International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the millions of victims of the Nazi Holocaust and marks the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps at Auschwitz, where more than 1 million innocents were murdered, including an estimated 960,000 Jews.
We sat down with Jacques S., 82, a “Hidden Child” and Holocaust survivor, to share his story of survival.
I was born in Germany. My parents, my sister Maguy and I fled to France before the start of the War to seek asylum from the Nazi Regime. After many transfers in French concentration camps, my mother, sister and I were reunited with my father who was serving in the French Legion until the Armistice.
On July 13, 1942 at 6 a.m. my family was awakened in our home by the Nazis.
My parents were arrested and sent to Pithivier, France, then sent to Auschwitz and exterminated. We didn’t have a chance to say good bye. Following this tragedy, my sister and I were sent to a nearby hospital and then to a Jewish orphanage in Paris (OSE). While here, a Jewish Turkish family, the Bears, took us into their home every Sunday for family lunches. Sara, one of their five daughters took on the responsibility of caring for us.
One Sunday, when Sara was taking us back to the orphanage after a Sunday dinner, we watched with horror from the top of the Sacre Coeur hill as the children in the orphanage were thrown into trucks – it was clear where they were being taken. Sara grabbed my sister and me and we fled back to the Bear’s apartment. We stayed hidden until Turkish Jews were warned to return back to Turkey…or else. Sara remained in Paris with us, however, the authorities soon discovered our location. In a desperate attempt to keep us safe, Sara set off to look for a parish Priest, Abbe Marot, who took Sara, Maguy and myself in charge of our safety.
At first, Maguy and I went to separate Catholic institutions. After sometime staying here, we were no longer welcome in the convent unless we committed to converting. Abbe Marot was strongly against this idea and took us to hide with another Parisian family in the small village in Loire Valley. We remained hidden here until the liberation of Paris in September 1944.
After the war, in 1945, Sara and her family returned to Paris and welcomed us back into their home. It was then that we discovered our parents would never return and the French government declared us Wards of the State. Sara was granted the title of our foster mother.
Maguy and I went to boarding schools for the rest of our studies in Paris. Maguy would go to the Bears for the weekends and I would reunite with everyone on Sundays. During this time, we discovered the rest of our family members who survived the Holocaust – unfortunately, only a few – who were in New York City – Maguy and I kept in touch with them. Eventually, she and I would both end up in the United States as well.
I certainly will never forget all of the heroes who contributed to saving our lives during this unforgettable period. They will forever remain in my heart.
My sister has since passed as have all my relatives – many of whom died in concentration camps. I now have two sons and grandchildren to whom I pass my story of survival. For someone who has survived the Holocaust, Holocaust Remembrance Day is a day to be commemorative of those lost. I remember the Holocaust on a daily basis in one way or another. The remembrance of it is something that is in me and that will never go away.
Today, what millions of human beings are going through around the world is a repetition of what we, the Jews, have experienced throughout the ages. It is a shame to see many people seeking survival in countries all over the world, where they are suffering from torture and genocide. Just as us Jews did during our Holocaust, many of these refugees look toward safe haven countries for asylum, where they are often times rejected.
Now is a time to remember all of those lost in the tragedy of the Holocaust and remember that today – many still suffer the same tragedies of their own genocides.