From 1940 until the end of World War II, Jewish refugees trekked high and deep into the Pyrenees – the 305-mile mountain range which separates France and Spain – to escape the Nazis. Thousands successfully made this perilous journey.
To understand what it was like defies imagination. Before they even began their perilous escapes, many had been in hiding and were already physically and emotionally weakened. In the mountains they had to avoid being discovered by the authorities; defy harsh climatic conditions (which included year-round snow); and meet the challenges of hiking the rugged terrain, often in the middle of the night. Once in Fascist Spain, most were temporarily arrested, and then rescued by the American Joint Distribution Committee (the JDC, aka “the Joint”), which pulled every string possible to spirit them to safety, including to the United States and Palestine.
In the Footsteps of the Courageous brings to life to this little known story of the Holocaust. It is about brave and remarkable human beings who risked everything in the quest of freedom. It is also about those who aided them in their escapes and eventual relocation. However it also documents the seedy tales of unscrupulous mountain guides and individuals who turned Jews into the authorities – which could mean immediate death or deportation to labor or extermination camps.
MODERN DAY STORY
Integrated into the documentary will be a contemporary, multi-day trek into the Pyrenees by descendents of the Jewish escapees as well as supportive members of the general public. Although the exact 1940’s escape routes will never be known, these trekkers will walk in their footsteps. In this way, viewers will be able to understand the enormous physical and emotional challenges of such an undertaking, even without the hostile realities of Nazis and their sympathizers lurking at every turn.
Nine-year-old Manfred Manesse and his 13-year old brother, Gus, escaped in February 1944 with five other people led by a French guide or passeur. They only had rags for boots and layers of clothes for winter coats. During the day they dug deep ditches where they huddled together until nightfall when it was safe to travel. They made it to Barcelona where they were rescued by the JDC, which placed them in a safe house while making arrangements to send them to America to live with relatives.
When teenager Michel Margosis crossed the mountains with his mother, sister and older brother, they heard loud German voice and dogs barking incessantly. Their guides quickly changed direction and they continued on a more difficult climb. (At right: Michel at the Orphanage with Abbot and other refugees Girona-Dec. 1942)
A French resistance member led Abraham Szyller to a mountain pass, told him which landmarks to follow into Spain, and left the 15-year-old on his own. Well into his trek, an hour later there was a major snowfall, concealing all the landmarks. Yet somehow Abraham made it to Spain.
Joan Salter has no memory of her trek with her mother, half-sister and other refugees, as she was only 2-years-old. Like many, when they crossed the mountains, they had no food. Hungry and cold, Joan began to cry. Their guide threatened to suffocate her if she did not quiet down. So she was carried for several days by her mother and the others.
There were also well-known people who escaped over the mountains, like Marc Chagall, the Louis-Dreyfus banking family, and Baroness Claude de Rothschild and her two daughters. The Rothschilds escaped in December 1942, and were better prepared than most with their plush ski boots and jackets. But the Baroness mistakenly hid her jewels in her stockings, which froze onto her legs. The gems were removed be a hotel owner in the principality of Andorra, but left festering sores. The hotelier treated her and was given a hefty reward for his aid.
MOVING THE REFUGEES TO SAFE SHORES
The refugees flight for freedom did not end upon arrival in Spain. At a time when the world was in crisis and communication limited, the JDC created a massive, state-of-the-art people-moving operation. It required persistence, diplomatic negotiations, time, money, and most of all, creativity to find countries which would accept Jewish refugees, and the transportation to get them there.
During the War, no one was sure what would happen on the other side of the treacherous Pyrenees mountain range, or even if they would survive the dangerous trek. But for all, there was no looking back. In the Footsteps of the Courageous will retell this story for generations to come.
Read Hadassah Magazine article by Patricia Giniger Snyder Passage Over the Pyrenees
About the Filmmakers
Patricia Giniger Snyder - Director
Patricia Giniger Snyder is an award-winning a video/film producer and director specializing in short and long-form documentaries. She began her career at WNET/Channel 13, New York City’s PBS station. Her first film was the internationally acclaimed, Silent Pioneers, a documentary about elderly lesbians and gay men which premiered on PBS, and among numerous awards, received an Emmy nomination for the Year’s Most Outstanding Program. Pat also produces mini-docs for permanent and temporary museum exhibitions such as Girona, The Mother of Israel/ The Jews of Catalona and The Truth About the Dreyfus Affair. She also produces internet videos for nonprofits and the U.S. Departments of Labor and Health & Human Services. Among her credits are:
- Be Bothered! Do Something! (Caring for Cambodia)
- The Children of Oswiecim Remember (Auschwitz Jewish Center)
- Speak for Change, Recovery Opens Doors (NCPIE & Dept. of Health & Human Services)
Pat has had a strong commitment to Judaism and social justice her entire life, and is so grateful to share the story of those who crossed the Pyrenees to freedom.
Marjolijn Yolande van der Meer Carabén - Producer
Marjolijn Yolande van der Meer Carabén has worn many hats throughout her eclectic career as a dancer, writer and lecturer. Born in The Hague, Netherlands in 1944, Marjolijn’s family sheltered a Jewish couple for a short time during World War II. When she was 10 years old, her family moved to Dutch New Guinea where she developed her interests in the arts. In 1968, she married Armand Carabén Ribó, a Catalan economist and a writer, and well-known for his role as General Manager of Barça, the Fútbol Club. For two decades Marjolijn was the dance critic for La Vanguardia, Barcelona’s main newspaper, as well as for other publications. She has also been an adviser in the Cultural Department of the Ministry in Madrid for the Catalan Autonomous Government.
A committed Catalan, Marjolijn has had a long interest in the history of the Jewish people in Europe, especially on the Iberian Peninsula. She was deeply moved by the role the Catalans played in saving and protecting the lives of escaping Jewish refugees during WWII, and was the catalyst for producing In the Footsteps of the Courageous.
Yoann de Montgrand - Director of Photography
Yoann de Montgrand is a French cinematographer/Director of Photography. He graduated from the French National Film School, La Fémis, and began his career as a camera assistant and focus puller on feature films, leading him to his work as DP/cinematographer for fictional films, documentaries, music videos and ads. Yoann is fluent in French, English and Catalan. He is an avid hiker, and is humbled by being able to walk in the footsteps of the Jewish refugees. Among Yoann’s credits are:
- Men from the Hill (about Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovinia (Co-directed with Benjamin Vial)
- Villette sur courts (Directed by Valérie Mrejen) - a series of 6 short films documentary for the French institution, La Villette
- Seul l’avenir nous le dira (Directed by Gilles Charmant)
- #illusion (directed by Teodora Berglund & Alexandra Jousset)
- Maux d’enfants - singer: Patrick Bruel
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