Convoy 77, a European project to transmit the history of the Shoah in a different way

Published on : 27/01/2021 – 07:19

On the occasion of the international day in memory of the victims of the Shoah, France 24 has been highlighting the Convoi 77 project. For more than six years, French and foreign students have been writing biographies of the deportees of this convoy, the last to having left Drancy on July 31, 1944. Another way of teaching the history of this genocide.

Fanny Azenstarck was 23 years old. She was resistant in Lyon. Joseph Levy was 64 years old. He was a hosier in Paris. Henriette Korman was 4 years old. She was a schoolgirl in Montargis. Henri Netter was 20 years old. He was a hairdresser in Strasbourg. All were deported because they were born Jews by Convoy 77, the last to leave from Drancy, in the Paris region, on July 31, 1944 towards Auschwitz. That day, 1,310 people, men, women and children, left France in cattle wagons heading for Poland. Upon arrival, 836 are taken directly to the gas chambers. Only 250 will survive this hell.

More than 75 years later, their faces are now on display on the Convoy 77 website. This project was launched in 2014 by descendants of deportees. “I decided to create this association in order to think about the best way to transmit the history of the Shoah to today’s adolescents in a different way”, explains Georges Mayer, president of the association Convoi 77 and himself. son of a deportee. “I always wondered how it was talked about in school. It worked for a while in the 90s and 2000s, but we ended up with an inadequate teaching method and a certain saturation. “

As proof, he cites the latest surveys conducted among young people. Even though nearly 9 in 10 French people (87%) aged between 15 and 24 have already heard of the Shoah, according to an Ifop poll from September 2020, one in five respondents indicate having observed in class criticisms concerning the too important place of the teaching of the Shoah compared to other historical periods.

In order not to leave the field open to negationists and to breathe new life into this teaching while the last witnesses disappear, a very simple idea emerges: to suggest to middle school and high school students to retrace the journey of a person from the convoy from their city or having lived there. “We stop talking about the six million deaths and mass killings to make micro history and take an interest in the life of an individual”, summarizes Georges Mayer.

The association provides teachers with archives to start their research, as well as educational advice. “When they start working, they already have documents at their disposal, but that does not prevent them from doing research at the local level to find additional sources”, describes the president of Convoy 77.

“They are carrying out their own investigation”

Over the school year, middle and high school students immerse themselves in the fate of these broken lives. They gather information, collect testimonies while developing knowledge about the past of their city. They compare the documents, question the veracity of the sources, question themselves on this or that fact. “What changes is that the pupils do not have to undergo what a teacher will tell them. They are active and carry out their own investigation. They themselves build something”, insists Georges Mayer.

The result is published in the form of a file on the association’s website. Almost 230 biographies have already been uploaded and almost as many are under study. Some teachers also choose to transcribe these courses in the form of literary texts, drawings or even videos.

Very quickly, the project went beyond the simple borders of France. Convoy 77 was indeed made up of 32 different nationalities. In Romania, Algeria, Morocco and even Greece, establishments from 20 different countries have joined this fight against oblivion. Sometimes work can be done in cooperation. “There may be a Polish class that will work on a person’s life when they lived there before immigrating, then a French class that will study their journey in France before their deportation. They do a common job together. It is a great thing to put young Europeans in touch with this project, “explains Georges Mayer.

“It resonated with him”

Year after year, students from all walks of life focus on the history of these 1,310 Jewish deportees. Georges Mayer remembers in particular a young Syrian refugee who participated in the project with his class from Palaiseau, in the Parisian suburbs, and took part in a play. “He played the main role, that of the deportee and even pronounced sentences in Yiddish when he had never heard of the Shoah in his country,” he says. “He came to me at the end and told me how it had marked him. He hoped that one day he could talk about the war in Syria the same way he could have done for Convoy 77. That echoed in him. “

Through the history of the deportees of July 31, 1944, the transmission operates. At the current rate, all biographies should be written within four or five years. Célestine Ajzykowicz, Isic Fischer, Esther Jaffe, Ignace Natowitz, Regine Roumi, Leopold Stein – so many names from Convoy 77 who are still waiting for a veil to be lifted on their tragic fate. “We are only bringing a small stone, but we must continue to talk about these victims and their stories. They had a life,” concludes Georges Mayer.

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