Teen leads children from Nazis in true story

‘Fanny’s Journey’

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

“Fanny’s Journey” is a compelling true story about a 13-year-old girl who leads a group of children to safety as they flee the advancing Nazis. Directed by Loila Doillon, this handsome, suspenseful French-language drama tells the real-life story of Fanny Ben-Ami.  

Hidden by their French-Jewish parents in a rural boarding school, Fanny (Leonie Souchaud) looks after her younger sisters Erika (Fantine Harduin) and Georgette (Juliane Lepoureau). The younger girls depend on their older sister but Fanny is clearly still very much a child herself, with a penchant for climbing trees and a strong-willed streak. 

Their peaceful haven is upended when the headmistress gets word that the Nazis are coming. She sends the Jewish children to various safe havens in Italian-occupied areas, where Jews are less targeted. Fanny and her sisters are sent to stay with Madame Foreman (Cecile de France), a stern woman who is very different from the kindly headmistress. But when the Italian Fascist government falls and the Nazis move in again, Fanny discovers Madame Forman has special resources to help the children escape to Switzerland. When the Madame puts the children on the train, she unexpectedly tells Fanny she is in charge. We see that the girl is frightened but Forman encourages young Fanny to adapt to the changing situation and lead the other children on their harrowing journey to Switzerland. 

Doillon shows a strong hand in directing this heart-tugger, suitable for ages 12 and up. There are plenty of tense, nail-biting moments, but the director wanted children to be able to watch this film, so she avoids showing Nazi violence directly, although adults will certainly know what is happening out of view.


The drama tries to stay true to the essence of the real Fanny’s experience, although she led 28 children rather than the 11 in the film. De France is excellent as the flinty, wily Madame Forman. But the real standout is Souchaud as Fanny; the actress imbues the character with a combination of childishness, stubbornness and determination that make her inspiring as well as fully believable. All of the children are wonderful in their roles, with the actions of adults they encounter seen only through their childish eyes.

The film ends with a shot of the real Fanny, who now lives in Israel, and an epilogue to her story. “Fanny’s Journey” is a polished, inspiring, true-story drama well worth seeing, as a remarkable example of the bravery and resourcefulness of children in peril.