Summer Camp

Île d'Oléron, France

Île d'Oléron is an island off the Atlantic coast of France. It is the second largest island in France.

With the Nazis invasion of France in May of 1940, Leo’s mother was afraid of what might take place, so she arranged to send Leo and his brother to the island of Oléron. (Abrami, 8) Leo and his brother had to take a train to La Rochelle. They then switched over to a bus that took them to the ferry they needed to get to the island. The brothers spent the entire summer at the camp, which was called Le Dolior. (Abrami, USC Shoah).

The island of Oléron is located off the Atlantic coast of France. It is on the southern side of the Pertuis d’Antioche strait and is the second largest island of France, after Corsica. (Abrami, USC Shoah) Leo describes the first time he saw the island by stating, “The island was surrounded by the immaculate blue waters of the Atlantic and edged by beaches of golden sand. Beyond the beaches were green fields and small woods, and a few villages with scattered houses here and there. I had never seen such a wonder of nature and peace before.” (Abrami, 8)

That year the camp was extremely full because of the invasion by the Nazis. The camp organizers made sure that everyone had a place to stay while they were there. Leo’s time at the camp started off well until one day when the campers were assembled in the main hall. He heard his name called out by the sports director and Leo was made to come forward in front of all the campers. Leo describes, “Then to my horror, he began to speak disparagingly of the Jews and suddenly pulled my shorts down, exposing me in front of everyone! He said, “You see, he is a Jew whose foreskin has been removed.” The children burst out laughing as I stood there naked in front of them, shocked and trembling.” (Abrami, 9)

Leo realized the prejudices that he had started to face in Bagnolet because of the invasion had followed him to summer camp.Leo realized later that the sports director was a member of the early French militia group that endorsed the Nazi ideology. (Abrami, 9) This group was later absorbed into the Milice Française, which was formed by the Vichy Government to fight off the French Resistance. (Abrami, 10) It was to Leo’s shock that no one did anything when he was being humiliated by stating, “Surprisingly, not a single counselor or member of the staff came forward to comfort me or to ask me if I was alright. No one said a word about it. Now I know they were afraid of challenging the sports director for fear of being denounced as ‘Jewish sympathizers’ to the authorities. The climate of France was changing and this is one example of what Jewish children were experiencing.

Over the next couple of months, Leo was left alone by the sports director and it seemed that the kids in the camp forgot about the entire experience. (Abrami, 10) In August of 1940, Leo and his brother would take the ferry, bus, and train back to their mom in Bagnolet.