Un Sac de Billes (France, 1975)

Figure 1.--Here Joseph and his brother are greeted with jeers when they arrive at school with their Star of David Juif badges sewn on to their smocks. The reason that France introduced smocks back in the 1870s was so that all children would be treated equally.

The French film, 'A sac de billes' is a factual account about two French Jewish boys based on the autobiography of Joseph Joffo. He was born in Paris (1931). He and his brother had a uneventful schooling in which they were accepted and made friends and had good peer relationships before the arrival of the Germans. The film is about his and his brother's experiences during the German World War II occupation. We find it interesting among other reasons because in describes what happened in the schools, an often neglected topic in Holocaust literature. The story is told through the eyes of a 10 year old boy who relates, but of course does not fully understand the terrible events swirling around him and putting his family in mortal danger. The family go along to the center distributing the Jewish Star of David badges. These are black and yellow badges with 'Juif' written on them. Mum sews the badges on to their school smocks. Their school mates begin to taunt them when they enter the school with their Juif badges. At school they are singled out and the teacher puts the Jewish boys at the back of the room. In the course of the lesson the teacher asks a question which only Joseph knows the answer. The teacher ignores him and tries to encourage the non-Jewish students to answer but to no avail. Joseph throws his text book on the floor and the teacher punishes him. As Joseph is going to the teacher his non-Jewish friend picks up the book and puts it back on his desk. This is the scene that gave me hope. Joseph is walking home with his friend who is Christian. He has a bag of marbles which the Jewish boy would like. He played marbles and won a few but his partner still had a big bag full. The non- Jewish boy collects badges and wants a Star of David for his collection. They swap. The badge is easily removed and both boys go home thrilled at their trophies, one boy with a Star of David and the other with the bag of marbles. I do not know whether this is cinema making a part or a depiction of an actual event. Of course when both boys got home there would be trouble. In reality, we believe that Vichy authorities ultimately expelled Jewish children from the state schools, but do not yet have details. The badges were required at about the same time that the roundups and deportations began. This varied over time and perhaps from school to school. Even before this, however, many parents began removing the children from the schools to hide them once the roundup and deportations began. At the end of the war the family reunited but Joseph's father had died in a concentration camp. Their father gave him and his brother 60 francs each and instructions to get out of German-occupied Paris and stay with their brothers Henri and Albert in Menton on the Mediterranean coast which at the time was was in the unoccupied zone. It is a journey that the boys make alone. They travel on trains, the bus and walk part of the way. They eventually arrive safely at the home of their much older brothers.


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Created: 7:26 AM 12/26/2013
Spell checked: 5:07 PM 12/26/2013
Last updated: 5:07 PM 12/26/2013