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Lily Borgenicht

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Interview number:


Clare Csonka

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Lily was born in 1929 in Antwerp, an only child. She lived in an
apartment with her parents and went to a non-Jewish school where she was not aware of
 antisemitism. When the Germans invaded Belgium in 1940 and arrived in Antwerp, Lily’s first memory was the sound of ‘thunder’ as the city was bombed. Her father said ‘it’s war’ and that it was time to leave.

Lily and her parents and maternal grandparents went to the station and boarded a refugee train bound for France. They were on the train for 8 days. The Red Cross gave them food. Their destination was Luchon in the French Pyrenees, then part of Vichy France’s unoccupied zone.

On their arrival, the other refugees were initially housed in police barracks but the head of the gendarmes allowed Lily and her grandparents to stay in a hotel because of her grandparents’ age. Later they lived with a butcher and Lily remembers travelling on a donkey cart. She attended the local country school. Luckily she already spoke French.

When the Germans took over the unoccupied zone in 1942 Lily, parents and grandparents narrowly avoided being deported to the infamous transit camp in Drancy, Paris, en route to
Auschwitz, because their names were not on the list of transportees. They were warned not to go to the station by the head of the gendarme as they wouldn’t be spared. Instead they travelled to Nice which was relatively relaxed under the temporary occupation of the Italians. They didn’t have to wear arm bands and Lily was able to go to school.

When the Germans arrived, the family went into hiding, hidden by the Resistance in a rented villa whose owners were away. Lily remarks that French collaborators were worse than the Germans and that the occupiers wouldn’t have known anything without the help of local people. Lily joined the Resistance herself, posing as a fourteen year old even though she was fifteen, as it wasn’t mandatory to carry ID papers under that age. She acted as a messenger, warning people in hiding that they had been denounced and had to move, and so on. It was dangerous and scary. As she was a child,s he didn’t arouse suspicion. One couldn’t trust anyone. Collaborators were paid each time they informed on someone.

In August Lily and her parents were denounced and arrested by French police. They were taken to the Hotel Excelsior in Nice, where the Gestapo were based. Lily was in luck again as the Resistance had sabotaged the railways and so they couldn’t be transported to Drancy. She remembers that one day, very early in the morning, a drunken Gestapo officer burst into where they were being held to tell them that they were free.

Once liberated, the family returned to the villa where they had been hiding previously. Lily remembers street fights and bonfires in the night when Gestapo were burning papers. She remembers lack of food, being poor, but also the magnificent sight of a young and triumphant General de Gaulle being driven by tank along the main street in a victory parade. The war was over. She thought that those people who had been arrested and deported would come back, but hardly anyone did and the few who survived were in a terrible state.

After liberation Lily continued her studies, gaining her baccalaureate and then a university degree in English literature. She worked in Paris for Associated Press and then in 1951 travelled to England as an au pair to improve her spoken English. She married Izydor Feiner in 1954 and had three children.

Additional Comments:

Keywords: Antwerp, Belgium, Germans, bombing, train, Red Cross, Luchon, Pyrenees, Vichy France, unoccupied zone, gendarmes, barracks, French police, Drancy, Auschwitz, collaborators, informers, Nice, Hotel Excelsior, Resistance,Gestapo, General de Gaulle, liberation


Full Interview


People don't realise today, if tomorrow you were told they’re going to kill the Jews or whatever it is, you can take a plane and you can go somewhere – you go to Israel. People don't realise what it really means. We had nothing. Nobody wanted us.

The fear when somebody knocked at the door. We thought they'd come to arrest you. The Resistance was very active in Nice. The Jewish Resistance was very close to the Resistance. I was 15 & I was asked. In France up to the age of 14 you did not have identity papers. I was 15 but could say I was 14, so I didn't need to have papers to show anyone I was Jewish. The Resistance knew about many people who were hiding. Would I bring food, or go & tell people when they were denounced? Basically would I help the Resistance.

What people don't know: the Germans didn't have a clue who was Jewish, especially in the south of France. It’s Mediterranean, lots of people looked Jewish. They didn't have a clue. But the French did the job for them.

I was told if I’m stopped, would I be able not to name the other people involved. It was a big risk. I must say, my parents were very good, they allowed it. That's what I did. Do you know how many times I had papers on me? How lucky I was? How many times I was—they used to close the roads, the French & ask for papers to see if they could find any Jews. Anyway, I survived that.

The Gestapo were in that famous hotel, the Excelsior. When people were arrested, the French gave them over to the Germans. From there you stayed a week or two in Drancy, & from Drancy to Auschwitz & everybody knows what happened there. If the French denounced someone they got a certain amount of money, so some of those French, when they knew of people who were hiding, they denounced them. If you were arrested & gave the names of 5 people, they let you out. But they'd arrest you again later. It’s amazing how people react in certain circumstances, even people you think you know. You'd be surprised.

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