Au Revoir Les Enfantes: Holocaust in Film

Jean Bonnet (aka Jean Kippelstein, left) and Julien Quentin (right).

Jean Bonnet (aka Jean Kippelstein, left) and Julien Quentin (right).

Au Revoir Les Enfants is a 1987 film directed by Louis Malle. The film is a biographical war drama that focuses on events at a French boarding school run by priests during World War II. The film follows the developing relationship between two students, Julien Quentin and Jean Bonnet, who is actually named Jean Kippelstein. Father Jean, the school’s principal, has been hiding Jewish children in the school to save their lives. As the story develops, Julien realizes that Jean isn’t like everyone else. To hide his identity and excuse the fact that he doesn’t know the Catholic prayers, Jean Bonnet claims to be Protestant, but Julien discovers the truth. Instead of driving a wedge between them, this shared secret brings them closer together.

Based on a true story, this film demonstrates the level of common knowledge of Jews in France and how they were seen by their French neighbors. The relationship in France between Jews and non-Jews is presented as being complex, rather than black and white. This can best be seen in the restaurant scene, where an older man is sitting alone and Vichy government officials come in and ask him for his papers. When the official discovers the old man is a Jew the official begins to harass him. Some of the restaurant’s patrons express feelings similar to the official’s, but the majority believe the official’s actions are a disgrace and an affront to human dignity, including Julien’s mother.

But, how much did the average French person really know about Jews? When Julien asks his brother to explain what makes a person Jewish, his response is that a Jew is a person who doesn’t eat pork. When Julien asks why everyone hates the Jews, his brother tells him it is because Jewish people are smarter than non-Jews, and because they killed Christ, which Julien dismisses as an obvious lie, since the Romans were responsible for crucifying Christ.  Perhaps this scene is meant to convey the idea that there really aren’t any significant differences between Jews and non-Jews, since Julien continues his friendship with Jean. It is interesting that Jean was at the top of his class, along with Julien, and they manage to develop a strong friendship, while their less intelligent peers are still spouting stereotypes and comparing Jews to Communists and Germans. Perhaps the message here is that a little intelligence and thought leads to peaceful coexistence.

Jean spends most of the film trying to blend in with his classmates, for obvious reasons, but throughout the film he’s shown as being slightly different. He stands out, not necessarily because he looks different, but because of his demeanor. He carries himself differently from the other students. In many scenes he appears to be hunched over slightly, or he walks differently. It almost looks like he’s physically struggling with the mental burden of staying hidden. He does tell Julien that he is afraid all the time. Jean’s desperate need to fit in causes him to attempt to take communion, perhaps to prove to his friend that he is not so different from him, or perhaps because he feared that since Julien noticed that he is Jewish, he should redouble his efforts to appear Protestant. That could also explain why he hid during choir practice, to avoid revealing his unfamiliarity with Christian hymns.

The scene I found most interesting in the film was when Jean was removed from the classroom, because of how his classmates reacted. After the schoolyard repetition of stereotypes and expressions of dislike for Jews, the students did not react violently when they discovered that Jean was Jewish. When the priest came in and asked the boys to say a prayer for their classmates, there wasn’t any rowdiness. In other scenes that involve prayer, there is rough-housing, mocking or laughter. But in this scene, there is solidarity, and later, the non-Jewish students are proud that Negus was able to avoid capture, implying that familiarity dispels ignorance and breeds acceptance and friendship. I wonder if, when producing this scene, the director was specifically thinking of laïcité, the French conception of secularism, which states that religion doesn’t matter because the French are French first.

Au Revoir Les Enfants is an interesting film that depicts the French response to German occupation and fascist doctrine regarding the Jewish community. Some collaborated, some resisted, some were apathetic and some profited from exposing Jews in hiding. But, the film also shows that understanding and familiarity are important tools to overcoming stereotypes. The acting in the film is excellent and the director’s portrayal of Jean Bonnet and his classmates expresses the emotions and ideas buried in the story of Julien of Jean’s friendship excellently.

A Car Blessing in the Philippines

Do people actually do this in any other country?  I’ve never heard of it before.  Is it strictly a Catholic thing?

A car being blessed by a Catholic priest in the Philippines.

In the image above, you can see a group of people gathered around a new vehicle.  The man in the white top and black pants is a priest, probably from the nearby Our Lady of Peace Cathedral, which is a popular pilgrimage destination for people who are about to embark on trips.

I’m not sure if there’s a process to this, if different parts of the vehicle are blessed at different times and I just stumbled across them as they were getting to the engine, or if having the hood raised and the engine running is just the standard way of having a vehicle blessed.

As weird as this seems, it makes sense in a way, and makes sense that they’d come to the Cathedral that’s known as a place for travelers to receive blessings to have it done.

If you stumbled across this post looking for information about how to get your car blessed at the Cathedral, click this link and then scroll to the bottom of the post to see a picture of the sign showing the hours for car blessings, as well as contact numbers.

Religious Procession Through The Town Center

Sometimes interesting things cross your path, in this case literally, which is why I’m glad I almost always have my camera with me!

We had just been dropped off in town by the tricycle so we could walk down the street and do a little shopping when we heard a bunch of loud bangs and then saw hordes of people with candles walking down the road we were supposed to cross.  When we got closer, we could see it was a procession coming from the Antipolo Cathedral and going down the main road.  I had no idea what was going on, but I figured it was a good time to take photos.

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After getting my pictures I asked my wife if she knew what the procession was for.  I’d seen her asking someone what was going on, but she wasn’t sure what the guy was talking about.  He had said, “It’s the last procession of the month!”  That doesn’t make sense though, because these photos were taken just a day or two ago, at the beginning of July.  If there’s more than one procession a month, which his answer implies, then the last one wouldn’t be at the beginning of the month.

Regardless, it was an interesting sight and it was very lively with the fireworks going off just above us.  They weren’t the kind that make patterns or lights, just loud noises, or I’d have taken photos of those too.

This also reminded me of a segment of the Filipino history book I’m reading.  When the Spaniards first started imposing their way of life on the natives here in the Philippines, Catholic missionaries would try to lure in the more stubborn people by holding frequent festivals in the towns.  The festivals and religious ceremonies and events were purposely gaudy and exciting as a way to entice Filipinos to come, enjoy and then hopefully convert, and after converting start paying tithes of course.

Since we’re talking about tithes, I also read that back then if you were a member of the church and didn’t pay your tithe, you were publicly humiliated for it during the sermon in front of all of the people from your town.  My wife says this practice still occurs in some churches in the Philippines, most notably the Iglesia ni Cristos, which is a Christian sect in the Philippines.

Which Sounds More Creepy? Muslim Call To Prayer Vs Catholic Rosary Chanting

The first time I heard the Muslim call to prayer was in Iraq in 2003 when my unit was set up near a mosque in the outskirts of Baghdad.  It was strange, but it didn’t sound necessarily bad.  In fact, there’s a very musical quality to it that’s easy to appreciate when you’re not letting prejudice and/or fear get in the way.

I thought Muslims were the only ones in the business of broadcasting prayers to the neighborhood over loudspeakers, but I was wrong.  Walking through a neighborhood in the Philippines one afternoon I heard this creepy chanting sound and I asked my wife what it is.  We were a bit far away from the source, so I couldn’t quite make out what was being said.  She told me that it’s the Rosary being chanted over loudspeakers from the Catholic church in the neighborhood.  It’s done every day around 2 or 3 PM, and if that weren’t enough, there are also announcements and other prayers broadcast to the neighborhood in the morning at around 6 AM I think.

While I don’t think I could quite appreciate living close to either one, having to listen to them repeatedly every single day, I would opt for listening to the Muslim call to prayer if I had a choice.  Maybe it’s that I don’t understand the words, but there’s just something oddly disturbing to me about the Rosary being chanted and the entire neighborhood being forced to listen to it, whether they want to or not.  What adds to the whole creepy factor is that more often than not, it’s children that are being made to recite the Rosary over the loudspeakers.  They’re supplied with an afternoon snack as a lure or compensation to get them to do it.

In the video below, I’ve mashed together clips of the Muslim call to prayer that I recorded in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and a clip of the Rosary chanting here in the Philippines.  Unfortunately, there weren’t children doing the chanting this time, which would have given you more of an idea of how weird it sounds on a normal day, but it’s creepy nonetheless.

Judge for yourself.

Feel free to comment, but don’t use the comment section as a Christians Vs Muslims bashing forum.  Comment only on this particular practice please.

Update: The full text in English of the meaning of the Adhan, or Islamic call to prayer, is included below, from About.com:

Allahu Akbar
God is Great
(said four times)

Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
(said two times)

Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
(said two times)

Hayya ‘ala-s-Salah
Hurry to the prayer (Rise up for prayer)
(said two times)

Hayya ‘ala-l-Falah
Hurry to success (Rise up for Salvation)
(said two times)

Allahu Akbar
God is Great
[said two times]

La ilaha illa Allah
There is no god except the One God

For the pre-dawn (fajr) prayer, the following phrase is inserted after the fifth part above, towards the end:

As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm
Prayer is better than sleep
(said two times)

The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (AKA Manila Cathedral)

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That’s a pretty big mouthful, but basically what I’m talking about here is the church that’s designated as the command center for the Archbishops of Manila.  To be precise, these esteemed gentlemen:

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A few posts ago I showed some photos of the cathedral in in Antipolo.  It’s pretty nice, but the Manila cathedral was designated as a Minor Basilica for a reason.  It’s got great architecture and a LOT of history, as you can see from the picture above, which shows archibishops dating back to 1573.  We went through it rather quickly, because it was as hot as an oven in there, but on a cool day we could go back and spend a few hours reading all of the information that’s put out on display.  A quick history is that this church was originally established by the Spanish during the colonial period.  It originally fell under the diocese of Mexico, but eventually gained its own authority and power structure.  The building itself has, in part, survived multiple wars, a massive fire and an earthquake.  It’s been rebuilt a few times.

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The exterior and interior of the building are in pretty good shape.  There was some quiet renovation work going on while we were there, but it didn’t detract from the overall experience.  I’m not Catholic, but it was still inspiring to be in such a sacred place with over 400 years of history, so we took a few moments to offer up prayers before leaving to continue our self-guided tour of the Intramuros area.

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This is a view of the cathedral from the main entrance towards the chancel.  It’s a pretty big area.

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If you walk to the front and then turn and look above the entrance, you’ll see the pipe organ.  A plaque I read said that the first Catholic missionaries to the Philippines brought musical instruments with them, including a portable box organ which was probably destroyed in a major Manila fire in the 1500s.  It didn’t say exactly when the pipe organ was put in place, but it said that for almost all of the cathedral’s history, there’s been a Master Chantre, some of which were specifically named as organists.

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Just after taking this photo, a young guy walked in, embraced this cross and began to pray silently.  I’ve noticed that Catholics place a lot of importance on symbols, images and things as objects or focal points of prayer.  It seems bizarre to me, because there shouldn’t be an object between yourself and God.  On the other hand, I suppose something that inspires (properly placed) devotion can’t be all that bad.  Being in the cathedral was a strong reminder and incentive for me reflect as well.

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This is the “La Pieta”.  I didn’t read the plaque, so I don’t understand the symbolism behind the statue, but it’s well made.

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This is an image of Our Lady of the Philippines located in the Manila Cathedral.

I’m looking forward to visiting this cathedral again.  We were a bit short on time and just happened to see it while on our way to Fort Santiago so we rushed through.  I may create an additional post about this cathedral in the future, since it’s such a wonderful and rich landmark in Manila.