cover image The Children’s Front: The True Story of an Orphanage in Wartime France

The Children’s Front: The True Story of an Orphanage in Wartime France

Marty Parkes. Indie Books International, $20 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-957-65129-3

Journalist Parkes (Disrupter) reveals in this approachable narrative the previously undocumented story of philanthropist and humanitarian Seymour Houghton (1906–1998). Born to “patrician” parents in Connecticut, Houghton studied politics and economics at the École Libre des Sciences Politiques in Paris. While working as a political writer in France in the late 1930s, Houghton established an orphanage for refugee children near Marseilles. Called the Refuge de Petis, the sanctuary had originally been a gorgeous stone and stucco hotel, and was surrounded by “tree filled gardens.” The children—whose parents were in Nazi concentration camps, fighting for the Allies, or had simply been separated from their children in the masses of refugees fleeing from France and elsewhere—were cared for and, unusually, educated in civics, with lessons on loyalty, politics, and leadership. Convinced that the U.S. was on the verge of entering the war, and fearful of arrest as an enemy citizen in Nazi-aligned Vichy France, Houghton returned to America in September 1941. There he worked to raise funds for the orphanage, now led by his future wife, Germaine M. Perret. The Refuge continued to operate after the war, and by 1966, more than 500 children had lived there since its founding. With its poignant descriptions of daily life in the orphanage (including sun-drenched days at the beach and the staff’s endless quest to procure enough food for everyone), this is a worthwhile account of a forgotten moment of history. (Self-published)