The Children of the Chateau de la Hille, by Sebastian Steiger Reviewed by Nathan Szajnberg, MD

The Children of the Chateau de la Hille, by Sebastian Steiger. English translation 2017, Lexographic Press Review by Nathan Szajnberg, MD

Why should attention be paid?

Under threat of death, one hundred children were hidden at a remote chateau in Vichy France, its front gate painted with the Red Cross of Switzerland on a white background. This Cross did not protect them from the French collaborating Milice, nor the SS.

One hundred faces you can see in the appendix; many of their voices you can hear in the text and the guiding voice of Steiger who came from Switzerland to educate, give first aid and above all try to keep them alive.

Reading this book is more like watching Stalag 17, except unlike the American and British soldiers kept captive, kept alive in Nazi Germany, these children, particularly the teens, faced death should they be found.  These children were hunted, fair game for the SS and the French collaborators.  Some escaped, many captured and often sent to death.  Ironically, while nearer the Spanish border, it was deemed “safer” to travel thousand of kilometers to the Swiss border and attempt a crossing there. But, the Swiss government decided that only “political” refugees would be admitted: Jewish children excluded.

Listen to the children’s own voices: some lived to speak again in adulthood; others leave behind only the haunting ghosts of their words.

Listen breathlessly as the Milice or gendarmes invade the chateau to seek teens to send to the SS; those teens hide in the Zweibkeller, the onion cellar, ironically, not a  cellar, but a niche above the chapel.  (Yet, we read that when the new teacher was curious about its location and couldn’t find it, he is told where it is!  One might hope that the fewer people who knew, the safer the children would be.)

Some might compare this book with Ann Frank’s, but an more apt comparison is with the lesser known, Bitter Herbs, by Minke. Minke’s father, unlike Frank’s, prepared an emergency exit for the children and practiced their escapes: when the Nazis came, the two children escaped and survived.

In any case, this is a book about well-meaning men and women who saved some children’s lives, children hunted because they were Jews, the “most dangerous game,” pitifully, never dangerous to hunt for mankind.  The reader will benefit from having listened to these children’s voices.

Nathan M. Szajnberg, MD


Member, San Franciso and Israel Psychoanalytic Societies
Training Analyst, IPA and Israel Psychoanalytic
Former Freud Professor, The Hebrew University
3941 Duncan Place
Palo Alto, Ca. 94306

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