From a Holocaust-era Chimney to a Guide for Refugees in France

A company that has been advising tourists where to stay is now helping refugees say what they need — thanks to the firm's founder.

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A Syrian refugee holds his feverish daughter, under a tent of a makeshift camp in northern Paris, on September 24, 2015.
A Syrian refugee holds his feverish daughter, under a tent of a makeshift camp in northern Paris, on September 24, 2015.Credit: AFP

French travel guide company Routard published a special guidebook last week. Rather than pictures of exotic sites and recommendations for cheap hotels, the book is made up exclusively of illustrations without any text. This guide was released to help refugees communicate with local assistance organizations in France.

The 96-page guide entitled “Hello!” is divided into five sections – practical information, housing, health and hygiene, food, and leisure. Each section contains illustrations related to basic daily needs, such as types of clothing, footwear, food, hygiene products, modes of transportation and payment methods. By pointing to the illustrations, refugees who don’t speak French will be able to explain more easily their needs to aid workers. Routard will print 5,000 copies in mid-October and distribute them free to aid organizations. Meanwhile, it can be downloaded for free on the Routard website.

It is no coincidence that this travel guide company is printing a special guide for refugees. It turns out that Philippe Gloaguen, editor in chief of the Guide du Routard, has a special connection to the issue.

In 1965, after a fire broke out in the godmother’s home, firefighters asked his parents to clean out the blocked chimneys in her house, which posed a safety hazard. Gloaguen, then 14, joined his father for the 300-kilometer journey south from Paris to her home. When they began the cleaning mission, they discovered within the chimney and in the attack piles of documents and gold jewelry. An examination revealed that they belonged to Jews who fled the Second World War from Nazi-occupied France to Vichy France. Thus, they discovered that Gloaguen’s godmother, who lived on the border between Nazi-occupied France and Vichy France, helped Jews during the war to flee the Nazis without anyone in her family knowing.

Gloaguen recalled that after the discovery his father contacted the Israeli consulate in Paris and consular officials came to investigate and try to locate the owners of the jewelry and documents. The fact that his relative risked her life to save Jews made a deep impression on him.

“I grew up in a family in which it is important to help others,” he told Haaretz in a phone interview.

Another experience that made a mark on him took place during a visit to Israel with his Catholic father 25 years ago.

His father contracted pneumonia and spent their 10 days in Israel in the hospital. “He told me that it was the best trip of his life because he met religious Jews and learned a ton about Jews,” he recalled. “He met Jews from Morocco who spoke French, and for 10 days a woman of Moroccan descent sat next to him to help him with all his needs.” When he came to get his father released and pay for the hospitalization, he was told there was no need and that it would be arranged with French authorities.

“I didn’t pay anything, and I never heard anything about it since then,” he said. “It is perhaps the reason why I am conscious about helping others – because it happened to me and my father. You can be proud of your country.”

When Gloaguen heard that French President Francois Hollande declared that his state would take in 24,00 refugees, the small number outraged him.

“France is known for human rights for 200 years,” he said. “And I was shocked by the way in which our government is behaving toward refugees in France. These people – Eritreans, Iraqis, Syrians – are not terrorists. They are not people without work. They are not people on the margins. They are just fleeing Muslim terror in their land. The French and Europeans are familiar with Muslim terror, and it is much less serious than the terror these refugees suffered in their land. These people want to live without endangering themselves.”

He says he was embarrassed when he heard Hollande’s announcement.

“We think only about ourselves,” he said. “It’s nothing but egoism.”

Gloaguen recalled that in WW1 France absorbed 1.5 million Belgian refugees who fled after Germany invaded their country.

“All French have forgotten this. It’s 62 times as many refugees as we’ll now accept,” he said. He says the difference isn’t due to racism, though.

“We have economic problems, and we want to think only of ourselves, but it’s a question of humanity,” he said. “We won’t be poorer if we accept more refugees.”

When Gloaguen took matters into his own hands and began preparing a guide that would help refugee absorption in France, he drew from a previous Routard guidebook.

“A few years ago, I published a similar guide for vacationing children,” he explained. “If they want orange juice in a hotel and can’t ask in Greek or Spanish, they show the picture. I thought it’s basically the same thing for refugees, only their needs differ. I met with many aid organizations. I asked what questions they ask them, what needs they have, and it was a little complicated. I needed three months to make it, and I wasn’t alone.” He said travel agency Voyageurs du Monde covered half the printing costs.

“This guide won’t be in bookstores,” stressed Gloaguen. “It’s not a guide for refugees but edited for those helping refugees.”

He said refugees are not supposed to carry the guide. “The organizations told me it’s too heavy to carry,” he said. “Through the guide the organizations understand their needs and go from there.”

Gloaguen criticized French authorities on Routard’s website, calling on anyone who can to help refugees. “It’s one of the worst humanitarian disasters since World War II,” the site stated. “And Fortress Europe refuses to see the size of the tragedy.”

Gloaguen stressed: “In World War II, help to the Jews incurred risking one’s life, while now there is no danger in helping refugees, only humanity is needed.”

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