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Activities in France: Baden-Baden Report, 1942

Photo: / AFSC

“This is the final report on the American Friends Service Committee relief program which developed in France during 1940-1942 to reduce human suffering from the war, to bear testimony to the belief in essential value of human fellowship in preventing such suffering.”

As the German army worked its way through the south of France in 1942, the safety of the AFSC staff in France could not be guaranteed. The American workers were called back to the US after diplomatic ties between the US and France were severed, but not before they attempted to bring organizational affairs to a close. In November 1942, the staff found themselves in a mad scramble to close programs or hand them over to the French Quakers (“Secours Quakers”) and those of other nationalities, who could remain behind to carry on the work. Unfortunately, this final hand-off prevented several of the staff from getting out of Nazi-occupied France in time. Consequently, nine AFSC staff members spent over a year as prisoners of the Nazis, held in a hotel in Baden-Baden Germany (seven are pictured here). This 59-page report was completed by that group during their captivity, and provides a great picture of the AFSC's mission in France: its strengths, weaknesses, and lessons learned. 

The introduction includes an interesting explanation of the difficult balancing act between helping the neediest (e.g., foreigners in internment at work camps with no family or resources locally) and aiding French children, whom French authorities preferred—and for whom American fundraising was targeted. Also, there is a dialogue between helping many children by keeping them in Europe, versus saving few at great cost by conveying them to US.

The writers state the overarching question as follows:
“Since the role of individual relationship and friendly understanding is so important, should AFSC ever undertake large scale programs, or should the extent of its activities always be restricted in order to give the best results to the Quaker testimony?”

Also, they note that the transfer of all funds, clothes, and food to Secours Quaker on Nov 10, 1942, created significant obstacles to that organization. In the future, they conclude, it would be better to undertake such relief activities from an international, rather than a national Quaker organization. Then, “the possibility of confusion with national or political objectives would be minimized.”

“To [most French] the assistance was an expression of the friendship by a nation that sympathized with France in her distress and that would in time come and free the French by force of arms.” (emphasis added)

The remaining body of the report evaluates:

  • Feeding in internment camps
  • Clothing for internees in camps
  • Emigration counseling
  • Emigration of children
  • Cash aid
  • Money transfers
  • The Cooperative Club
  • Workshops (in camps)
  • Village and farm products
  • Administration of the program
Created Date 
Jan 22, 2016

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