*** Holocaust in France Personal accounts

Holocaust in France: Personal Accounts

Peter Feigl
Figure 1.--Peter Feigl was a German Jewish boy. His parents fled to Austria and safter the Anschluss on the Belgium. They were finally arrested in France. Peter was saved because he was at a Quaker-sposored summer camp. They arranged to hide him until he and other children escaped to neutral Switzerland. He kept a dairy during the time he was in hiding.

We have begun to collect individual accounts about the experiences of Jewish children in France. These individul accounts ae very important. Numbers, even lsrge numbers, do not convey what occuured. For that we need to know about the induividuals involved. And for France, we know a great deal about the individuals because unlike Poland and many other countries, there were many survivirs. In Poland, whole families and communities were murdered without a trace or survivors. In prticular many of the children wee saved. The children were the most vulnerable abd a NAZI priority target, but the Resistance was able to hide and save many children. Quite a number found safety in Vichy which was not occupied for over 2 years (November 1942). And the they faced the Milice and not just the Gestap. . And some mnaged to get to Switzerland. The Allies finally arrived (June 1944), but it took more than 2 months to fuly liberate thevcountry. We note harrowing accounts of French Jews and foreign Jews in France during the NAZI occupation. Here they faced both the NAZIs and the Vichy authorities who took actions against Jews without NAZI prompting. Without assistance from Vichy, hunting down Jews wouls have been more difficult.

Personal Account

A French reader tells us, "Our family knew a Jewish family with two children in Paris during the war. Unfortunately the end was tragic for them. I asked my Parents why they didn't keep the children in our home, they told me, '"The situation was very difficult.'"

Bobkra Administration District

A French reader asks where Jewish children may have been taken to in France. She has some information about the Bobkra administration district. She reports that Jewish children were taken from several villages and towns in this district at the same time in a coordinated operation. Hranki-Kuty was more a village than a town. Near to it was Brzozodowce (2 miles) and Chodorow (8 miles). Apparently at the same time some blond Christian children were also taken, presumably as part of the less well known NAZI Lebensborn program. I am not sure how the children were taken. It appears that they were just taken from the streets, maybe out playing. I am not sure if the Germans entered the schools to take the children. A French reader reports, "At the same time that the Jewish children were seized, my father and his cousins were taken--apparently because they were blond and had blue eyes and Polish. My father and his cousins (Piotr and Josef) were all about the same age, 12-15 yeas old. Only father in his family was seized, not his father and younger sister. Father and his cousins only discovered they were different when they got to Poland, until then they were all just the same. Father was born in 1926 and was 13-14 years old at the time. It was March or April, possibly 1940. He defiantly went with Jewish children , and they were taken to Chateau Salins in Moselle (Lorraine). At some point they lived with an SS officer on a farm , where father had to work. His cousins were in factories working during day hours. My father and his cousins were liberated from Natzwiller. He told me when they were Liberated they were sent to Germany , but left to join Anders (Polish general who formed a Polish army that fought the Germans with Allies) . Father went to Scotland , Piotr stayed on in France , Josef was wounded in Monte Cassino and latter went to Canada I only have sketchy information on this because father did not like to talk about it at all." [Winnik] HBC note: There is some confusion here with the dates which we are trying to work out.

Hélène Berr

Hélène Berr has left us a detailedhaunting account descrining the horror Jewish life in German occupied Farnce. Hélène was a sweet, lively and observant young student at the Sorbonne studying literture when the Germansd enterd Paris (1940). She like other young people, totally unprepred for what was comimg. She describes what all young women doin the university, only under extrodinary circumstnces. She went to classes and had a specisl interst in poetry and musoc. She played the violin and lisyened to records with friends. And fell in love. All very normal for a young woman. Only Hélène was Jewish and in German occupied France that made the differene between life and death. Her jiurnal week by week recorded the horific, unfolding tragedy. Slowly the situation for Jews became worse abnd worse. She began keeping a journal (April 1942). It became one of the most moving literary records of the Holocust. And not realizing it, creting an imprtant literary work of inexorably evolving evil. It begins wiyh a girl expressing a passion for life. Wuhin a fw weeks the tine darkens. The Germns order Paris Jes to wear a yellow star (May 29). It is t this time the death camps came on line and the transports could begin. The first personl eperiencce is tht her fther was arrested. He had not stitched on the yellow star correctly. Te Germans wanted them stuched on securely so that they could not be easily removed. He was held in an inernmeht camp for 3 months. Paris Jews began fleeing into the unoccupied Vichy Zone. Hélène remained in Paris to remain close to her parents and elder relatives--a natural tendency which aided the Germans. The arrests began and with them deportations to the East, No one is sure what is happening. There were rumors of executions, masscres, and gassings--but it ll seemed so unreal. Hélène attempts to cling on to the normality of her pre-War life. She continued to attended classes, but can only audit them. Jew were no longer able to pursue a degree. It shoild not be thought tht such regultions were all the wotk of the Germans. Vicht issued anti-Semetic reguuilations before the Germans demanded actioin. She wites about conytinuing to play music with friends, hoping that some how she could survive and the rumos wee wild exagerations. It is at this time thate falls in love.

Georges Andre Kohn and Jacqueline Morganstern

Georges Andre Kohn and Jacqueline Morganstern were two of the children swept up in the NAZI Holocaust. There were at the age that they were just beginning to understand events around them. But even adults could not understand, so we can not know what was in the minds of these children. They by chance were selected for some of the most odious NAZI atrocities--medical experiments on children. And the tragic story is even more distressing because Georges and his family were on the last transport to leave Drancy, just as the Allies approached Paris. It is remarkable that in this terrible situation, these two children were able to become friends and develop a friendship that lasted throughout their captivity. It only ended with their death on an April day in 1945 just before the British reached them.

Peter Feigl

Peter contacted us to point out his experiences in France during the German occupation. [Feigl] He was born in Berlin, Germany. Because of the NAZI campsign 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 Anchluss a terrible campaign was unleashed againsdt Austrian Jews (March 1938). The Feigl family fled to Brussels until the German invasion of Belgium (May 1940). Peter anf 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 daced 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 disry is a poignent document revealing what tese children endured. Peter did not understasnd that the NAZIs were killing Jews. The French gendarmescome 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.

Liliane Gerenstein

A group of Jewish children were being cared for in a children's home set up in a Catholic refectory located in the sleepy village of Izieu. The village overlooks the Rhone river, sutuated between Lyon and Chambery in central France. The children were 5-17 years old. They felt safe and secure in such auiet out of way village. They were being cared for by seven adults. Tragically someone hd reforned on them. Just weeks before D-Day as the children sat down to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate, three vehicles, including trucks, pulled up in front of the home without warning (April 6, 1944). An armed German unit led by the 'Butcher of Lyon' Klaus Barbie rushed into the home and forced the 44 terrified children and their 7 care takers into the trucks. The younger childrn were thrown in like 'like sacks of potatoes'. One survivor reports, "I was on my way down the stairs when my sister shouted to me: It's the Germans, save yourself! I jumped out the window. I hid myself in a bush in the garden. I heard the cries of the children that were being kidnapped and I heard the shouts of the Nazis who were carrying them away.' The remains of a letter written by Liliane Gerenstein was found later at Drancy. "God? After that, I ask You one thing only: Make my parents come back, my poor parents protect them (even more than You protect me) so that I can see them again as soon as possible. Make them come back again. Ah! I had such a good mother and such a good father! I have such faith in You and I thank You in advance." Soon after she wrote this, she and the other children from Izieu were transported to Auschwitz and gassed.

Joseph Joffo

Joseph was a 8-year old Paris school boy without a care in the worls when the Germans entered Paris. Joseph has left us a fascinating description of what followed in a memoir, Un sac de billes whichn has been made into a sensitive film. The book is written through the eyes of a boy who does not fully understand the mortal dangers which threatened him and would eventually clain the life of his father. He provides some school scenes, interesting as this is a neglected topic. Gradually the actions against Jews begin to impact Jpseph and his family. When the Germans and Vichy require Jews to wear the star of David badge and bfin the eportatiins, his father sends Joseph and hos brother to live with their older brothes in the unoccupied zone. The boys have to travel on their own. After an eventful journey, they manage to reach their brothers. And thee they manage to survive the War.

Charles Karo (1939- )

We are not sure where Charles was born. He was the son of Moszeck (Maurice) Karo and Dwoyra (Dota) Karo. They were Polish Jewish refugees in France During World war II. Charles had a sister Helene, a year younger who also survived the Holocaust. She was born in Paris days before the french surender to the Germans. we do not yet have the details of their survival. Apparently their parents nanaged to find people to hide the children before they were riunded up by the French police or Germans. Their father was murdered. Their nother was starved to death. They managed to survive. We see Charles in New York after the war. He was brought to New York with another Holocaust survivor by Busy Buddies--an Americn chrity supportng French orphanages which were guaring for Holocaust and other war orphans. The children assisted in a fund raising .drive.

Jacques G. Tangy

I was born in France in 1930 in a non-practicing Jewish family. A few months after World War II started, my parents decided we should flee to the unoccupied zone, southern France. We settled in Toulouse, but shortly thereafter all of France was under German and Vichy control. My father eventually was arrested and deported, and he never came back. While being interrogated in our living room, he was able to hide all of our ID cards under the rug-I found them later. He was arrested for being active in an underground resistance cell and not for being a Jew, which is perhaps why the police never came back to our house to arrest the entire family, as was the norm then. I was taken in by a Christian family who knew who I was and the danger they faced. My mother and I came to America in August 1948, and I became a U.S. citizen in 1952. I am forever grateful to the brave young Americans and Allies who fought unselfishly and died to free me, France and all of Europe. [Tangy]


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

Tangy, Jacques. "Freed by the bravery of others," The Washington Post May 28, 2004, p. W13.

Winnik, Jannette. E-mail message, April 8, 2003.

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Created: 4:23 AM 2/15/2010
Last updated: 10:59 PM 6/3/2022