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 stamped Jew.

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 incident happened.

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 like this."

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."