Since the discovery of America, France has colonies. What do they represent for the people of the small farmers like Elie and Florentine? I am not a historian and I do not claim to answer the question. However, I found some papers and put together some memories of what the elders said in my childhood. Some details to get an idea ...
In rural France, anybody knew some people moved to colonies: a cousin, a neighbor, the son of a client of the market ... The motivations for leaving the native soil were diverse. There were civil servants, teachers, policemen, soldiers, nurses. They did not run great risks and they got advantages for their careers . There were religious who wanted to convert the infidels. There were employees of private companies who went on construction sites to supervise the local workforce. And there were adventurers who could not find their place in French society. It must be said that the mentality of the time was not very tolerant. Mistakes were hardly admitted from young people. They had to be casted in the mold of the narrow moral, religious or secular, and those who disregarded it, they could be excluded from their family, their village, and had great difficulty in finding a job that respected their dignity.
And then the colonies, it was well known, that was where we found our raw materials, timber, rare metals ... How would we do if we had not? We particularly liked the chocolate and coffee that bring energy, dynamism and sweetness of life. And during the First World War, people sent to prisoners parcels full of dried fruit and chocolate coming from the colonies.
My godmother found a big book in an attic in which were bound each number of "The Illustrated Universe" from November 1865 to 1866. Photo 1 shows the front page of the November 26, 1865, illustrated with the revolt of "Negroes" in Jamaica. Why this big book was in the farmhouse where Elie grew up? According to my godmother, sharecroppers did not read these magazines, too expensive for them. But perhaps small landowners such as parents of Florentine, they read. Otherwise, it was an exemplary that a richer neighbor lately gave to the children of the sharecropper. How could I know?
In the papers and in the Florentine's missals, I found documents concerning
Charity of Saint Childhood.
The Little Schoolboy Almanac of the year 1907 (photo 2) published an article in which Florentine could know the Charity of the Holy Childhood:
The nuns of Holy Childhood (1907)
More than half a century ago - it was exactly in 1843 - a man of good, Mgr de Forbin Janson, wrote to the children of Europe and America and asked them some money in order to save all cute martyrs of their age, among Chineses or elsewhere.
What did he ask for?
Not a lot of money: a penny per month. But as there was, even at that time, many children with good heart, he got a lot of pennies and the Charity of Holy Childhood was founded.
French children registered first, and then the Belgian children, with, at their head, young royal princes, then Austria and Spain who brought to the salvation work the offering of countless small hands. Thus, those brave and tireless beggars received in the first year, in small pennies, 23000 francs. A few, years later, the Universal collection among children produced 760,000 francs! They got used to be charitable and good, and today it is through millions of francs that stood in harvesting.
And this money is so well spent that it seems that there are more. Consider that 171 missions - 19 for America and Oceania, 35 for Africa, 117 for Asia - are looking to the four corners of the world in order to remove unfortunate children to their misfortune, and share out their invaluable alive collection through more than six thousand houses: orphanages, schools, farms, workshops, workrooms.
In these asylums, every year a population of more than 180000 children is renewed, poor beings torn off to bloodthirsty whim, poverty, superstition, and for whom life will be fair, ie mild. Uprooted as soon as their early childhood to the cruelty of their parents, they are raised by the Sisters of the Holy Childhood, who take care to find them resources; as soon as they are big enough, they receive some instruction and learn a manual job, which will allow them, when they will be in age, work to earn their live and raise a new family on a more moral basis.
This article is illustrated by the photo 3 which shows very studious African children. If today it seems clear that children of all countries are able to learn, in the context of 1907, many were convinced that "Negroes" were inferior and incapable of learning.
In 1907, the nuns were very many. In France, as elsewhere, they were often nurses, teachers, educators at low prices. Their level of training was vastly inadequate for the responsibilities that they had to assume. However, some of them did a good job. They were supervised by superior nuns who trusted the poorest children, regardless of the colour of their skin.
Florentine paid her regular offering to
Save life to abandoned children of infidels, provide them with the grace of Baptism and the blessing of a Christian education, and buy back and redeem small poor blacks (slaves).
Photos 4 to 7 show the pictures she received to thank her.
The Annals of the Charity (photo 8) were rather directed to her parents. There was a subscription for 12 donors. This is probably why I have found only one issue, of August 1910. I chose two letters (in French) published in this issue:
Sister Raisin's mission in Tche-Kiang,
Monsignor Simon apostolic vicar of Orange River (South Africa).
Through these letters, we can see that French religious went on missions outside the French colonies. There were such missions in Cilicia and throughout the Ottoman Empire. The testimony of Father Materne-Mure shows that he felt in a hostile environment in a very unstable country. Unfortunately, I did not find any document about the Cilicia or the Armenians in the only issue of the Annals that I own. I have no doubt on the fact that Florentine could find there detailed informations and alarming news about the country where Elie had gone.
At Noubarian library, Paris, I consulted the old issues of the journal Pro-Armenia, in which Jean Jaurès or Anatole France took the defense of Armenians they knew threatened. I took a few notes. For example, in the issue of Dec. 10, 1901, there is an article by Dr. Loufti on "The health service in Turkey." He told about an epidemic of smallpox in Alyé, Akseki, Kash, Elmalou, sub-prefectures of Asia Minor:
Every day the doctors, in their reports, related me the death of one hundred or two hundred children, Christians or Muslims. In prison, half of the inmates died.
It is in this context that the soldiers of the 412nd RI were discovering Turkey. It is in this context that they discovered their brothers in arms, Algerians or Senegalese Riflemen, and they began to think about the racist theories widely accepted at the time. All were impressed by the courage, loyalty and intelligence of Senegalese Riflemen. Elie has always expressed great respect for black men, like men of all backgrounds. Respect, but not naive: the little girl who I was, had to wary of unknown men of all colors, especially when they were very nice ..