“FANNY’S JOURNEY”— Fleeing the Nazis

“Fanny’s Journey” (“Le voyage de Fanny”)

Fleeing the Nazis

Amos Lassen

After Fanny’s father was arrested by the Nazis, her mother took her and her two sisters to a boarding school in France’s neutral zone. When the Nazis began to close in on that area, hey children were smuggled to another institution just over the Italian border, and just in the nick of time. Unfortunately, they were there for only a short period. With Mussolini’s arrest, the Nazis began to take over Italy and the school’s leader, Madame Forman (Cecile De France)   knew that it time for them to move again.  She forges false papers and then gives all the children an anglicized name and drills them in fake family back-stories before taking them to catch the train to Switzerland. They almost fail at the very start, but Madame Forman creates a rather dramatic diversion for the kids to board undetected.

Teenage Elie (Victor Meutelet) took over as leader but he panicked and deserted them at the first sign of real trouble and thirteen year old Fanny (Leonie Souchaud) takes charge of getting them to Switzerland and safety. and with the war’s constantly changing scenario, this is certainly not going to be easy for one so young.

The film was co-written and directed by Lola Doillon  and based on Fanny Ben Ami’s autobiography. We see the horrors of war seen through the eyes of children.  Most members of the cast are non-professionals yet they give natural and convincing performances.  These are children and it is beautiful to see them grab an odd moment of playtime, when for just a minute or two. By doing so, they are allowed to forget the danger that they could easily be in.

In 1943 and when she had barely turned 13, Fanny and her sisters (and other young Jewish children) were sent to an Italian foster home. The younger children had no understanding of what was going on, or why they had to continue to move from one place to the next. It is an almost impossible to explain to a child why he/she might be persecuted because of their religious beliefs. In one scene, Fanny’s younger sister Georgette (Juliane Lepoureau) asks, “Why can’t we stop being Jews?” This demonstrates the difficulty in grasping the seriousness and precarious state they are in and the reasons why.

With the fall of Mussolini, Madame Forman knew that the children would not be safe in Italy so the time came for them to move to Switzerland and Fanny takes the lead of the group eight young children. She has to dig deep into her strength and keep together the stories that they have made up for them in order to get past German soldiers. At one point, some fellow travelers tell on the group, and they are almost caught by the Nazi soldiers.

When we consider how American immigration policies are being re-imagined, we see how relevant this movie is today. Here is a Holocaust story about children that reminds us that although this is past history, there is the possibility that it can happen again. We must stand tall against threats to freedom

Fanny was a strong, independent teen whose will to survive and get her sisters to safety, led her to lead to Switzerland.  They lived through the war and returned home to France afterward but never found their parents.  Eventually, they went to Israel where Fanny still resides today at 86 years old.

The picturesque scenery is the opposite of the harsh reality of uniformed soldiers and guns and it creates a juxtaposition of light and dark and serenity and war. “Fanny’s Journey” is a somber and strong reminder of what can happen when hate and violence are left unchecked. The innocence of childhood is drastically taken from these kids.  This is a story that needs to be told over and over again because it is as devastating as it is uplifting and serves as a reminder to never forget and never let something like this happen again. 

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