Judith Simon

Judith Simon was born 1938 in Paris. Her parents’ families had come from the Alsace. She was the fifth child in her family and had two older sisters and two older brothers. Her father Samuel Kohn was a banker and the family was observant. He helped the German/Austrian refugees who had fled to Paris. They attended the synagogue of Rabbi Eli Munk. Judith’s parents helped a family who had to leave their children behind in Slovakia by taking them to Paris on her French passport, while the children had to pretend to be hers. 

When war broke out, Judith, her mother and other siblings were sent to Brittany. After the signing of the armistice, Judith’s father moved to Vichy (to be in the Free Zone), where he was joined by the rest of the family. Then they re-settled to Lyon, where Judith started going to school and where her older brother celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. The father regularly went to the camps of Gurs and Rivesaltes to help the foreign Jews who had been deported (with the OSE).  The family took on two Jewish brothers from these camps. Her father had an infection and needed to a clinic, where there was a round up and all Jews were arrested and sent to the Drancy camp. Judith’s mother received a letter from Klaus Barbie to get ready for deportation and decided that she had to flee. The mother, grandmother, and six children (one of the boys they had taken in stayed in an orphanage) moved to a small village called Le Flachet near St. Chamon, where they rented the top of a house from a farmer. 

Judith states that they did not have to hide their Jewishness and that they kept the Sabbath and the laws of kashrut. They did not eat any meat and they drank milk and ate goats milk (with permission from a rabbi). Each child had a bag prepared in case they needed to flee. In 1944 the American army came to this part of France and the family went back to Lyon where they awaited the return of the father. They found out that he was killed in Auschwitz. In 1945 Judith’s mother was given the position to be in charge of a Jewish orphanage in Villneueve near Paris. When the orphanage closed in 1948, they moved to Paris and she Judith’s mother became a secretary at the Jawne school, the school Judith attended until she decided to go to the Girls seminary in the Gateshead Jeshiva. She returned to Paris for three years to teach at the Jewish school and then got married to Stewart Simons in 1961. They settled in Stamford Hill and had three children and Judith became a teacher at Hasmonean High School for Girls. 

Judith talks about the continuity and strength of her religious beliefs and about the importance of ‘joi de vivre’, a sentiment her mother had instilled in her. Her children live in the UK and she has 29 grandchildren and a number of great-grandchildren.  Throughout the interview, Judith refers to the memoir her mother has written (Nous, Les Escapes) published shortly after she died. 

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@ Refugee Voices 2019