There’s only one visibly disabled character in Au Revoir les Enfants, but he plays a pivotal role. Joseph works in the kitchen of a Catholic boarding school in Occupied France, relieved that his bum leg will keep him out of the army and that his position affords him access to food to sell on the black market. The wealthy students often receive gifts of food from home, and trade with him for cigarettes and other contraband items. The schoolboys also bully him and knock him down occasionally, as they do to anyone with a perceived weakness or difference.
Though Joseph’s extracurricular activities are well known to everyone in the school except the priests in charge, most everyone turns a blind eye to them as trading on the black market was a common, and even necessary, wartime activity. But Mrs. Perrin, his immediate superior in the kitchen, catches him stealing lard one day, and denounces him to the headmaster Father Jean while giving him a beating in the courtyard. Father Jean calls Joseph into his office and explains that though he knows it isn’t fair, he cannot have Joseph selling the student’s food because they must learn to share it with anyone who is hungry. Joseph protests that everybody uses the black market and Mrs. Perrin also steals the school’s food, and Father Jean orders the bursar to give Joseph a month’s wages, firing him.
Shortly thereafter, the Gestapo pay a visit to the school in search of the three Jewish children hidden there. As they are taken away, Joseph emerges from an alleyway in a clean new coat and smoking coveted cigarettes, to the shock of a Jewish boy’s best friend. “Don’t be so pious,” Joseph tells him, believing–or trying to convince himself–that what he did was just proper payback for being wronged by Father Jean.
Perhaps he did it for the money, fearing trouble finding employment with his unspecified physical impairment. Or perhaps it was naked betrayal. But as Au Revoir les Enfants, the book it was based on explains, the three boys died at Auschwitz. And Father Jean (in real life Father Jacques) was sent to the Mauthausen camp, where he nursed the sick and shared his rations with others until he died.