Children's Homes in France During the Holocaust

Château de Chabannes

Leather Workshop

Leon and David König

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In the building adjacent to the Château de Chabannes, there was a leather workshop where the older children at the home were taught and employed. Felix Chevrier, director of the children's home, who was later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, believed in equipping the  children with skills to prepare them for life after the war.

The leather workshop was run by Joseph Leon König, a veteran teacher who had taught leathercraft in schools in the Paris area before the war.  After the Germans occupied Paris, Leon, his wife Rachel and their son David, aged fourteen, moved to the Unoccupied Zone of France.  The Königs came to Chabannes, and Leon started teaching leathercraft there.  Some twenty boys over the age of thirteen, including his son David, studied under him and made purses, wallets and other items. 

In November 1943, the children's home in Chabannes was closed, and the König family moved to the Isère district in south-east France.  Leon joined the Underground through the Jewish organization CDIJ, but was caught in May 1944 and sent to the Drancy camp.  In June 1944 Leon was deported to Auschwitz.

In a letter that Leon sent to his family before his deportation to Auschwitz, he wrote:

"My dear ones, a few words to say goodbye, because our departure is scheduled for Friday.  I ask that the two of you, my darling Rachel and my darling David, remain good and brave and confident.  As for me, I am filled with courage and I am very confident that this will not be for long.  I am healthy.  Look after your health. I send you warm hugs, and know that my thoughts are always with you."

Eighteen-year-old David König (later Shalit) continued his father Leon's resistance activities, which included distributing forged Aryan identity papers and helping refugees, until the liberation in August 1944.  After the liberation, David and his mother returned to Paris.  Leon survived Auschwitz and returned to his family in May 1945.  After the war, David worked with orphaned children until his immigration to Israel in 1948.

Stephan Heinz Lewy

Stephan Heinz Lewy was one of the students in Leon König's leather workshop in Chabannes.  Stephan was born in Berlin in 1925, the only child of Arthur Lewy and his Protestant wife Gertrude.  Gertrude died when Stephan was six years old.  As the wave of antisemitism gathered momentum, his father was arrested and his businesses confiscated.  A relative from Boston arranged for the family to be issued visas to the US, but the Lewys were not permitted to emigrate after Arthur failed his medical. In July 1939, Arthur sent his son Stephan to France with a group of forty children. The group was taken to the OSE children's home at the Château de Chabannes, where Stephan attended the leather workshop run by Leon König.

In 1942, Stephan was told that his father and his second wife Joanna had managed to leave Germany, and were living in the US.  After much effort, the couple obtained a visa for Stephan and he set out on his journey, via Spain, Tunisia and Morocco, eventually reaching New York by ship.  Less than a year later, Stephan enlisted in the US Army where he served as an interpreter with the 6th Armored Division and took part in the liberation of Buchenwald.

Stephan Lewy donated two of his notebooks from the leather workshop in Chabannes and a purse that he made in the workshop.  The notebooks and leather artifacts reflect the precision and attention to detail taught in the workshop.