, that is to say, in her religion.

At first Mrs. Fisher of New Zealand tried, but after two years of futile attempts Mrs. Yehudis Rozner of Israel, another sister, took over the main effort. The Rozner family gave power of attorney to a French Jewish activist, Mr. Moshe Klahr.

Mr. Klahr found that Miss Baron had made two well- considered moves. She had taken over legal guardianship and that had enabled her to baptize the children, which was a decisive step from the Church's perspective. Once a person is baptized, from the Church's perspective they are considered irreversible members. She thereby added a religious dimension to the affair.

The struggle moved to the French courts. In the middle of the summer of 1952 (5712), the appeals court ruled that Mrs. Yehudis Rozner was to be instituted as guardian in place of Miss Baron. However, the Church was not prepared to give up. The boys were moved to Spain.

The Mediation of the Chief Rabbi

The person who was most dominant in the arena was the Chief Rabbi of France, Rabbi Yaakov Kaplan, who spared no efforts to influence the leaders of the clergy to release the children. He worked tirelessly to create links with the Church leaders.

Finally, Rabbi Kaplan managed to reach an agreement, through which the Church would ensure that the children were returned. In exchange, Mrs. Rozner committed herself to transferring them to a neutral environment until the verdict was given in Miss Baron's appeal. In the event that the court ruled in favor of Mrs. Rozner, it was agreed that the children would study in a French school in Israel until they grew up and could make their own choice of religion. Incidentally, this last clause constitutes a strong indication that Miss Baron's claim of an `emotional connection' was only a cover up for her real motive to keep them enmeshed within Christianity -- she was willing to give up her personal ties, but not the religious ties.

The Chief Rabbi saw the agreement as imperative, in the circumstances, and as a means of pulling the Church down from the gallows of its own making. However, Mr. Klahr rejected it, claiming that, in any event, the Church' sole desire now was to hush up the media storm surrounding the affair.

It is notable that Rabbi Kaplan stood right at the center of the public controversy, which he navigated from his post in the chief rabbinate of France. The public announcement he made, proving that leaders of the clergy had given full backing to the kidnapping, caused a great furor. Mr. Guy Rothschild, president of the French Jewish Consistoire, supported him in his battle.

One of the most prominent people who gave complete support to the chief rabbi was Rabbi Yaish. As one of Rabbi Kaplan's aides, he had to confront the perverted social philosophy presented by the Church's adherents, about the right to arbitrate the children's will -- what Rabbi Yaish called, "a criminal perversion of anarchic religious ardor."

The debate that many people termed "a second Dreyfus trial," threw France into turmoil. Numerous sophisticated legal terms were bandied around freely in order to justify, `understand' or defame, by Christian ideologists who were sympathetic to Miss Baron and apathetic to the Jewish side against the enemies of the Church.

The conflict became so vehement that it caused Rene Meir, the French Jewish president and descendant of the Rothschilds, to be drawn into the affair. During his brief office, he was careful not to show any special solidarity in the case, and therefore was forced to release the priests.

In the month of Sivan, 1953 (5713), there was a dramatic turnabout. Public pressure, coupled with the police arrests, induced the Pope to intervene in the affair and instruct the Church to honor the verdict of the High Court of Appeals.

Only two days later, at a border crossing between France and Spain, the children were handed over to the French clergy leaders, who were accompanied by the police. The children, used to all kinds of feverish preparations going on around them, still did not realize, or perhaps were unable to believe, that the terror-filled lives they had been born into, had come to an end.

Family Reunion

In a villa next to Paris, as if in a dream, the woman trembling with excitement stared at the two children, her own nephews, the sons of her late brother and sister-in-law. Yehudis Rozner clasped Reuven (Robert) and Gad (Gerald) Finaly tightly to her, drenching them with tears of joy and longing, attempting without words to tear down the wall of hostility which had been so carefully erected.

With great hesitation, Reuven and Gad moved closer towards their new-old family. They watched the behavior of their Jewish aunt and uncle with suspicious eyes.

During the first period of their acquaintanceship, the boys stayed with their aunt and uncle in a luxurious Parisian estate. After a short period of release from the great stresses they had undergone, the children were ready to embark on their trip to Eretz Yisroel.

When the signal was given, a few seats were urgently vacated on the El Al flight that was to transport the children from the land that had robbed them of their childhood at their parent's bosom, and had attempted to rob them of their souls and their blood links with their people and their family.

From the airport, they were whisked to Gedera, to the Rozner family's home. Young pupils carrying wreaths of flowers treated them to a warm welcome, standing in two impressive rows, against a background of overflowing excitement.

It was far from easy for the children to let go of the brainwashing to Christianity that they had been raised on, especially for the older son. Mrs. Rozner met with no small difficulties in her attempts to wean them from the Christian- antisemitic doctrines they had been brought up with.

To help the children's adjustment, they were invited to kibbutz Neve Ilan, near Jerusalem, whose members are French immigrants, and they spent two-and-a-half weeks there as guests of the kibbutz. Reuven still insisted on clinging to the accessories of Christianity that he had brought with him, and even insisted on going to the Church in Abu Gosh. Mrs. Rozner felt the barriers of estrangement still dividing her from her young charges.

One of the members of the religious, French-speaking kibbutz Ein Hanatziv, Mr. Jacques Samuel, invited the children, on his own initiative, to the kibbutz, in the hope that the influence of the Jewish experience there would remove the vestiges of the Christian religion that still clung to them. Mrs. Rozner accepted the invitation.

It was then Succos. By now it was obvious to all that the children had entered the Shelter of the Divine Presence. The decorated walls added to the warm atmosphere of a friendly family gathering. There, amidst the shadow of the palm branches, the children returned to their land.

The UN Officer in Beirut and the Wooden Trunk

How intricate and hidden are the ways of Providence!

One day some years later, a UN officer who served in the UN base in Beirut knocked on the door of Gad Finaly's apartment in Kiryat Chaim. When he opened the door, Gad's eyes immediately focused on an old trunk in the UN officer's hands.

Even before he blurted out his first question, Gad's eyes met those of the officer. A moment of puzzled contemplation and they fell into each other's arms. "Guy!" "Gerald!" the two articulated the old familiar childhood names.

It turned out that when he was a child, the UN soldier had been one of the other children in the urban child-care center in Grenoble because he was Jewish. But this surprise was only the lead-in to what lay concealed in the trunk.

A few months earlier, another UN officer had purchased the old child care center building of Grenoble. In the basement of the building, the new owner found a trunk of old documents belonging to the Finaly family. It was Miss Baron who had got hold of the trunk, probably to aid her in gaining custody of the children. The officer, who knew that the children were now in Israel, dispatched the trunk to his friend Guy who was serving in Lebanon, so he could hand it over to the Israeli police. Guy swooped on the finding, which took him back to the world of his childhood. He resolved to locate his friends, the owners of the trunk, on his own.

A brief inquiry at the liaison unit of the IDF, led him to knock on Gad Finaly's door at his apartment in the north.

Now, with the documents from the trunk, Reuven and Gad Finaly knew more about the details of their family genealogy. Over and over again they stared at the photographs, at the objects that were packed inside. Maybe something of the scents they had never breathed clung to them. They felt the impressions of the fingers they would never see, trying somehow to reach through them . . . to the arms of their parents. And perhaps -- who knows -- they really felt something.

A last aside: These documents aided in the discovery of a branch of the original Finaly family tree, by Miriam Liba, daughter of Mrs. Rozner, who invested enormous effort in the matter.

Here we would like to request in her name that anyone who knows of any additional information should please remit it to her through the newspaper's editorial staff.

"They Told Us We Would be Paving the Streets"

Conversation with Dr. Robert Finaly, now a senior physician at Soroka Hospital children's ward

This writer attempted to follow up on the affair. The first address was Mr. Moshe Rozner, who led the battle in France. But we were saddened to discover that he was no longer among the living, zichrono livrochoh.

Our search was not so difficult. We simply called Bezek information. "Might you possibly have someone by the name of `Robert Finaly?' "

Amazingly enough, the answer was positive. From then on matters moved at a rapid pace.

After a few short days, there I was, facing Dr. Robert Finaly, a senior surgeon of the children's ward at Soroka Hospital.

The conversation with Dr. Robert touched on a wound which is known as `the orphans of the Holocaust' -- those who never knew whom to miss.

Those who pretended to fulfill the role of surrogate parent, did it with a frighteningly cold formality, related Dr. Finaly.

"We were not allowed to eat with the adults, and if we ever did eat with them, we had to be quiet and listen to the adult conversation. Also to keep the place clean. Every night we had to go up and say `good night' to the person we called `mother.'"

Dr. Robert related this without any show of feeling, as if the feelings of a two-year-old child were still deposited somewhere at the reception counter of the monastery of Notre Dame du Sivan. This description of the cold, regimented relationship that Miss Baron conducted with them refutes any attempt to view her opposition to their being given back as stemming from an emotional link. It rather points to the missionary motive.

The attempts to frighten the children, saying that they would be taken away to pave the streets of Eretz Yisroel are embodied, in a cynical sense, by the statue of the `stone- laying Jew' which was actually put up in Vienna, the birthplace of the children, as a symbol of the degradation of the Viennese Jews by their Christian Nazi neighbors. Eighty percent of the leaders of the Third Reich were originally from Austria.

However, despite his criticism of Miss Baron's conduct during their concealment, it is worth noting that Dr. Robert did not forget to express his gratefulness to her that she had saved them from the clutches of the Gestapo.


Q: What do you recall of the events, from the perspective of a child, in the thick of the battle?

A: We, as children, placed all our faith in this woman. What could anyone expect from children's understanding . . . They told us that the Jews killed `that man' . . . we were brought up with that education, we did not want to go back to the people who killed `that man.'

Q: Can you remember at what stage you became aware of what was happening?

A: Definitely. I remember very well being in the urban kindergarten of the convent Notre Dame du Sivan, which was under the management of Miss Baron, we -- my brother and I -- and four other children, some of whom are still alive.

Q: What kind of relationship did Miss Baron have with you?

A: None. Every night, towards bedtime we had to go up to her, wish her `good night' and go to sleep. We called her `mother.' We the children would eat separately, not with the grownups, and if we ever did eat with them, we had to sit very quietly and be on our best behavior.

Q: What did you know of your parents?

A: We knew that our dear parents, of blessed memory, had been killed. The Kaufmann family would come to visit us. Mrs. Kaufmann was a German who had fled to France. They had managed to escape to an area where there were French partisans, and so they were saved, while my father, who carried on working as a doctor in the area where he lived, was arrested and killed.

Q: What area of medicine did your father specialize in -- pediatrics?

A: No. General medicine. In Austria, he was banned from working, because of his origin. I saw his passport, it was stamped with a big J, which identified him as being of Jewish origin.

Q: Your study of medicine -- was that in order to follow in your father's footsteps?

A: Yes. When I heard that that was my father's profession, I right away resolved to follow that path.

Q: Okay. So can we go back? When did you notice that something was going on around you?

A: After the war, in 1948 (5708). All of a sudden, we were taken away and baptized. Today, I realize that this was a reaction to my surviving family's actions.

Q: Do you actually remember the baptism ceremony?

A: Yes. I was six years old at the time. Obviously, we did not object, since we had faith in the education we had received as Christians. We just viewed it as part and parcel of the whole scene.

Q: How did you reach the point where you knew about the efforts being taken to rescue you?

A: By 1948, we had already been warned. We were never left long in one school. We were told that the Jews wanted to take us to Eretz Yisroel, and put us to work paving the streets like common workers. We were told, "You will be put in an orphanage," "you will break stones on the roads," and so on . . .

Nu, do you know of any child who would let himself be taken to such a place? People ask: "Why did you have to cooperate?" What do they expect of children, in a situation where the only people they had ever known preached to them about the people who killed you know who . . . and infused them with fear of the place where they would have to work on the streets . . .

Q: Absolutely. It is foolish to direct such an argument at children.

A: Right.

Q: Do you remember being afraid, having nightmares about the unknown hands that were out to kidnap you?

A: I don't know if you could call it "fear," but we definitely did not want them to get hold of us, because of all the stories we had been told about them. There was a time when Miss Baron called the police to keep the family representatives away from the house.

Q: Did Miss Baron arrange everything?

A: Actually, she did. Today, research has been done to try to comprehend how it was that she managed to get around the entire legal system in Grenoble.

Q: Did other Jewish children go back to Judaism?

A: We were actually the only children who managed to return to Judaism after being brought up as Christians. This was of course thanks to the intensive efforts of our family. It is almost certain that if I would have remained there, I would have been ordained as a young priest.

Q: Let us go back to the time when you discovered that you were smack in the middle of a battle between two forces?

A: They kept on transferring us from place to place. After a time, we got used to that. It ended with the chief, the man who led us on foot in the Pyrenees mountains in Spain.

Q: And how was it for you children, who were at the forefront of all these numerous wanderings?

A: We were full "partners" in the escape from the "wicked" Jews who were pursuing us and wanted to take us away.

Q: And what happened when you found out that your fate was determined, and you were to be handed over to those Jews?

A: The meeting with the family broke down the barriers of hostility, and we very quickly understood that it was not so bad after all . . . Though I still had some difficulties shaking free of the trappings I was brought up on, and was used to doing, I managed to get over it with the help of the warmth and love that people imparted to me in Israel.


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