French Holocaust Personal Accounts: Peter Feigl (1939- )


Figure 1.--Here we see Peter with some friends. We are not sure where the snapshot was taken, probably in France before he reached safety in Switzerland.

Peter contacted up to point out his experiences in France during the German occupation. [Feigl] He was born in Berlin, Germany. Because of the NAZI campaign against Jews, the family moved to Vienna in 1937. His parents were non-practicing Jews and had him baptized in the hoe that this would avoid him being subjected to persecution. After the NAZI Anschluss a terrible campaign was unleashed against Austrian Jews (March 1938). The Feigl family fled to Brussels until the German invasion of Belgium (May 1940). Peter and his mother fled again, this time to France. They settled in the town of Auch where they were joined by Peter's father (spring 1941). Peter was saved because his parents sent him to a Quaker summer camp. While he was at camp, his parents were arrested by Vichy authorities in Auch during the round-up of Jews (August 1942). They were transported to Auschwitz where they were killed (September 6, 1942). He started a diary and addressed it to his parents, who he desperately missed and hoped to see again. The diary is a poignant document revealing what these children endured. Peter did not understand that the NAZIs were killing Jews. The French gendarmes come for him, but a medical certificate saves him. The Quakers undertook to hide Peter. They arranged for him to be hidden in the mountain village of Le Chambon sur Lignon (January-September 1943). Peter lived in hiding with the help of false identity papers. While hiding in Le Chambon, his diary was taken away for his own security, but he later started a second diary. Peter with a group of other children fled to safety in neutral Switzerland. There he he stopped writing. Peter immigrated to the United States in 1946. He married Leonie Warschauers. They have two daughters and two grandsons.

Germany (1929-37)

Peter was born in Berlin, Germany (1929). The Frigls were not practicing Jews. The NAZIs seized power (1933) and began their campaign against Jews. The NAZIs promulgated the Nuremberg Laws (1935) which defined Jews on a biological basis.

Austria (1937-38)

Because of the NAZI campaign against Jews, the family moved to Vienna (1937). His father’s company sent him to Austria to run the Austrian Office. His parents had him baptized in the hope that this would avoid him being subjected to persecution in Catholic Austria. Peter joined a Boy Scout troop in Austria. He went on camping trips. They hiked, made Camp fires and learned the many skills which are taught to Scouts. The movement was picked for him by his parents. They did not want him to join the Hitler Youth. The Austrian Government banned the HJ, but groups had organized any way. Peter not understanding wanted to do what the majority of boys is age were doing. Peter had not long celebrated his 9th birthday when Anschluss occurred. He lived near to the city and on that first morning he went alone to city to watch the celebrations at an historical time n the history of Austria. At city hall he found a large gathering of people. There were lots of German flags. There was singing and band music. Peter joined in the chanting and shouted loudly, ‘Ein folk, ein Reich, ein Führer.’ Peter remembers seeing Hitler come onto the balcony of city hall. Peter was in trouble when he eventually returned home. He had been away from home for 6 hours. He was given a good telling off and when he said he had seen, ‘Our Führer, his mother spoke to him very angrily and told him never to refer to Hitler in that way again.’ After the NAZI Anschluss a terrible campaign was unleashed against Austrian Jews (March 1938).

Belgium (1938-40)

The Feigl family managed to reach Belgium and settled in Brussels. While in Belgium, Hitler began World War II by invading Poland (September 1939). The Germans launched their long-awaited Western offensive (May 1910). Within days the Feigl's found themselves in NAZI hands once again.

France (1940-44)

Peter and his mother fled again, this time to France. They settled in the town of Auch. Peter's father managed to rejoin them (spring 1941). They lived in a cramped one room apartment. Peter was saved because his parents sent him to a Quaker summer camp. His father cycled 30 miles to visit him at camp. They were able to spend a few hours together. His father brought along a bag of personal possessions. When his father rode off it was the last time they ever saw each other. While he was at camp, his parents were arrested by Vichy authorities in Auch during the round-up of Jews (August 1942). Had he been at home, he would have been arrested along with hs parents. His parents were were transported to Auschwitz where they were killed (September 6, 1942). Peter was about 13-years old when he was separated from his parents. He started a diary and addressed it to his parents, who he desperately missed and hoped to see again. The diary is a poignant document revealing what these children endured. Peter did not understand that the NAZIs were killing Jews. The French gendarmes came for him, but a medical certificate saved him. The Quakers undertook to hide Peter. They arranged for him to be hidden in the mountain village of Le Chambon sur Lignon (January-September 1943. Peter lived in hiding with the help of false identity papers. While hiding in Le Chambon, his diary was taken away for his own security, but he later started a second diary.

Peter's Dairy (1942-44)

Peter while he was in hiding kept a diary. He began the diary on the day he learned that his parents had been arrested (August 27, 1942). There were two volumes. For many years only volume 2 survived. Then the first volume was discovered. It was sent on to Peter. Peter’s diary is now held by the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. Peter’s diary tells the story from his view point. The diary he kept was a record of his separation from his parents. He hoped to be reunited with mother and father. The diary would tell them about him during their separation. The NAZIs did not kill Jews openly in France as they did in the East. Thus Peter and other Jewish children who managed to hide out hoped that they would be unified with their parents after the War. Here are extracts from Peter's diary.

Switzerland (1944-46)

Peter with a group of other Jewish children was helped to cross the Swiss border. Switzerland was neutral at the time, but turned thousands of Jewish refugees over to the NAZIs or Vichy authorities. The Resistance must have known about this, but I do not know how fully each of the individuals appreciated the situation. Of course the children involved had no way of knowing. The effort to move the children to Switzerland probably reflected he danger they were in while still in France and the success of the Gestapo and Vichy authorities in tracking down Jews. Peter managed to cross the border (May 1944). He tell us about the crossing, "I was 15 years of age when I crossed the Swiss border. To the best of my recollection, I was unaware of the Swiss immigration policies at that time. But the adult resistance people who organized my escape, sewed my birth certificate into the lining of my jacket and instructed me to present it to the Swiss authorities. On the back of the birth certificate was an official entry of my having been baptized catholic in 1937 in Vienna. When the Swiss saw that, they considered me catholic and turned me over to the catholic chaplain at the Claparede reception center. That's most likely the reason why I was not shipped back. It also helped that my father had given me the name of a Swiss business associate in Berne who agreed to take me in when contacted by the chaplain and Swiss authorities. The group of kids on the train taking us to the Swiss border was escorted by Marianne Cohn who, unbeknownst to her, was on the Gestapo wanted list. They were waiting to arrest her at the Viry railway station. Our train was late. They went to lunch and missed her and her group. Ten days later, the train was on time. She was arrested together with 34 children under her wing. She was tortured and executed 4 or 5 days later. Thanks to the intervention of the mayor of Annecy, 14 of the children were left in his care. The others were transported to Auschwitz." [Feigl, February 19, 2009.] Once he was safe in Switzerland he stopped writing in his dairy. He was taken in by his father's business partner. Soon after Peter crossed the border, the Swiss changed their policy and stopped turning Jews over to the NAZIs and Vichy. A major factor here was the Allied D-Day landings (June 1944).

United States (1946- )

Relatives he had in England and America were able to obtain a visa to go there (1946). His relation in England loaned him the money. He paid back this loan. Once in the United States he settled down and eventually married. He married Leonie Warschauers. They have two daughters and two grandsons. He became a senior executive in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He lived in London for a time as Managing director of Advanced Technology Services Ltd. He retired in 1986 and lives in the United States of America.

Sources

Feigl, Peter. E-mail message, February 10, 2010.

Feigl, Peter. E-mail message, February 19, 2010.

Feigl, Peter. "A child's life in hiding in World War Two," BBC. Time Watch (April 2007).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum "Peter Feigl" (August 1995) RG- 50.030 0272.







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