South Carolina Council on the Holocaust
“The work that the SC Council on the Holocaust does is so important for our students in South Carolina. Having a chance to discuss and reflect on the past gives students the tools to be better citizens for our future.”
--Molly Spearman, State Superintendent of Education
The Survivors' Stories -- A Virtual Library
FRANCINE . . .
I put my bicycle in the last car of the train like luggage and got on
the train In those days eight people sat together in one compartment
-- four on one side and four on another. I was carrying everything
I had in my pocket. We were on the train maybe fifteen minutes,
when it stopped in the middle of nowhere. Someone in my compartment
said, "I wonder why we stopped here?"
Another passenger replied, "You know they do that all the time.
The Jews are fleeing Occupied France for Free France. The Germans
stop the train in the middle of the country to look for Jews."
I thought that if I told the Germans I didn't have an ID card, they would
automatically assume I was Jewish. I couldn't show them my ration
card because it had Jew on it.
A few minutes later two German soldiers came into our compartment and
asked for all IDs. The French law was that anyone over age fifteen
had to have an identification card. Cards for Jewish people were
When it came my turn, I took the arm of the man sitting next to
me, and I said, "I'm with this gentleman." It worked -- just
worked. They passed on by.
Of course I had some explaining to do to the gentleman. I wasn't
going to tell him I was Jewish because you never knew. He may help
me and he may not. He looked at me, and I said, "I lost my pocketbook.
You know how these Germans are. If you tell them you don't have any
ID, they automatically take you for Jews."
He said, "You're right. You'd better get off at the next stop and
go to the police station. Tell them your story and they will make
you some kind of temporary piece of paper because you won't be so lucky
the next time. They do this all the time."
At the next little town, I got off. I took my bicycle off the luggage
car and rode my bike from Tours to Dax, a distance of around 1000 kilometers.
It was a long, long journey. It took me close to a month to get there.
When I arrived in Dax, it was crawling with Germans because many Jews
came there on their way across the border into Free France. I had
an address where I was supposed to go to get help crossing the border.
But I didn't know exactly how to get there, so I decided to take a taxi.
I went to the train station to look for one, but there were none.
There were, however, horses and buggies for hire.
In the station I saw a Jewish family I knew from Paris. It was
the mother, father, and five children. I had gone to school with
the oldest girl, and we were very happy to see each other. They asked
me where I was going. They were also looking for a horse and buggy
and were going close to the address I had. They suggested we all get
in the same buggy . We called one and showed the driver where we were
going. Then he said to me, "If you didn't have your bike, I would take
you. But I can't take all that and a bike too."
So we said good-bye, hoping to see each other soon. I went to the
next buggy where two nuns were sitting. The driver agreed to take
the three of us and my bicycle. Their buggy took off ahead of me
and was stopped at once by German soldiers. They took the whole
family and didn't stop us. That was an unbelievable escape for me.
Francine in Hiding
After a dangerous crossing into Free France in the fall of 1942, Francine
was reunited with her mother and her sister. The three of them lived
for about a year in a small town called Graulhet in Free France. Then
in 1943, the Germans began deporting Jewish families from the town where
Francine and her family were staying. With the help of a friend who
supplied them with false identification papers, the family decided to return
to Occupied France. Pretending to be non-Jews, they crossed the border
and joined Francine's uncle in a small village in Occupied France.
In this reading, Francine describes her experience with the man who rented
them a room.
My mother decided we would join my uncle in a little village called St.
Frinbault. It only had 35 houses. My uncle pretended we were
his cousins from Poland. He met us at the train station and took us
to the house of a farmer named Mr. Hertaux (Her-Toe) where he was
renting a room. Mr. Hertaux agreed to rent us a room as well.
We told him we had just come from Paris. We said that our house had
been bombed, and we had to flee Paris. He believed everything we said.
To earn money for our keep, our uncle would butcher cattle and for payment
the farmer and his wife would give him meat. They didn't have much
money. They were just peasants. Everyday my mother went from
farm to farm looking for work mending old clothes. My sister and
I would spin yarn and make socks and sweaters. Mr. Hertaux and his
family paid us with food. We had been there almost a year when this
We were sitting at the table eating, and all at once Mr. Hertaux
said, "You know, everyday in the paper there is Jews, Jews, Jews.
If one of them comes on my property, I will get my pitchfork, get him right
against the wall, and hold him there."
My uncle thought it was funny, so he said to him, "Well how would you
know if he was a Jew?"
"I would know," he says. "They have ears like this, and they look
My uncle asked, "Did you ever see one?"
He said, "I don't have to see them, I know, I know." That night,
of course, we talked among ourselves about what he might do if he discovered
we were Jews.
My mother said, "Well I hope we never find out. You know what
is waiting for us if he does find out."
The place where we lived did not have an indoor bathroom. It had
no running water, so when the weather was nice, my sister and I would take
a little bowl of water and go outside in the morning to brush our teeth
on the stairs of the little chapel next door. A few weeks after this
conversation with Mr. Hertaux, we were outside brushing our teeth when a
man on a bike came by. We came face to face with him. He was
a neighbor of ours in Paris. He was a well-known collaborator with
the Germans. We asked him what he was doing here, and he asked us the
same question. Of course, he knew what we were doing. He knew
that we were Jewish.
He turned right around, got on his bike, and left. We went into
the house and told our mother. She said, "Oh, he has gone to the
nearest Gestapo headquarters to the Nazis." French people were getting
a good bit of money for each Jew that was denounced. We ran to ask
my uncle what to do. We thought we should run away.
"When Mr. Hertaux finds out, what will he do?" we cried. "You
know how he feels about Jews."
My uncle said, "No, we have to tell the truth. He loves us.
He doesn't know what a Jew is. Where are we going to go? Either
he turns us over or he hides us." My uncle went to him and said, "Mr. Hertaux,
what I told you about us is a lie. We are Jews."
He said, "You're not."
"Yes, we are."
He said again, "You're not."
"Look," my uncle said, "we don't have much time. I'm going to
tell you what happened." He explained to him that we had been discovered.
Mr. Hertaux fell to his knees, and he started to cry like a baby.
My uncle couldn't quiet him. He thought maybe Mr. Hertaux was afraid,
and he said, "Look you have to get yourself together. If you want
us to leave, we'll leave."
My uncle said, "No, he doesn't know me."
"All right, we have to think fast," he said. "If he went to the
police, he will be back here in about two hours. You have to hide."
He went into the cellar under his house and emptied three barrels full of
wine. He put each of us in a barrel, my mother, my sister, and me.
He told my uncle to sit down, act calm, and have a drink. And that's
exactly what happened.
The French police came back . They said, "Where are the girls?"
Mr. Hertaux said, "What girls?" One of the policemen hit Mr.
Hertaux over the head with the back of his gun. Then they asked my
uncle where the girls were. After he said he didn't know, they beat
him up as well.
Then Mr. Hertaux said, "Oh, the girls, that's right. A couple of
hours ago a couple of Parisian girls came by. They were looking
for food. You know how these Parisians come looking for food.
I don't have any. But they stopped and brushed their teeth.
I ran them off. I don't know where they went."
Mr. Hertaux said that if the Americans hadn't already landed in Normandy,
no telling what the police would have done to them. They were afraid
to do any more harm, so they left.
My uncle and Mr. Hertaux waited until dark, and then they came to the
cellar with food. We stayed there almost five days in those barrels
because we were afraid we were watched. Shortly after that the first
two American soldiers came to the house in a jeep. They said, "We're
already in Le Mans, and you're liberated."