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In Hiding – France

In Annecy, we met the main madricha [youth leader], Marianne Cohn. It was so beautiful, around the lake. She reassured us, she did us kind words. Then she said, ‘Children, I have to tell you something. We've missed the train but a lorry will take you to the crossing to Switzerland.’

The lorry, it was very hot. We hardly could breathe. The chauffeur didn’t know that we were Jewish children. I heard that much later. We arrived at this clandestine border in the forest. As soon as the lorry dropped us off, one young boy said, ‘Oh, Monsieur, les Allemands aiment voyager en Citroen.’ A Citroen drove up with 4 officers, Gestapo. They stopped, & behind was a big lorry with German soldiers. We were children. What could we do? They stopped & asked Marianne, ‘Where are you going?’ She said, ‘The children just suffered from bombardment in Lyon. I'm bringing them to a holiday camp in Pas de l’Echelle.’

Off we went to Pas de l’Echelle. The person in charge received us & said straight away to the Gestapo, ‘That’s not the children I expect. I only expect boys, there are girls too.’ We learned later that she was a collaboratrice. We were interrogated. They ask us individually, ‘What’s your name? Are you Jewish? What age? Are you Jewish?’ Each question, ‘Are you Jewish?’ But they knew straight away, because our identity cards were not even finished. We had false names. Mine was Blanché. My parents had given my elder sister a few Swiss francs. She put it in her mouth & swallowed it.

We were taken to the Prison du Pax in Annemasse. The Mayor visited us & tried to help. Marianne came one day. I remember her face: red & swollen. She said, ‘Oh children, you can see everything.’ The most severe torture. In the cell next to us, we heard people. It was terrible. When you are tortured, the last scream before death. So it was a terrible surrounding.

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon was very pro-Jewish. They saved a lot of people by simply keeping an ear open. If somebody- And they did come to look for Jews. They knew. And as soon as they knew that they were coming, they went and took all the Jews and hid them in a forest or wherever it was. They were very good to us. That’s why they got their names in such an important name in Yad Vashem...[ asked if there was a plan in case they had to flee] Yeah, for each one of us, my mother had made little rucksacks. And they were there in the cupboard. And ready, with some bit of food and clothes.

[ Advice on how to live kosher during the war] One of the main rabbinical authorities in France, Rabbi Ernest Weil allowed us to have goat cheese. So we had plenty of this. And a lot of vegetables - when they were available. And fruits. And… that was it! That was it. Fish. Fish.

No we didn’t change our names. We kept Shabbos. We kept whatever kashrut, as much as we could. And people knew we were Jewish. But all these little villages [ in Haute-Loire/ south-central France] were hiding Jews. We weren’t the only ones. We were the only ones in that particular part.

The guide took us to his home & said, "We can't cross tonight because they caught some people crossing the border. So, we'll have to wait for another day.' The next day very early in the morning he took us [Betty + 2 others] to the border, across two barbed-wire fences. The border was in Annemasse, on the border with Switzerland. And he said, 'There's a third one you have to cross.'

We went straight across & we heard some German. It was the French-Swiss border, so we knew that's no good. So we quickly came back & decided to take the left or the other way round. Anyway, we got this, we managed to get over the third barbed wire. We were in Switzerland where we immediately got a welcome from the Swiss border guards. They said, 'You're very, very lucky because you almost ran into-' They saw it all. 'You almost ran into the arms of the Germans.'

Summer wasn't too bad, but the winter was awful because all we had was straw and one blanket each. And I always suffered from the cold. I've never suffered hunger. I only suffered cold. Ruth was always warm. She was hungry but she had terrible boils on her legs from nutrition, you know... I was, I had lice so I just shaved my hair off and there's a photo with my hair shaven, which to me was the second most traumatic thing because my hair was, I liked my hair.

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