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It seems like a long time ago. I came into this world on June 29, 1926.

The weather
was sweet and nothing foreshadowed the events ahead of me that were to shape
my destiny. My sister, Annette, had preceded me in this world five years before.
My parents arrived in France in the 1920s. My father was the first to arrive in this
new country as a 'scout' as was common in that time. His task was to 'clear the
brush' and see if there were opportunities to live decently there rather than
merely 'survive'
Dad was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1896 from a family considered from the 'high
bourgoisie' in that time. Most of his brothers, sisters and cousins were well
educated and had the opportunity of a good education, quite special in that time.
Most were intellectuals or professionals in the fields of medicine, dentistry and
engineering. Many of them had started emigrating to foreign countries. I seem to
remember some went to Australia, and others to America. We were very proud of
his family's achievement which included a manufacturing plant of cosmetics. The
plant, Tokalon Coty, produced world famous cosmetics, including Anna Rubistein
and Monsavon.

Father was a very intellectual and well read man, a very honest, very kind
gentleman in the British mold, very contrast to Mother who was
very energetic, very enterpreneurial, she had a very solid sense of reality and both
feet firmly planted on the ground. In contrast, Dad was a rather sweet and gentle

Mom was also born in Warsaw in 1896 from a very poor, very large family of, I
understand, a dozen children. Life had been very hard for the family. Most of her
sisters and then two brothers preceded Mom, then came Lotka, Magnai, Eva
Lazarus and Israel

Once Father had made his first promising contact in France, he sent Mom a letter
asking her to join him in Paris. But, as a young couple, they had neither money
nor papers. Life was particularly hard for Jews living in Poland. Many had been
the victims of or had escaped pogroms, massacres, rapes and lootings. Upon
receipt of the letter, she managed to find work in a candy factory in Warsaw and
started to build a small saving to sustain her on her journey from Warsaw to
Paris. It took a great deal of courage to embark on such a journey and Mom had
courage to spare. She took a small backpack and started on this adventurous
journey from Poland to France...on foot, in the direction of Germany. To cross the
border into Germany, she put her dress in her backpack and wore rags to apear as
a young pregnant woman and repeated the process in the French border....that is
only a small part of the many adventures she experienced, and, that I remember as
there were many, many more....when I think with what ease we travel today, it is
unfathomable to think how difficult it was to travel cross country in Europe over
eighty years ago.
Once they were reunited, the first order of things was to organize for life in this
new country. They found a very minimally sized flat. I seem to remember it was in
the Rue des Trois Bornes. Dad, meantime, had found work in a hat factory. Hats
were very fashionable at the time. Mom, on her side, found employment as a
seamstress she was extremely talented she had the ability to create and do
everything with her hands. She artist, and, in addition possesed
extraordinary intelligence and instinct...

Maman ca. 1930

After spending some time in this first ''Pied-a-terre'', they relocated in a small flat
in St.Paul in the heart of the Marais (Marshes) section of Old Paris. The quartier
has, since then become very fashionabe, chic and expensive. It was, and still is, a
neighborhood filled with old homes and historic houses criss-crossed with
cobblestone streets and alleyways dating from the Middle Ages. It was an area I
really liked and enjoyed as a child. Some of my early childhood memories evoke a
table in the dining room that I barely reached as a three and a half child. I would
have to stretch on top of my toes to eye the table top. I can't help but think of my
own grandson Robin today...
Maman, in true entrepreneurial form, had rented the apartment next door on the
same floor and converted it into a small sewing and clothing template workshop.
The shop was registered in the business and trade registry. The business, I
remember, had an employee, a lady by the name of Mme. Chevalier

Goats strolling in Paris

I would go to school near the Rue des Jardins Saint Paul, located in front of the
historic Hotel de Sens, a magnificent building dating back several centuries. When
I say ''go to school'', I should say instead that I was dragged there as I just didn't
like school at that young age, and, I still have recollections of a memorable
spanking for resisting.
In my mind, to this day, I have vivid images and memories of a school where I was
forced to gulp a spoon of cod liver oil ''Yuck.... To chase away the lingering taste
in our mouth, they would give us a cookie that tasted like a host, and, which taste
annoyed me deeply.

My sister, Annette, went to the same school, but, in the girl's section. She was
given the responsibility of monitoring me, which was not easy as I was quite
rebellious, grouchy, small, and, a little spoiled...but, Mother loved me, I knew it and
took full advantage of this.

Time seemed to pass very slowly. Eventually, I ended up attending the V illage
School, Rue Neuve Saint Pierre. I still love the poetry in the sights, sounds and
memories that emerge from the old names of these Parisian streets that hark from
the Middle Ages. Streets of the historic marsh quartier of Paris, the Marais, where
I lived in a kind of symbiosis, of which I feel a part of. The teachers, I remember,
were very severe, but very dogged and passed on their knowledge and skill with
incredible patience, and a strong dose of punishment for those that lacked
discipline or fell behind the results, however, were very convincing. They had a
lot of merit and deserve a lot of credit. About sixty percent of the students were
jewish, and, many of them were bullies, tough guys.
Many years later, I learned that the few who escaped deportation or death in the
concentration camps, had become gangsters, businessmen, and, some of them
artists. One of them received the First Place in the ''Prix de Rome for his rendition
of Dante's Inferno... a real marvel; another friend, a pianist, achieved first prize
from the Conservatoire de Paris a major feat, and, many, many others I can't
even remember....quite extraordinary when it is noted that most came from very
modest backgrounds and were raised mostly in the streets of the quartier.

Annette and me ca.


So......time flowed, I went to school and did not like it! I hated lessons and
homework. My biggest obstacle was failing to understand, or, understanding very
slowly. On the other hand, I excelled in French language and writing.

This period of my childhood was sweet and happy, we were in the year 1937, it
was the year of the Exposition Universelle in Paris. My parents took me for visit..I
remember it was huge, it was beautiful! Located in the area of the Trocadero and
the Eiffel tower, it seemed unending from a child's eyes. There were flags
representing every country which rivaled in color and beauty. There were free
samples given, which delighted me. For me, it was discovering new countries, new
cultures and new things up close and personal. In my eyes it was magic, it was
I was particularly struck by the German and Russian pavillions. They faced each
other with their imposing and heavy statues of muscular men in manly and
industrial activities, icons that could have foreshadowed future ambitions to an
observing and discerning mind.

As I reached my twelfth year, I was rather large, perhaps ''round would be a

better description. Maman was always fearful lest I became hungry, so, I was fed
sizeable portions...In school, they would mock me and call me Kle Kle plein d 'soup
(full of soup) which made me very shy and introspective. I was harassed by some
of my school buddies that laughed at me with malice, until, one day Feldman, the
class bully, tried to hit me in front of my schoolmates. Suddenly, something awoke
in me, and, I remember landing him a memorable punch on the nose, which, made
him bleed profusely. That day, I realized, I had changed, the world had changed for
me, and, that, sometimes, it is necessary to show fangs so as not to have to use
From that day onward, all of the boys in the class respected and feared me, which
was quite stupendous and.... wrong as I was of a rather quiet nature
I remember my school vividly, almost as if I were there today. The cold, tiled
entrance hall that overlooked a huge yard that doubled as our gym. Opposite the
entrance hall, accross the yard, were steep stairs leading to the upper floors,
where, long corridors lined with coathangers led to the classrooms. These had midheight windows, twin desks shared by the students and a huge blackboard of which
my mind's eye has kept a photograph, including, for some strange reason it's
registration date : July 1938. A strange picture to remember....perhaps prescient,

One of our teachers was Professeur Prosper, he was great! Under his direction, the
class progressed by leaps and bounds as he motivated the children to work hard.
On the class' spare time, he would take the children to visit the museums and
historical sights of the City which he described with a passion I still remember
today. He was also very resourceful and bought balsa wood, very lightweight
construction material which we used in the classroom to build model airplanes.
Thus began my fascination for anything that raises or flies in the air. This was
also complemented with practical courses where we were taught to work wood
and metal. Mirroring these activities, the girls, in their separate school would take
cooking, sewing and embroidery lessons.
My sister and I would bring home samples of our finished products. Annette would
bring cakes home, which, on occasions, I would consciously snatch away. In my
opinion, it is a real pity that we have discontinued these lessons for creating and
working with our own hands as I found such practical lessons very helpful. We also
did benefit from many of the traditional classes that increased our knowledge of
Numbers and Math, Grammar, Geography, History, and Morality
Despite the repeated drill of Morality principles in our children's head, this did not
prevent us to walk to the banks of the Seine river and await the barges as they
unloaded their cargo: sand, coal, assorted sundries, and, in particular steel ball
bearings which we snatched....and, that we used to build magnificent carts and
scooters using wood planks and nails. Magnificent in our heads and through our
children's eyes...We were very proud of our creations which rolled very fast and
were very solid. I know that, for some of those that may read this story one day it
may appear as ancient and old fashioned, but, we were so very proud of our
improvised vehicles..

Meanwhile, Mom had begun looking for a new apartment that was bigger, upscale
and in a more beautiful place. This was happening during the ''off season period
of the hat business when orders were few and far in between. One day, I remember,
Mom came back, her face radiant, she had finally found the apartment she had
been looking for; it was in a building that combined flats for professional offices
and residences.

41, rue des Francs-Bourgeois

It was a large flat, about 200 230 square meters on the second floor of a
beautiful building at 41 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois. The morning sunlight would
flood the rooms which overlooked an historic former hotel whose windows had
become a privileged bird sanctuary. The neighborhood pigeons would sometime be
joined by doves and other assorted birds that cooed incessantly and vied for a
foothold on the window ledges.
The rooms in the apartment were on both sides of the hallway, which, led to the
bathroom, next to my parent's room and the workshop. I remember the kitchen
with a huge cast iron stove where delicious meals were prepared.
The first room to be set up was the workshop. My parents had purchased a special
sewing machine to manufacture straw hats, and, another machine called a ''pedal
to shape felt into hats. The ''pedal, I remember, weighed a good 2 tons, it was
impressive to see it operating: we would place aluminum shapes that had been
crafted by a specialist and which was heated by a crown of gas flames. As the

pedal was activated the 2 halves of the mold would press the felt into shape as
steam flowed through to give it its final, permanent shape. I operated this machine
and remember it was very hot, suitable for cooking..
On the occasion of my twelfth birthday, my parents gave me a beautiful scooter
that they had purchased at The Bazar Hotel de V ille. It was the latest style in foot
propelled scooters and it even donned pedals, I was proud as a peacock and
roamed the neighboorhood with a newly acquired sense of freedom. Many of my
schoolfriends were still around; Raymonde, one of my first childhood friends, and I
would go to a small confectionery shop where we would binge on sweets and other
assorted goodies. We would exchange illustrated comic books such as Mickey the
adventurous. Raymonde had a good heart, but, as kids, there would be the
occasional bickering
Raymonde had a friend whose father happened to be the curator at the National
Archives. The National Archives were located at the corner of the rue des Archives
with the rue des Francs Bourgeois, very close from where we lived. It was in a
beautiful location graced with magnificent gardens and lawns. At the time, I was
terribly shy, almost to the point of being scared, and very self-concious of it
despite my young age. As a means of trying to overcome my shyness that was
gnawing at me, and, to prove to myself what I was capable of, I joined, despite my
parents explicit ban, this harebrained friend's team who would dare the members
of the gang to snatch goods from the local merchants. My first foray was to snatch

The milkman and his horse

an apple from the local grocer, after, which, we competed for more ambitious
prizes with these dubious friends to the extreme of comparing who could bring the
most valuable item from the Department Store of the quartier. My record was a
bicycle pump that I managed to slip in a pocket of my pants, which, any observer
would have spotted inmediately by my stiff walk away from the store! All of these
eclectic objects were useless, and, I ended up giving them up, or, abandoning them
as my parents would have simply killed me if only they had found out.
Another co-conspirator was my cousin Charles Koval. I liked Charles a lot, he was
very cheeky and witty. I would wander around with him in secret from my parents.
We actually became specialized in snatching chocolate coins from the Felix Potain
delicacies store as well as the Lanoma specialty store in the Boulevard Sebastopol.
Around this time, a new technological wonder was becoming mainstream: The TSF
; Transmission Sans Fil. I was amazed by this invention that seemed like science
fiction which allowed us to hear music or news read by a grave voice simply by
tuning with a knob. My parents wasted no time in purchasing one of these wonders
from the local merchant. There were three, perhaps four models that were played
successively for us to choose the best option. I delighted in listening to the songs
of Charles Trenet, Jean Sablon, complete orchestras that interpreted American Jazz
and Ray Ventura creations. It seems so long ago...When I recall the time, I feel like
I belong to the time of the Gauls and Vercingetorix.
Soon after, in 1939, France declared the general mobilization of the armed forces
as a prelude to the impending war. As kids, we didn't, couldn't realize the gravity
of the situation and the impending events that were soon to unfold. I recall
walking into the class, where, the teacher, was terribly severe, and, as punishment,
would frequently punish us by hitting the tip of our fingers with a steel ruler. This
teacher seemed to combine sadistic tendencies with a certain anti-semitic
penchant. We would call him herring skin..One day, I remember, he had arrived to
class in a particularly foul mood and aimed his verbal abuse at one of the students
for being jewish. He proceeded to verbally abuse with particular hateful
wickedness the boy whose two brothers had recently been movilized and sent to
the front in Eastern France. When the boy balked at the discrimination, he felt he
had the right to slap him and attempted to hit him, but, was interrupted with ink
thrown at his face and followed by a punch in the nose. The class cheered after
which the student was sent to the Director's office to be severely punished. The
Director, however, a fundamentally fair and honest man understood the
provocation and injustice in all of this. Henceforth, a superficial calm returned to
the school under which brewed latent anti-semitic currents..

..Outside school, we would gather and play ball, marbles and even the Basque game
of Jai Alai against the wall of old Saint Paul church. On a memorable game, I
received the bouncing ball on the head which cut my scalp and earned me four
stitches. We also amused ourselves by hitching rides from many of the horse pulled
carriages from which we hung precariously for a ride in the neighborhood. My
Dad, always observant, would be watching our antics and reward us with well
deserved sermons. He was always very kind, very gentle and never set a hand on
..Since our move to the new apartment, the ride to school had gotten longer. I had
to wake up a little earlier, which I enjoyed as it allowed me to play with ChowChow , a black groendal dog which we had inherited from my soon to become
brother-in-law Jacquot. Chow-Chow had the task of waking me up in the morning
by sliding towards the edge of the bed and nudge me with his nose until I opened
my eyes.
..After a hearty breakfast, I would run full speed to school, and, since I often was
late..I had pioneered a shortcut through the church of Saint Paul, much to the
chagrin and consternation of the local priest who stood to welcome early
attendees. I soon found out I was not the ony one that benefitted from this
shortcut. The church's back door opened into a tiny alley flanked by peeling walls
covered with salpeter and cobblestoned roads dating from the Middle Ages
reminiscent of the ''Cour des Miracles where beggars and other unfortunate souls
vied for attention and the occasional charitable contribution. At night, these
streets were graced by the light emanating from gas lanterns that were lit at
dusk by an old man carrying a torch, hence, the name gaslight lanterns...which
were common throughout Paris.
..On this same street of Saint Antoine, where I would walk every day, King Henry IV
''Le Bon was assasinated by Ravaillac. The street was abbuzz with eclectic
artisans of varied trades from furniture stuffers, to carpenters and glassmakers.
There was even a sheperd with a small flock of sheeps and goats that traded milk
and cheese. There reigned an incredible rackett through which the occasional
grinding wheel of the tramway could be distintly heard.
..My sister Annette (born May 31, 1921), who had blossomed into a very pretty girl
was five years my senior and I would take great joy in teasing her. Annette went to
a top private business school located near the Place des Vosges. She excelled in
school and my parents encouraged her, despite the financial sacrifices this
represented for them. She would study her subjects and learn with disconcerting
..As she began to make friends and socialize, I realized I had a great opportunity

to blackmail her and as a price for my silence, blackmail her into helping me with
my homework, especially my Math problems which were a big headache for me.
Now that I look back, I realize that I was rather nasty. At that time, even light
flirting among young people was barely tolerated.
..On her way to class, Annette passed the Hotel of Madame de Sevigne, that has
since become a Museum of V intage Clothing. At the time, The Hotel of Madame de
Sevigne exhibited a beautiful french garden inside the courtyard.
.Nearby, rue Parc Royal, a former hotel, occupied by people of the Kings court,
lived cousins of my Father: Felka and Edek V inograd. The entrance to the hotel
was designed to accomodate horse drawn carriages, and, I remember the great
hall filled with original hand painted frescoes which, unfortunately, were starting
to deteriorate under the relentless influence of time. The apartment was huge and
furnished with antique woodwork and hand crafed ceilings.
.I remember a good friend of ours who lived across from our apartment in an old
convent whose cellars actuallly communicated with the old fortress the now
infamous prison of the Bastille that dated prior to the 1789 French Revolution.
Also, from our apartment windows, I could see the Temple were Queen Marie
Antoinette and the Dauphin future heir to the throne of France were
imprisoned before their untimely death at the guillotine. At the ground floor of the
building was a very old coffee house were many hat makers (casquettiers) would
meet and where my Dad participated at gatherings to talk of everything and
anything, but mostly politics.
.This, more than anything else may explain my love for and of see, it is
soaked in history and passion to its last stone.


.That year, 1939, I was preparing for the examinations leading to my graduation
certificate with ever growing anxiety. I had a horrible fear of failing and that
would have spelled doom. At the time, it was as important, if not more than it is
now to achieve the coveted certificate to open the doors to success in life.
At the same time, my parents were sending me to the Yeshiva of Rue des Rosiers
where an old rabbi was teaching me to read and sing in Hebrew. Although I read
and sang fairly well.....I understood nothing. But, I loved the stories in the books
and the rich illustrations in them. I learned the special way to put the Tephilim
(philacteries) which I had received as a special gift from Dad's family from Poland.
The two Tephilims were minuscule and made especially for me. They contained

tiny manuscripts written by one of the most illustrious Jewish poets of Warsaw
along with my name hand carved using a special pencil. Regretfully, I lost these
very special Tephilim during my moves in the succeeding war disasters.
The old rabbi tried to convince my parents that I had a nice voice and should
pursue theological studies and training in religious singing. This intended plan,
however, was not of my liking nor were my convictions very deep.
For fun, I loved to sing and clown I would very much enjoy doing imitations
enjoying myself a lot. I even participated in an imitation contest at The Chatelet
theatre where I won first prize for imitating a famous star of the time. I was very
proud of this achievement!
.At home, Maman and Papa were respectful of the traditions but without excessive
fanaticism and followed major celebrations. We would go to the Synagogue for the
major festivals where we would find oursselves amongst friends. At that time, my
parents were very clear minded and advanced for the time in their judgments
and observations. The daily struggles and material difficculties would leave little
leisure time to pursue theology

When the Passover Pessach holiday arrived that year, I recall walking down
the Rue des Rosiers with Maman to a particular grocery store that was packed
with shoppers. Maman bought an unusually large quantity of eggs I seem to

recall three hundred!! Maman stored them in a special container that had a small
device that consisted of a small lightbulb to control the freshness. We would also
store the matzohs there.
I can still sense the special atmosphere that permeated everywhere that day.
People were very excited and there was a fair amoount of pushing and shoving in
the market from where a myriad of smells would drift some pleasant and others
less so. From the fish stall, Maman chose a superb live carp...and horseradish, as
well as matzmeil (matzoh meal) with which she would prepare delightful dishes.
As soon as we arrived home, I hastened to place the poor carp in a large bowl
filled with water as it was gasping for water and I felt very sorry for it. I didn't
have the courage to witness its ultimate demise and final preparation for the
There is another anecdote that stayed with me from that Passover of 1939..As we
were in the middle of the holiday, I recall walking to the bakery to buy some bread
having forgotten the festivities. As I walked down the Rue des Rosiers - where
many ultra conservative religious fanatics resided with my baguettes in hand, I
started being followed and being booed and harassed by many of the men. I
thought it was going to end with my lynching as the crowd was boisterous and
insulting. To this day, I keep a very bad memory of the incident and its possible
outcome to which I narrowly escaped.
School was coming to an end. I was participating in sports at school during the
evenings ,and, I, who had earlier felt big and clumsy was finally being transformed
thanks to the magic of nature and puberty into a more refined, standardized
I had registered in the Israelites Scouts of France and remember excursions to
discover nature in groups. Our instructors initiated us to new sports and
discoveries. Soon, however,I shunned away from the discipline and order, which,
seemed very militarily minded to me.
Meanwhile, at home, there was a sense of excitement as my parents were
preparing the invitation list for my Bar-Mitzvah. Maman had a keen sense of
observation, and, having noticed my lack of interest in continuing to learn Hebrew
at the Yeshiva, promised a bicycle my dream should I continue to attend
regularly and learn the prayers. This I did at great speed and with much
dedication. As the saying goes....where there is a will (or motivation) there is a

The big day finally arrived! Maman had started the preparation for the feast some
time ago along with the help of my aunt Lotka. My aunt had a big heart and was
always ready and willing to help. Among the many good things Mom had
prepared, I remember schnapps (a concoction with 90 proof alcohol infused with
lemon rinds that decanted in large glass bottles). She also baked ''Pitokiren, a
deliciously sweet cake as well as other delicacies, mostly for the Synagogue and
also for the less fortunate in the community as customs demanded.
All of my parent's friends were present. I wore a long silk Tallit on my shoulders
that I had received from Warsaw. The atmosphere was very festive. The interior of
the Synagogue was alight with large chandelliers and candles that accented the
crimson velvet drapes. There was an indescribable hubub and background noise.I
was pretty upset, a terrible fright gripped me, I was very anxious and afraid that I
would not be able to read and sing the assigned prayers....W ith the
encouragement of my old rabbi next to me, I began to sing......but, while the
ceremony progressed, my venerable rabbi desappeared and reappeared
occasionally and every time in a happier and happier mood.
When the religious ceremony ended, everyone gathered in the small social room
that had been generously stocked with food, sweets and drinks. It finally dawned
on me the reason for my mentor's prolonged and frequent absences as I spotted a
half empty bottle of schnapps. It seemed that the rabbi was particularly fond of
Mom's schnapps!
After receiving many compliments and congratulations from all of our friends, I
tried to digest the message that was repeated over and over: supposedly, I had
become a man......mmmmmmm. That was 1939 ,and, I was to learn that I had a
long and tortuous road ahead of me...
The party adjourned to our home and continued late in the evening. In my mind, I
kept thinking ''phew....that is the end of the hassle of the Yeshiva
Two days later, Maman took me to Paris Sport, a sporting goods store locatd on
Boulevard Voltaire to buy a brand new bicycle for three hundred francs. My dream
had come true!. The bicycle was beautiful, it was ''blue duck color and its chrome
trimmings shone brightly in the Paris sunshine. I have rarely felt since the same
happy and intense emotion for a desired material object and Maman shared my
joy. And, yet, I do realize now what a big financial sacrifice this must have been.

W ith school coming to an end and vacation starting, I was free to enjoy my

beautiful bike. We biked with friends to the woods around Paris , the air smelled of
poppies which sprinkled the ground an orange red. Life was wonderful, I was
happy.... and then, wham...the sounds of impending war grew louder. It was late in
August 1939, I could sense and overhear that people were growing anxious and
Monday, September 4 declaration of war

I was walking down the street....the weather was strange, people were walking
listlessly in all directions trying to make sense of the maelstrom of news around
them. I heard the newsboys shouting the news that England was at war with
Germany and that France was to follow within the next 17 hours.
This was the first blast that landed on our heads. I went home. I saw my parent's
devastated faces. They were already aware..
And life went on, in a slow, anxious mood. Papa went to the military
administration to enlist in the French army (he had a lot of respect for France). He
was rejected as he was stateless, and, moreover, the officers were, mostly, from the
political right, a foreshadow for what was to follow...
They called it at the time the ''phoney war. We were given gas masks that we
wore over our schoolbags on our way to classes. The school authorities organized
drills in preparation for possible military attacks. It was an incredible mess, and,

we would shout and shove each other. . All windows, tiles, mirrors and glass panes
in the city were covered with adhesive tape in cross patterns or protected by
hanging cardboards. In short, there was a bombing psychosis which affected all
and that was constantly amplified by news broadcast over the radio called TSF
at the time.
Nevertheless, calm returned slowly.....but gradually and people seemed to regain
their confidence. Despite the apparent calm, Maman started to accumulate
provisions, especially sugar, salt, flour and rice and dry fruits
On the radio, the news were not alarming, and, excepting the fact that the streets
were void of many men, we could almost convince ourselves that all was
normal...people were in denial, a kind of stupor. The boches were occuppied in the
East. This couldnt go on for much longer
At home, work and the sales of hats was becoming increasingly difficult,
additionally, certain materials and supplies were becoming scarce
During this period, in the Jewish community were circulating unsettling rumours .
German jews that had managed to escape from Germany right before the Nazi
fever and that had sought refuge in France related horror stories of what they had
witnessed or been subjected by the Brown shirted SS low Germany. They
were trying to convince us to flee!
But, alas, noone paid any credence to these stories which seemed so morbid and
The jewish frame of mind was sweet and respectful of life....most practiced the
method of keeping a low profile, others placed themselves in the hands of God,
thinking that really such barbarism would never happen here. Some, not many,
took the courageous decision of emigrating
At this time, one of my parents customer that was a hat wholesaler, and, that was
president of the guild, a certain Mr Rosen had organized and reserved cabins
aboard a large ship heading towards the United States where an
American organization would take charge of the children
This brave man tried to convince my parents to entrust both my sisterand myself
to emigrate to America until the time that they might follow. My parents wavered,
but, lacked the courage to separate themselves from us. Additionally, my sister
that was a very attractive young lady was starting to date Jacquot who was to
become my future brother in law, and, was not at all inclined to emigrate.
Nevertheless, thanks to Mr. Rosen, a sizeable number of Jewish children were saved
from a terrible fate

Some time later, my sister became engaged

But then, events started happening very quickly and gained speed. At the begining
it was the funny (drole) war with the stupid confidence of the French Army in its
glorious Generals and Marshalls....wishfully believing that the Maginot Line was
miraculously going to prevent the avalanche of the Nazi armies! These high
officers would allow the killing or imprisonement of these poor army recruits
equipped with weapons of the 1914-18 war... for which there wasnt even
compatible ammunitions
It was May 1940
The German armies literally flooded into France....
The battles end game was immediately visible. The Germans were invading France
Their organization, discipline and hyper sophisticated military equipment
contrasted sharply against the chaos and improvisation prevalent in the French
Inside France, fear and panic gripped the population and people had only one
objective in flee. At home, Maman and Papa were stunned and considered
the few options available; we had to flee from Paris, but, how...?.
They discussed the decisions to be taken. It was very fast. Right away Maman
prepared a haversack with change of clothes as well as food provisions for Papa,
that, after kissing us goodbye started on a journey on foot in the direction of
Bordeaux where he would let us know upon arrival. The top most priority was to
safeguard the men from the Huns.
As for the rest of us, Annette would depart with Jacquot her fiancee as well as his
parents his Mom was paralyzed and wheelchair bound. Tehy proposed to take
Maman with them as well, but, unfortunately, the poor Peugeot did not provide
sufficient room for all, and, Maman did not want to leave without me at her was a cruel dilemma. We found the solution, I was very proficient in riding
my bicylcle in Paris, where, I would often grab onto delivery trucks (without my
Parents knowledge) for quite long distances. I could, therefore, do the same
holding onto Jacquots sedan.
And so, we became part of the exodus, submerged in a chaotic and disorderly
crowd of people, that, with fear in their gut were fleeing from Paris; some in
bicycle, others pushing wood charriots holding their meagre belongings, or, old
handicaped persons; many on foot, pushing buggys holding crying babies, also
assorted vehicles including lorries and tractors overloaded with men, women and
children gazing into the far horizon, even, people pushing wheelbarrows. It was an

apocalyptic spectacle, the bursting, the explosion of a society, which, not too far
back appeared normal and happy. I believe people thought they were living a
nightmare from which they were going to wake up any minute.
I held on to the car with one foot on the sideboard and my left arm hooked around
the front door while holding on to the bike with my right hand, thus steering the
bicycle under the anxious gaze of Maman. I was, by contrast, very serene, or,
perhaps unconcious of the danger.
En route towards Normandie
We advanced at a very broken and unsteady pace, the shoulders of the road were
littered with all kinds of abandoned objects that had been left in a hurry by people
exhausted by the effort of dragging and pushing through the crowded road.
Luxurious sedans as well as motorcycles left on the side of the road after running
out of gas, a pathetic spectacle....Also abandoned, numerous bicycles with worn or
flat tires, a landau whose tires had been removed, old cardboard suitcases,
bursting and held together by thread. We crossed abandoned villages that
appeared completely deserted. An occasional crow would circle the sky. It was very
hot, we were thirsty and we were hungry.
All of a sudden, in the midst of general panic, we sighted these dastardly Stuka
airplanes that dived towards us with their characteristic thunderous sound to
shoot with their machine guns and drop bomb. We sought refuge under the car.
Annette was so frightened, that, she held onto my head and pulled a tuft of hair
from my scalp. These attacks happened several times over the evacuation route
It became necessary to take the smaller, less traveled roads to distance ourselves
from the maddening crowd. Unfortunately, I was unable to hang onto Jacquots car
on the small, uneven roads. Maman took the decision of climbing down from the
car and continue by foot so as not to slow the cars advance.
And there we were, Maman and I, in the middle of the countryside, not knowing in
which direction to go. Maman had the foresight of packing a little bit of sugar and
matzohs in her scarf. She was already very tired, and, since the road had flattened,
I proposed to carry her on the bicycle to which she agreed. Thus, we managed to
advance quite a few kilometers, walking when we encountered a slope to climb
and then riding together as we descended hills.....eventually, the bikes brakes gave
up in one such descent and we landed in an open field, where, fortunately, there
were no obstacles and we were not hurt. My Mother was a very courageous woman
After many convolutions, twists, turns and detours as well as a few nights spent in
haylofts, we decided to return to Paris; by foot, of course : we resumed the road. I
could see my poor Maman totally exhausted...when, we saw a superb convertible
Mercedes of the German Army heading towards us. At the wheel were two officers
from the Wermacht that stopped at our side; (imagine our fright) and ask my

Mom in a most polite manner (they had orders to follow), the direction for Paris.
They asked Maman if she spoke German!....She very quickly responded No...They
asked were we were heading?
Maman responded that we were headed towards Paris. Immediateley, they invited
us to join them, they loaded the bicycle on the car and hung it on the back of the
Merceds, and, there we were returning towards Paris, most anxious to be
passengers in this German car...however, Maman was so tired, that, in a way we
were relieved.
Returning in Paris, the officers insisted to drop us at home. Maman, very,
uncomfortable, asked them to drop us by another house telling them that was our
residence. In short, after having thanked them profusely, and ensuring their
departure and that they were out of sight, we finally arrived home, happy that all
ended so well.
Some time later, after many a long pilgrimage, Papa and Annette returned as well,
the family was once again complete.....oof !
People were returning home some more chastized than others but relieved
nonethe less.Life resumed its course, almost normal except that many food
products were starting to become absent from the stores. It was the beginning of
the system of ration cards.
The Nazi occupation forces were methodically installing its dragnet in the City;
for that purpose, they started occupying the most luxurious hotels, castles and
mansions of Paris and its environments with the help of cowardly and evil French
collaborators that had started to lick their boots awaiting, like birds of carrion
their meager rewards.
The first of these repugnant individuals was the glorious Marshall Petain, an old
military clown, completely senile and incapable. He had been propelled forward to
represent France, in the company of another French fascist: the sinister Laval.
The first official act of Petain, after dressing in his parade uniform, was to shake
the hand of the worlds greatest scum....Hitler, along with all of his clique (May
they burn in Hell till the end of times). What an act of bravery.....for such a
The Frenchmen, when Petain addressed them through his speeches, would acclaim
him; the people were still in a daze and naive, wanting, desperately to believe and

dream of a happy future. As a child, I also wanted to believe, noone suspected

what was in store. Time was flowing slowly.
German soldiers would meander through Paris like tourists. At night, there was a
curfew in effect and they paraded with their characteristic boot tap on the
pavement while chanting military hymns.
The pro-nazi propaganda was going full speed, all of the crooks, opportunists and
the far right such as the fire cross were organizing and partnering with the nazi
Gestapo; they were starting to form the french militia of sinister reputation, a
collection of thieves, thugs and murderers.
This sorry excuse for a government under the German boot, that didnt ask for
anything better started to enact new laws to confiscate assetts from Jews and thus
accumulate riches.
Towards the month of June 1941, Jews were forbidden to exert liberal and
commercial activities and were barred from public positions, journalism, radio,
teaching, etc. Curfew from 20:00 hours until 6:00 in the morning. It was forbidden
to own radio, telephones, bicylcles, to go to the movies, and I forget some...
July 1941
New regulation authorizing the expropriation of Jewish owned companies, assetts,
furnishings and real estate belonging to jews.
At first, they installed (thanks to the Minister at the time Xavier de Vallat that
still lives as I write these lines) in all types of businesses, industries, shops,
Jewish affairs commissioners
One good morning, an ordinary, middle class frenchman, a mediocre fellow arrived
at our home....holding an official document in hand to requisition all that we had,
all of the stock of merchandise, the accounting records and the list of our
customer. He then told us that as of now, my parents business belonged to him
period. I could see my parents rage boil to the surface, but, unfortunately they
were impotent. We considered ourselves lucky in the sense that we could still
remain in the apartment.
That is when the problems of staying afloat and surviving started. Their meager
savings were withering away as most of the food was available through the black
market...and .. it was very expensive.
And then there was Annettes wedding. It was during the month of January 1940
and it was very cold. I remember as Jacquot and me went to bathe in the
swimming pool that wasnt heated into which we found the courage , or the

madness of diving. We were young!

On the day of the marriage, my sister was radiant. Maman had sewn a superb
gown. My brother-in-law was a handsome young man, an athlete.
Maman had wavered for a long time, fearing that he wasnt jewish; even though
his name was Alevy. Her fears were grounded on the fact that he didnt speak nor
understoood Yiddish...additionally, he was of greek origin. He was a commerce
representative and very courageous. At the wedding, I vividly remember the
dessert that Maman had prepared, made of custards of varied flavors that I can
still, to this day, perceive the taste.
There were a lot of people. Maman managed to prepare a superb buffet, well
stocked and appealing. A extraordinary feat in this time of scarcity.
The newlyweds found a cute little apartment in the XVIII arondisement Rue
Gustave Rouanet were they moved immediately. Back at home, however, the
apartment seemed empty indeed, but, thats life.
And then, new, even more restrictive laws were enacted. First, Jews were imposed
a curfew and not allowed to leave their homes before 8:00 h. nor after 20:00 h.
Then, it became mandatory to deliver all radios to the police commissariat of your
neighborhood that would give, in return, a proof of delivery; this became the first
trap, since, as of that time, they had the name and addresses of their future and
naive victims.
I remember, as we were in line to deposit our T.S.F. (Telephonie Sans Fil - radio)
that a young woman speaking in excellent French was handing her radio that
looked in excellent shape to the police officer, when, as he reached for it
dropped it on the concrete pavement in a thounderous crash. W ith an ironic
and falsely contrite air she told him how sorry she was. Then, after sighting
another agent that had a red moustache, asked him whether the color was due to
eating tomato soup, or, whether the color was from a bowl of blood....she must
have had a premonition. I didnt know whether this was courage or being
unconcious of their power ? In any case, it was provocation.
I admired her for her rebuff and her courage.
And again, time would flow ever so sadly, there were shortages of food, bread itself
was becoming darker. Even with the ration tickets you could hardly find anything,
we had regressed to a diet of rutabagas and Jerusalem artichokes, these roots
used to feed cattle and pigs. Maman and Papa would tighten their belts, but would
always give me the best eat
Adding insult to injury came the cold weather, the winter of 41-42 was
particularly frigid. Having gotten wind that there was a coal man that had set

up a small distribution in the rue St. Antoine, Papa and I rushed with our tickets,
and, after standing in line for an hour and with our feet nearly frozen, we were
rewarded with a bag of 50 kgs. of coal. Fortunately, I had brought my faithful bike
and we barely managed to load the bag and, despite the frozen and slippery
pavement, managed to return home. It was party time as we were going to enjoy a
little, this seems so ridiculous.
But money was becoming scarce, Papa searched any sort of menial job, he went to
the City Hall, as snow was piling up over Paris, and he was hired to day by day to
clean the sidewalks....on another occasion, he worked as a woodman, cutting wood
near Dreux. On anouther day, Maman having readied a meager ration of food and
clothes, I took my bicycle and rode to Dreux (approximately 100 kms), where, with
much difficulty I was able to locate the enterprise where Papa worked. I cant
describe the joy of Papa as he sighted me and hugged me. Then, I returned home,
thinking all of the time the hardship and weariness that had befallen on Papa and
my heart would was too hard and unfair.
W itnessing the difficulties my parents were having to make ends meet, one day I
rented a hand cart that was used to transport miscellaneous and sundries.
And there I was, touring the various Parisian train stations; just picture the scene!
Oncce arriving at the first station, I would spot heaviliy laden passengers that I
would cart to the metro station, and, there, they would give me a tip. W ith a little
luck, I was able to cart luggage several times during the day. But, I was
ashamed....and fearful that my friends might recognize me. At night, totally beat,
but proud of my achievement, I would give the money to my parents.
On other occasions, with my cousin Charles, that was super daring and very
resourceful, we would go to the Halles of Paris where we would collect wood crates
used to transport vegetables. Then, we would look for a quiet street where we
would break up these crates in little sticks and then bundle them to sell as fire
starters. We would scrape a respectable living from these activities. We also
exploited another idea: we would run off with the asphalt cobblestones of the rue
Bretagne, as we observed that these pieces burned as well as coal!.
Then another extra idea Cousin Charles and I developed.....The city halls of the
Paris bouroughs organized from time to time charity collections for various
causes, and, would invite children from the different quartier to solicit from
To encourage the children in this activity, as a reward, those that would bring the
most in their collection boxes would be rewarded with gifts.Thus, on those days, we
would be those arriving first and very early at City Hall. We had a very important
reason for that,...the possibility of choosing the collection boxes best suited for the
job! (namely those having the widest slot)

Once our choice was made, we would walk down the street to start collecting. As
soon as we had collected a little change, we would seek a discreet spot to
recuperate a few coins to enable us to buy metro tickets to ride to the richest
neighborhoods. Once arrived, we would start the harvest! W ith subsequent stops
under doorways, with our pockets heavy with coins we would sometimes stop to
eat a crepe of so called buckwheat, which in reality was made of buckwheat and
sawdust on which the merchant would spread a little saccharine marmelade. It
was delicious nevertheless...
Towards 4:00 in the afternoon, we would take the metro back to return to the City
Hall of the III arrondisement to deposit the official fruit of our labors, admired by
the officials that couldnt believe their eyes, as we were the team that would bring
the most, and, then they would reward us with the most beautiful toys and many
During this time, Maman started making a few ladies hats that she tried to sell
privately, and then she started roaming the neighborhood to locate cloth
Little by little she became acquainted with them, and, since she had such good
taste, she would reserve (whenever she found) cloth and take samples, that she
would then offer to other wholesalers that were interested. From these
transactions, she would take a little commission, thanks to that we could stay
As for me, I had found a job, after answering a classified add of a leather goods
manufacturer located rue des Jeuners that was looking for an apprentice
supposedly to train for the trade.
I was hired at a salary of 25 Francs per week....(The equivalent of approx 35 to 40
of todays Euros), my work consisted of a sole repetitive and boring movement
from morning to night. I really was not learning anything. It was purely and
simply exploitation...of a 14 year old child. After 2 3 months, understanding I
was not learning a thing, I presented my resignation.
I had spotted a small poster looking for a delivery boy with a bicycle, in a bra
manufacturer located Rue du Caire; the boss and the workers were adorable people
and very kind to me. In addition to my small base pay, I would make a few
tips...that the customers forced me to accept, as I was pathologically timid.
Since I had a lot of time in between deliveries, the cutter would teach me how to
place the template and cut the different types of clothes; the cutter was a very
beautiful woman that would corner me whenever we were together in the pattern
room; I would turn scarlet and knew not where to hide, I was really still a child
Since I was the only man in the 1st. Floor, I was the star of the show!.

Life was becoming harsher with every passing day, we would learn every day of the
arrest and incarceration in internment camps of friends and acquaintances
(Pithiviers and Beaune la Rolande among others) guarded by French gendarmes
and from where many Jews, including my cousin Charles managed to escape.
Then, a little later, on May 29, 1942, Jews were once again asked to report, this
time with their identification papers. Then and there, we were handed bright
yellow stars where the word Jew was embroidered in black threads in the center.
And, to complete the process they stamped each ID card with the word JEW, but,
this time in large red letters.
Informers and double crossers were increasingly active, as well as the mailing of
anonymous letters, to the great joys of collaborators (collabos) and militiamen,
that, taking advantage of regulations could expropriate of the meager belongings
that were still in the hands of jews.
So many years have gone by since that day, and yet, as I write these memories
today I cant help but feeling disgust and rancor in my throat and makes me doubt
human values; I want, mostly, that my descendants to end the of time never
experience what I describe but...that they be always on their guard. May they be
suspicious of beautiful words and sweet discourses, that they be on their guards
and project a prudent distrust into the future as, often enough, under gentlemanly
or kind appearances hide men that are perverted and horribly evil.
It is equally true that during the same period surfaced men and women of great
human values, altruist, good, selfless and that sometimes would take inmense risks
in the name of humanity and their own conscience.
As evidence, one day Maman asked that I make an errand near place de la
Republique, I started on the bike, however, since the weather was pleasant I had
removed my jacket with the yellow star....that I was not fond to display, I was
riding, climbing the rue du Temple, when I stumbled on a police barricade from
which it was impossible to escape, nor turn away from! The brigadier stopped me
and asked for my papers and simultaneously stared at the yellow star and froze,
saw my ashen color face, hesitated, looked around and in a very low voice said
scamp quickly, quickly. Which I did right away. I dont know what went through
this mans head!.
But, I had had quite a fright, and the lesson learned helped me in other occasions.

Many Jewish families as well, many of them my parents friends were starting to
flee to the so-called free zone (at the time, France was partitioned in two, the
southern half not yet occupied by the Germans) but it was necessary to pay the
services of middlemen familiar with the less guarded trails through which, with a
little luck it was possible to reach the frontier; quite a few people were robbed of
their meager belongings by unscrupulous individuals...others would get caught
and were immediately deported.
My parents also wanted to reach the frontier, but, there was little money left at
home...I think it is there that I understood the importance and power of money. If
only to save lives, it has become, since then, an obsession, as in my mind, money =
We survived logging along, the days flowed by very slowly in an atmosphere of
sadness and gloominess, fear would gnaw at us constantly. We dared not leave
home and go outside, everyone was frightened of anonymous denunciations by
informers. Papa and Maman dared not speak in the street as they had a strong
accent, and militiamen and collaborators were everywere and would take
advantage of any occasion to prove their zeal..
Every day, the German Gestapo and their French lackeys would expand their
searches, and the arrest of resistance fighters, Jews and communists increased. All
these poor souls were taken to their location (Rue Lauriston among others) for
interogations! And there sinister and sadistic beasts would torture them until they
were nearly dead, in unspeakable sufferings, impossible to describe...with the
purpose of extracting information.
I am not particularly a believer, but, I wish that these proxies of the devil are
consumed in hell to the last judgment day.
Attacks against Germans and the militia were developing, and, we would start to
see wall posters with the list of people ( ten innocent people for each German) that
were in an euphemistic manner being referred to as hostages... Shot.
Fortunately, Annette and Jacquot were, at least temporarily undisturbed. Greek,
American, and other nationals of neutral countries were, for the time being,
sheltered from the nazis and their organization in France.
Jacquot was a sales rep for a food product company. He would visit all of his
customers in bicycle, as there was no longer access to gas for his car. He was super
courageous and very organized at his work.
His parents, extremely kind people, very cultured and knowledgeable, as a result of
the economic crisis, the war, and also for being scrupulously honest with their
business suppliers had lost their beautiful flat and their business, located rue
Lentonnet in the XVIIIeme. Arrondissement and were ruined.

Following this unhappy situation, they had moved in a family boarding house
located rue du Chateau deau in the Xieme arrondisement. His poor mother was
practically paralized.
Maman, with her natural kindness, whenever possible would send me in bicycle to
bring them be it chicken broth, or cake which she had baked. Monsieur Alevy was
very touched by this kindness.
At night, in this same street, after the curfew a German patrol would parade in full
military gear while chanting military songs, with their heavy boots heavily
pounding the pavement.
July 16, 1942
On the eve of this sad day, my parents were warned by my Fathers cousin, Celine
Topcha, that had friends at the Police precinct, that it was planned on the
morrow, July 16 1942, a super general raid as of 6:00 h in the morning and that it
was imperative to hide.
In desperation, my parents searched an idea, a place to seek refuge, even for a
short time!, We thought to sleep in our basement, or at a former catholic employee
of my parents! Madame Poure, that had a flat in Montreuil, and then , after that
what?. W ithout money to survive, nor enough to buy a train ticket or to pay a
scout to guide us to the free zone...we were caught in the trap.
My parents consternation was inmense, what to do! Where to go!....they sought
After spending a sad night in complete despair, in the morning the doorbell rang,
Maman went to open, two police inspectors were there holding a sheet of paper
with a list. They told us to gather a few essential belongings and asked us to
follow them....but in front of the door, understanding that they wanted to take me
as well, Maman in anger, shouted at the top of her lungs that they were not
authorized as I was French....and they relented!...for my part I wanted to go with
my parents, but, seeing my Mothers firm reaction did not insist.
While kissing me before leaving, she whispered in my ear, as soon as we are gone,
you go down to the concierge, wait a good while and go to Annettes!....then they
followed the cops...
Two minutes later, I was at the concierges where I waited to exit to the street.
Twenty minutes had elapsed, when I heard the concierge dialogue with the two
policemen, that had returned asking where they were going? To which they
answered we came for the young man!

She immediately replied but he is here!..and in turn I was taken to the exercise
yard of a school located close to the B.H.V. Department Store. There were gathered
part of the Jews caught in the dragnet of this sad morning.
Functionairies seated at a table were calling people to control and record their
identities. At a certain moment, I saw a police brigadier approach my Mother and
tell her in an assured tone of voice Your name is madame Berger?...And you are
not jewish!, I can get you out immediately!! And he kept insisting to convince
her..Maman asked him and my husband and my son?....The brave man replied I
cant do anything more!. Maman, refusing to abandon us had relinquished her last
And then, old buses with platforms arrived where people were being crammed in
the midst of chaos and confusion; amid shouts, cries and children sobbing, these
poor folks carrying their few essential belongings were being carted away amid
the stunned and sometimes indignant eyes of passer-bys that had gathered in
front of the school
It is true that no one, could imagine, not even the most pessimist, at that moment,
the horrible end to which they were destined.
The overloaded buses jerked forward, one by one, in the direction of the
internment camp of Drancy. Frightened people, with their faces squeezed on the
busess windows were looking for the last time the homes and streets of Paris
streamed by their tear filled eyes.

Approximately three quarters of an hour after, we arrived at Drancy, where, we

were forced out of the bus like common cattle being led to the abatoir, we passed
in front of a line of nazis SS, French gendarmes, mobile guards and those rotten
militiamen, that, stared at the human column with an aloof look and that recontrolled the identities, and would take away all objects of value from these
unfortunate people: jewelry, rings, necklaces and money that people were unable
to hide. After, they separated men, women and children.
The camp consisted of three grey, dirty buildings joined together. The buses would
unload their miserable cargo of women and children completely stunned. One could
hear cries that would tear at your heart. Then, we marched in the middle of a
huge, U-shaped camp
hedged by barbed wire fences. Each building was
approximately 300 m in length and was 5 or 6 stories high; the center, that served
as the courtyard had enclosures that were limited by grilled fences where people
destined for deportation were being held.
Despite all, fortunately, Jews that had preceded us, and that had been there, some
for a long time would help us with much kindness and devotion to install ourselves
in the different levels which consisted of a huge floor of rough concrete,
completely open lined with two story wooden bunk beds, where, each one of us was
assigned a cot.
We settled and installed ourselves as best we could. I could feel panic invade me,
but, fortunately I was with Papa and this calmed me somewhat; until then, I
hadnt realized what was happening. It was a nightmare....I couldnt realize,
wasnt grasping the reality of the situation!.
I couldnt imagine that men were capable of treating human beings in this
manner. Yesterday, I was still a child going to school where we were taught the
values of the great people of the republic, morality, respect for others, the rights
of men, civility and behaving with straightforwardness!!.
Brutally, at this moment I could feel anger, resentment and disgust climb inside, in
my spirit, I was becoming a wild animal......and, for the first time in my life I felt
an urge to kill.
The days would pass by, people organized sadly, in prosmicuity, halted by the
distribution of a soup, that was more akin to warm water where a few vague
vegetables floated on top. I remember that the adult men , would encourage the
youngsters in priority so they may fill their canteens with a few additional bits of
vegetables, and then, despite the hunger that gnawed at their insides would
content themselves of this lukewarm broth.
Human values and human defects revealed themselves In such a difficult
atmosphere: altruism, devotion would balance egoism and malice, which are the

result of our survival instinct. In the same flat, were jews of many origins, in all
conditions, professors, medical doctors, lawyers, industrialists would mingle in
great simplicity with tailors, cobblers, hatmakeers, etc., etc.
All of these people sadly gathered towards the same destiny. There, I was able to
grasp the remarkable jewish phylosophy of optimism regardless of circumstances.
I remember, it was the month of July, it was very hot and I had blistered my foot. A
very distinguished gentleman approached me, held my foot took my sock off i was
ashamed as I would sweat a lot. He looked at the wound, went for a little sack
that was on his cot and cleaned the wound. W ith much patience and care, kissed
me on the head and left. I later learned that the gentleman was a much renowned
professor at the Academy of Medical Sciences of Moscow.!!
Occasionally, I would sneak out to the womens quarter where I would be able to
see Maman, whom I held tight and quivered in fright for me. She had a long white
shawl with fringes, where, she had sewn the last asset left to her name, her
diamond, that she managed to save from when she was frisked. She was
accompanied by her sister, my aunt Magnai that she had encountered in the camp.
My uncle Mottle Fefer was in the mens quarter.
One morning, we were ordered, as part of a small group of people, including Papa
and myself to climb down to the courtyard, where benches were aligned and we
were asked to be seated; it was the shearing session as done to sheep in Australia.
It was Thursday July 22nd.

1942 I wore a beret to hide my shaven head

As I felt the shears glide over my head, a sentiment of shame and rage brutally
overcame me. I had the impression of being a prisonner serving life sentence in

Cayenne in French Guyane. As I saw my reflection in the mirror., I had become

frightfully ugly.
And, as I saw my poor Papa, his head also shaven, my pain was inmense. Where
was the respect and the rights of men I had been taught in school?. There and
then, I discovered the hypocrisy of the human species.
I returned then to my room. I crossed many faces I knew, friends, classmates. I
climbed the stairs of my block, until the last floor, and, from there, I could sight
with sadness and nostalgia the Butte- Monmartre, the Sacre Coeur, and Paris, so
close and and yet so far where people lived, indiferent to the drama that was
unfolding so close to them. I dreamed of having wings.
But, from that vantage point, I could also sight the sentry towers with their
floodlights that swept the camp at night with their blinding lights, and where the
gendarmes guarded with their machine guns any escape attempt 24 hours out of
During the day I could see on the side very young children, amusing themselves
dancing and singing as though they were in the school s yard. Others were playing
hide and seek with hearty laughter, under the protective and nurturing sight of a
few young Jewish women. The only trace of happiness in this hell....
A little further, an old Jewish man with a beard, that was out of his mind was
turning round and round while being jeered at and mocked by the evil and sadistic
My anger was so great that I would pray to heaven that either British or American
bombers would drop their bombs on this neighborhood, and that it lead to their
death all of these sorry excuse for guards and collaborators such was my distress
and despair.
In the camp, meanwhile , life (if it may be called that) would attempt some form
of organization. I could see these poor people exchanging, a jewel, or a lighter
that they had barely managed to keep away while being frisked. These goods were
being exchanged for a piece of bread or a few cigarettes.
The following day, Friday July 23rd, we were awoken around 5:30 in the morning
and were made to descend into the courtyard. There, we were regrouped in
different grilled areas, where, we awaited, parked like cattle, women as well with
little children. It was a real pandemonium, but, nevertheless, a short moment of
happiness during this sweet moment of re-encounter.
Then, the various controls started, first by family, then we were paraded in front of
SS officers and gendarmes to whom we had to show our identity papers.

Maman that had observed the control system and knew I wanted to depart with
them, was adamant. She ordered me to show my French ID card, and to insist,
otherwise a scandal would ensue ! and there it could become quite
dangerous....Thus, as I arrived at the checkpoint, something extraordinary
happened. After barely having had the time of embracing my parents it was 7:30
I was directed towards another enclosure where another seven or eight people
Meanwhile, Papa and Maman, that I could no longer distinguish inside this human
flood, were, once again, being loaded into buses parked in single file, carrying
their miserable human cargo towards a train station, where, there would be
funneled inside stock rail cars towards an unknown destination.
During this time, I was awaiting inside my caged enclosure the unfolding of events,
that, my mind was trying to grasp!! But, to no avail.
Then, towards 16:30, a person from administration, holding official documents,
called us and, handed us a coupon to leave the camp, and to the others, with me,
an ausweiss. All of these people were Furriers and manufactured fur hats for the
german army fighting in the russian front an item that was indispensable for
the war effort. I understood then, that, in error, they must have mixed up my
papers with those of the others, and that by prodigious coincidence or thanks to
my parents intuition, I was, all of a sudden free, stunned, unable to realize.....that I
had benefitted from a miracle.....
I felt through my pockets, Maman must have had a premonition. She had put a
little money inside my pants, she had also told me, that, in case I was freed....(she
had the premonition...) that I head to Annette and Jacquot, but, that I avoid
settling in so as not to disturb the young couples life. I proceeded to take the first
gazogen powered bus heading towards Paris, it was Friday July 23rd. 1942.
I returned home, rue des Francs Bourgeois, and there, entering the apartment a
feeling of desolation gripped me, it was practically empty, the apartment had been
looted, nobody knew anything; I strongly suspected the concierge, but, given my
position, I was powerless. It was becoming late and, the curfew hovering over me, I
decided to go to Annettes.
I took the metro till Porte Clignancourt, and arrived Rue Gustave Rouanet at
Annette and Jacquots. When they sighted me with my shaved head, like a
fugitive!...Annette started crying from sadness and happiness at the same time.
After the emotions of the moment passed and calm returned, I related everything
that happened during this sad week, and, as Maman recommended, so as not to
disturb the newlyweds, I would return home as of the following day, and, as of the

morrow would have my meals with them.

Right away, Jacquot and Annette, with much kindness insisted and demanded I
stay with them, which lightened a heavy weight off my shoulders. I couldnt
imagine how I could have continued alone. On the other hand, I mulled the
additional moral and material responsibility I represented for the young couple,
but, I perceived it was offered in all heart. I therefore installed myself in my new
I was, as of this moment, and thanks to Jacquots Greek citizenship, provisionally,
protected from being arrested.
We were continuously on our guards, danger was always close and present, we had
to take strict measures to protect our security and well-being.

Mr. Alevy Senior, that was still alive, advised Jacquot to register me in an high
school (ecole superieure) which was done a few weeks later. I registered in the
Commercial High School (Ecole Superieure de Commerce), Avenue de laRepublique.
I, that in the past loathed schools, re-discovered with great pleasure the joy of
learning and studying. The sad period I had experienced had developed my mind
and spirit, and, for the first time I would retain the subject of the courses with
The only inconvenience was that I had to travel to school, with the yellow star
sewn on my blazer. I was fearful of being reported....but, the environment was
good. The Professors were super and made me hide my blazer to limit any risks.
For the first time in my life, I loved school.
A few months later, I seem to recall it was February 1943, as I went to see friends,
Rue du Chateau-deau, I learned, with much sadness, that Jacquots parents that
resided at number 34, on the same street, had been arrested. poor Mrs. Alevy, that
was paralyzed, had to be transported in a hand cart as she was unable to walk...
Until then, they had escaped the dragnet thanks to their Greek citizenship status.
Some time after, Ninette Jacquots sister, that resided in Bordeaux and whose
husband, Rene, was arrested and deported, rejoin us in Paris with her baby,
Roland. She found a small flat in the XXeme arrondissement. However, fearful of
the daily threat of a denunciation, she entrusted the toddler to a caretaker to
thwart any threat. She subsequently found a charming little studio rue des Saules
in Montmartre.

It was a hardship for her, as she had to make a living, at a minimum to pay the
wages of the caretaker and the clothes she would purchase for little Roland. What
a hardship, she, that had been raised in luxury with a nanny when she was a
As for me, I managed to find, with much luck, a small room in serving quarters,
located in the 6th floor in a residence rue Eugene Sue, also in the XVIII eme
arondissement. The room had neither water nor gas. The toilet was in the landing.
There was, fortunately, a fireplace which I would light, when it became very cold, a
fire using a little wood coal I was however in my own place.
The only company I had were the bedbugs that came from the room next door,
which I desperatly tried to get rid of. In short, with time and patience, I managedd
to get rid of these pests, my room became clean and nice. The rental fee was
modest: 5 Francs (about 7 Euros) by trimester, which was a windfall. I would often
go and eat at Annettes, where we would gather, us four, around the table and
there we would discuss the various strategies to put in action to avoid the control
and raids, or, arrests, which were common day occurences.

Issue of the Yellow Star of David

and theJew document stamp
We decided never to take the metro alone, always a man and a woman, for me it
would be Ninette. She would precede me, within sight, so that in passageways or
street corners, where visibility was obstructed, she would make believe she was

combing her hair, at which point I could switch direction and re-join her at a prefixed rendez-vous point. This well executed plan saved us more than once....
Jacquot, that was always a food product sales rep, tried to introduce me to various
producers. I, in turn, tried to build a small customer base to make a little bit of
I remember on one occasion as I went to receive an order at the producer of
biscottes Guillaume (for one of my customers with, evidently, all of the regulation
rationing tickets), one of the girls that worked on the floor, and that knew me well,
slipped in my arms a superb biscotte bread a good yard long. It was unsliced and
made of real white flour! While passing the bread, she whispered this is for you. I
promptly wrapped it in a large sheet of paper and stuffed it in the middle of the
other biscottes in the trailerthat I would haul with my bicycle and that I used to
deliver to my customers.
That night, having arrived home, it was a real feast. I couldnt remember that
bread could be so white!..and so good. My taste buds still recall the taste and
aroma of that plain chunk of white bread....

I also remember one of my customers, located ,Boulevard Malesherbes, that had a

fine foods store, had become a black market specialist, and , to whom I would
deliver the biscottes, had a backroom storage. As I crossed the backroom, I sighted
shelves with all kind of foodstuff: large slabs of butter, a variety of cheeses, sour
cream, sausages, etc, including fine wines. My mouth salivated at the sight, I,

however, couldnt touch any of these goods nor could I dare make them believe I
In truth, his customers were made up mainly of rich, fortunate people, boches
(Germans), collaborators. The common denominator was a lot of money.
Sometimes, to change the ideas that obssesed our minds, the four of u would, go
and eat in the black market restaurants and enjoy a good meal. On one such
occasion, I was disgusted at the sight of a woman sitting next to us ordering for
her dog to her good buddy sa memere eggs and a dish of meat for her dogs, at
a time, when, so many children had barely enough to eat.
During all of this period, we harbored few distractions. We had banned our movie
outings, theather sorties, and, in general, any enclosed buildings due to the risks of
raids, especially at the exits. Once, however, we went to the Opera Comique (Comic
Opera) and, since we arrived late, the theater was already dark. The usher lead us
to our seats, the intermission arrived, the lights were turned on, and, to our
astonishment, we realized we were surrounded by a multitude of German
soldiers....We had assumed they couldnt be amateurs of Comic Opera. We were
livid, we got up, and ever so slightly, without fanfare headed towards the entrance
hall and from there towards the exit where we gave a collective sigh of relief.
Since then, I abhorr the Opera...

To change our minds, on Saturdays and Sundays, we would take our bicycles, ride
through the forest of Vincennes, nature was so reach Joinville le
Pont, where, on an island in the Marne river was a delightful little restaurant
where we would feast. Jacquot had parked a wooden indian canoe that we would
use to paddle upstream the Marne, forgetting, for a while our daily worries. Then,
after swimming in the clean and pristine river (it was a clean river at the time) we
would return to Paris all relaxed.
We were, I think in 1943 and had no news of our families, we thought of them
with so much sadness, and hope. We didnt doubt for a moment that we would see
them again.
Every day we tuned in to radio Londres and France Libre, news about the
development of the war effort by the allies. The interference was so intense that
we struggled to understand and make sense of the few words we grasped, but, we
managed nevertheless...
The nazi propaganda was powerful and well organized
And, darn! Enough of rehashing all of this sad period of the war, that, I relive as I
write these lines, and, as I am nor a masochist, I stop here....and try to calm my
spirit. .
June 6, 1944
And then on a day, unlike any other, it was june 6, 1944, while we were listening to
Radio Londres, through the awful crackling noise put in place by the Germans in
an attempte to muffle radio communications, wonderful news reached us......The
Allies had landed in Normandy. It is impossible for me to describe the joy and this
sensation of happiness we felt, that generated an intense internal moral and
physical vibration deep inside our hearts, as though we were being given an
oxygen boost as we were slowly suffocating; we just couldnt begin to realize that
this was actually happening.
To this day, I still feel a knot forming deep inside my throat as I recall this feeling
of hope and freedom that was alighted in us at that incredibly marvelous moment.
Outside on the streets, the news had spread at lightning speed. As you looked in
other peoples eyes, their gaze was more luminous. I even sighted on a few
windows small American flags, which was quite premature as danger lurched
You could sight the nazi soldiers and officers, the rotten militiamen and all the
collaborators (collabos) realizing they were on the wrong side of history and
whose frowns and worried expressions were becoming ever more noticeable. I
remember sighting on the Grand Boulevards a group of nazi SS tank officers

dressed in their black uniforms and whose cap was adorned with the emblematic
skull drunk as skunks wavering on their feet while insulting all of the Fenchmen
around them.
I was drinking the elixir of redemption, finally, their morale was low...
A few days later, I met my cousin Charles and we decided to join the Resistance, in
the FFI Forces Francaises de linterieur. There, we were routed to a youth group
named groupe Parmentier, named after the school where we were gathered. Wwe
were dressed with what appeared to be vague reclaimed khaki uniforms and were
given eclectic weapons; I had inherited an old rifle (Lebel) that dated from the war
of 1870 or maybe older, and, above all an armband with the FFI signage. We slept
on the floor or the field, without comfort and without any hygiene. As for our
mission, it was organized chaos characterized by a complete lack of organization
and a makeshift command, but, faith was there, as was a thirst for vengeance plus
we were unconscious , we were very young..
The average age of the group was, perhaps, 17 years old.
During this time, which appeared to be so long, the Allies advanced towards Paris,
where, our groups were desperately lacking weapons and munitions, some among
us would take enormous risks and attacked german patrols to secure their
weapons. I remember a buddy, Nogarede, that wasnt even 15 years of age, with
much bravado that jumped on a moving tank to dump a molotov cocktail. On
another occasion, we witnessed a group of buddies that had seized an armored
personnel carrier with a double flak gun in the area of Place de la Republique, a
fearful weapon we were very proud.
The people of Paris were becoming overly excited
It was becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish actual real happenings from
false news. But, in all quartiers of Paris, barricades were being erected made of
paving stones, furniture, matresses, handcharts, in short, anything suitable.
Paris had once again become a deserted city, we could hardly see any German
soldiers outside. They were burrowed in their ramparts. Only occasional trucks
filled with soldiers would venture outside to patrol some streets, firing at anything
and everything that moved. An occasional tank posted at strategic locations. This
precarious equilibrium lasted a few days. We were starting to become discouraged
as we feared we wouldnt be able to last much longer without weapons nor
A strong rumour was gaining echoing louder that the first armored tanks of
General Leclerc had reached the town of Anthony near Paris, and, that they were
about to reach the capital in a few hours followed by the great army..

The news was soon confirmed, and, then, it became collective madness. People
were shouting of joy and happiness, all of the windows were being dressed with
American and Allied flags. We learned that General Leclerc was at the Gare
Montparnasse, that the Germans had surrendered, and that Paris, finally, had been

The bells of all of the churches of Paris tolled in full swing with a deafening sound,
people in the street, strangers embraced each other, people danced and shouted
for joy. To this day, my skin crawls as I recall the moment.
At that moment, I was really convinced that my parents were going to come
back....and that life as we knew it would resume its course.
The Liberation of Paris
The Allies entered Paris in full strength, under the acclamation of the crowd,
spearheaded by tanks and those magnificent little Jeeps overloaded with soldiers
and civilians that kissed them as much as they could; they were the liberators ,
which couldnt be more appropriate, and, our gratitude had to be expressed. Tanks
were being swarmed and assaulted, soldiers were distributing their ration of
cigarettes, chocolate tablets, whose taste and feel had nearly been forgotten. The
childrens eyes shined, a mixture of surprise, joy and pleasure. The crowd was
That day, I was at the Avenue de lOpera, in the middle of tanks and within a
crowd. All of a sudden shots were heard and a few people fell to the ground.
General panic, shouts, people fleeing, seeking refuge...the Avenue de lOpera was
deserted again...

W ith the first moments of confusion elapsed, the soldiers noticed that the shots
from automatic rifles were coming from the top floors of the surrounding
buildings occupied by militiamen and collaborators, that, having nothing else to
lose were shooting indiscriminately and cowardly at civilians....loca
The American tanks were immediately deployed in attack position, and, after
locating the windows where the shots originated exploded these with their
machine guns and howitzers. All of this happened very quickly.
At the same time, groups of soldiers jumped from their Jeeps and stormed the
buildings where they intended to liquidate the militiamen which had panicked and
were surendering with their arms above their heads, begging the soldiers not to
shoot them as the wild and savage beasts they were.
A little further, towards the beginning of the Avenue de lOpera, at the corner of
the rue du Quatre Septembre, was the site of the German Kommandantur, draped
in nazi flags, centered with the distinctive nazi cross, and adorned of white
banners with the name of the different services inscribed in german gothic letters.
At that moment, they were no longer the boastful, arrogant and pretentious
specimens of these proud beings of the superior aryan race.
They brutally realized that, they , in turn feared for their lives, facing people that
were, themselves, also armed, what a delight!.And what a discovety.


Totally annhilated German soldier

All of this period allowed me to discover the profound and often buried sadistic
nature inside human nature, which, in truth evolved very little since our
To this day, I am still instinctively on my guard.....
You could fee alive again, Allied flags were displayed in all windows, the crowds,
happy and boisterous paraded everywhere , crowding the Jeeps and armored
personnel carriers, and, everywhere the Citroenfront wheel drives overloaded of
armed FFI sped in all directions opening this human sea by blaring their horns
full blast
In the background, the bells still tolled
And, in the midst of this singular environment, my cousin Charles and I, in the
company of the Parmentier group carried out various vague missions such as
the arrest of various V ichy collaborators and other assorted tasks, but, I disliked
this task, and am convinced that in all the confusion many errors were committed!
I asked my group commander to issue a mission order to arrest the concierge of

my old apartment building at the rue des Francs-Bourgeois that so dutifully

contributed to our arrest of 1942 and which was still a bitter memory in my heart
As I almost arrived at the building, we were in uniform and armed, I heard
someone call me. It was our old neighbor that had recuperated her apartment,
and with whom I started to talk. During the conversation, I learned that the
concierge had totally turned around (she must have regained her moral compass!)
and had actually saved several Jewish families!....Lucky for her that I ran into this
old friend and neighbor, which, most likely spared her life.
Shortly after this episode, our group merged with another FFI group whose
commander was a former movie actor, but, whose members had doubtful records.
That, in my opinion, they were there, loot and steal than to administer
justice. War had ravaged many minds.
Paris was liberated, but, beyond, war raged on. It was necessary to pursue the
fleeing German army that marched in a rout towards their homeland. We had
volunteered for the remainder of the war.
We were sent to Loire Atlantique towards Saint-Nazaire where the Kriegsmarine
had built a nearly indestructible submarine base; even one ton bombs were
powerless to blast the concrete defenses. Our role was to surround the base and
forbid any escape!
We set our positions in the fields within the countryside.
It was Autumn 1944, we had dug trenches in the manner of the previous war, we
were dirty and cold, we were stepping in a pool of mud and dirt under the
constant pounding of the German long range guns and the gunboats that
navigated upstream of the Loire and that were also conciously gunning our
Our mission was to locate all of the enemy positions and relay the information to
our artillery batteries that would in turn pound the enemy. Every day we would
scout in small patrols, and, sometimes we would end up face to face behind an
embankment or a hedge with German patrols that were equally frightened. We
would then cross fire,then, all would return to their trenches and shelters, where,
we would endure sporadic, yet severe bombings.
And then, we would resume our guards every three hours. I was becoming fed up.
Its there that I started my unfortunate habit of smoking, as, not having a watch, I
would calculate my hours of guard as a function of the number of cigarettes I had

In the meantime, winter had started, a particularly glacial winter, water and wine
would freeze in their jugs, I have never, since then, remember having felt so cold;
we were totally exhausted, I remember one day keeping guard with a buddy falling
asleep back on back in standing position and frigid, and, if our other trench
buddies hadnt shaken us up violently to awaken is probable that we would
have passed to a better life.
I desperately dreamed of a pass to return for a few days to Paris. The only way
out was to become sick! Since on that day I had a sore throat, I thought that if I
developed an angina I would be granted a furlough.
I therefore took one of my socks, got it wet and wrapped my neck... After suffering
from a severe ache in the throat most of the night, I woke up in the morning
totally cured to my complete surprise! My throat infection was gone...It is
incredible the strength and stamina we have when young.
Meanwhile I had mercifully received a 48 hour permission and had reached Paris
by train. I discovered again a free and happy city. Unfortunately, no news from my
parents nor my family, and yet, I yearned so much to see them again...
Being in the capital, I sought to renew my identification papers, and, dressed in my
army uniform went to the police precinct, there, the officials had nor evolved
much, an old, unpleasant gizzard sitting behind a desk looked at my name with a
disdaining look, and answers that the offices are closing, that I return tomorrow. I
was starting to boil inside...
My rage was such that I grabbed him by the lapel of his uniform and extricated
him from behind his desk under the disbelieving eyes of the other persons in the
line, my hatred was such that I totally lost control.
The look of fear of the old schnock was so great that I regained my calm. After
which, he became very polite almost obsequious and very respectful.
During the period that I was on duty, Paris had resumed its happy and joyful
rythm of before; I realized I was wasting my time acting as a clown in the trenches
abutting the submarine base of Saint Nazaire, but, I was bound to my military
Several months passed, we were already in 1945, and, finally the great news
reached all of us, the Germans had capitulated on all fronts, their generals
captured. Finally it was peace with all of its enssuing hope.
My return to the front was rather dour; the few moments we had spent in Paris
that had reminded us of civilian life were dissolving as a distant memory and we
were dreaming of being demobilized, which finally happened. In the meantime, the
Army was making all kind of attractive proposals to re-enlist and fight in

I was proposed the grade of lieutenant and an attractive salary to enlist in the
cinematography services and special information services of the Army.
I later found out why the reason behind this proposal! A military report,
transmitted by our commander, indicated that I spoke German and
English!...something that was not very common at the time.
It dawned on me, that our commander had asked sometime ago to assist him in
the interogation of one or two German prisoners and to help him to translate the
answers to his questions. (I had learned a little bit of German in school), that, plus
the Yiddish, which I rememberd at the time , made a strange cocktail.
Also, while our company rested in a common Army barrack, I had befriended
several Jewish G.Is that had taken me under their wing. They would come in Jeep to
get me and take me to enjoy super American movies, and, I would stuff myself with
all kind of goodies and special dishes for the soldiers while we would discuss
without barriers in.....Yiddish, of course, which, my commander didnt fail to notice
and concluded that I was fluent in English!.
The few moments of relative freedom I had enjoyed during my furlough forced my
brain to fast forward, since, I had to think what to do and how to build my future
How, then, could I manage to build something of value that could allow me to live
and forge my future; I knew my weaknesses and I had quite a few. After a deep,
thorough and merciless analysis, I concluded, that, above all, I needed to use my
inner self, my spirit; that was the only resource that would allow me to mitigate
what I so much lacked, which was self confidence. Anxiety had overtaken me
I, fortunately, had a keen sense of observation, a skill, which made up for certain
of my other shortcomings. Time was running, and, at long last our demobilizaton
orders arrived, I grabbed my Army gear and there I was en route to the train
station where I climbed aboard the first train heading towards Paris.
I felt free, at last, the countryside flying by me as fast as my thoughts. I was elated,
but, at the same time my throat choked as I felt alone, and, a little at a loss to face
this new situation. I had to face these new facts of life.
Arriving in Paris, I headed home to my maids quarter on the sixth floor, where,
the first order of things was to wash up and change my clothes. Immediately, in
civilian clothing, I no longer had to salute the officers in the street.
I quickly resumed my previous life

style, but, I was constantly consumed by

I would meander through Paris with a sentiment of freedom, which I had forgotten
existed. I was overtaken by the joy of being alive, and, yet, consumed by the fear of
how to cope with tomorrow.
During my service in the Army, I had made an excellent friend (Daniel) with whom
we had lengthy discussions on how to make money.
This fellow that was well educated had a liking and a passion for games and
bettings, and, during all of our time in the trenches, he would summarize the
results of the horse races from the preceding day.He had managed to put together
a winning system, that included many stats of competing race horses such as the
father, the mother, if they favored rain or dry soil, etc. He was addicted to the
game and ....well learned.
I was thus able to follow the system for a few months and witness the results of his
predictions, which, often were exact.He would never bet on a particular race
horse, but, always on a tierce (the first three horses in a race).
I never much liked betting nor any other type of money game, but, during this
period, I had validated, during several dry runs, that it was possible to inch ahead
with a small, yet regular gain.
I therefore looked up my friend, and, we devised, in a practical manner, our system.
We gathered the first sum for our investment a sum relatively high for us
praying to the heavens not to be wiped out on this first run. My conscience
bothered me a lot, since, for me betting is inmoral.
Incredibly, we won, which allowed us to hold our own for several months.
Our new time schedule completely changed our routine and habits; we would meet
during the mornings at a coffee shop where we had breakfast together. My buddy
had already bought all major newspapers, and, started right away to work on
predictions and projections which was, more or less a science of its own. W ith
anxiety in our hearts, we would deposit the monies at the P.M.U. (Pari Mutuel
Urbain) office. My conscience always bothering me. We waited for the results of
the horse races.
In the afternoons, we would often go to the theater or to the movies, and, during
intermission, we would rush to scan the posted P.M.U. results. We had, both of us,
an incredible amount of fresh ideas, especially in promotion and advertising, that
we tried to develop. We generated ideas to the tune of one every half an hour....
We complemented each other very well, and a lot of shared tastes and likes and
dislikes, especially for all of the new genres of advertising. We had discovered a

collection of very interesting books that explained the concept and the tecniques
of sales by correspondence American style......but, it now dawns on me, a little too
advanced for the France of 1945.
Every week I would purchase American magazines to examine the different types
of advertisements, as well as the superb and inspiring embedded pictures and
photographs to eventually serve as a source of inspiration.
We had wanted to start a small manufacture of cosmetics and perfumes packaged
in elegant and esthetic containers. Also shaving soap in attractive packages!
Unfortunately, we didnt have the minimum of funds needed to start up.
On another occasion we had thought of starting a line of anissette liqueurs similar
to the pastis, an ubiquitous drink consumed in the South of France.
Today, I dont remember many of these entrepreneurial ideas that ran through our
minds, but, the sinew of war was money.
And then, one day, my buddy took me to see the results at the race track, I saw the
expressions of the bettors, I felt nauseated and took the decision of seeking
different ventures..
My brother-in-law Jacquot very kindly proposed to entrust me with a stock of
biscuits, honey bread and candies.I managed to locate a residence entrance, Rue
du Poteau in the XVIIIeme arrondissement, which I rented. I unpacked all of my
bazaar in the midst of other sellers that traded fruits, vegetables and other
assorted groceries, a very active commercial site.
Those most interested in my goods were kids, to whom I would freely give
candies!...My motivation was diminishing at a quicker rate than my stock of
goods, which, nevertheless allowed me to survive until the following season, which
was feeble and, when I became pennyless, I would share my biscuits with a little
mouse that ventured in my sixth floor room. There, I would find myself alone at
night, reflecting and thinking about my future, which, seemed so bleak, and at a
loss as to where to start.
I would see many people and former acquaintances to whom I would ask advice or
addresses in the hope of finding some sort of guidance! My vision of commerce was
null...I had no experience.
But, I soon found out, that folks that had a good position, well established, chic,
well attired, maybe snobbish, didnt want to share (even as they knew!)the
slightest advice or concrete information fearing future competition. Or, maybe,
they felt bigger in relation to how diminute I appeared to them. They would

condescendingly advise me. This allowed me to better understand and analyze at a

later date the more or less selfish behavior and reaction of many people.
On the other hand, I soon found out that more humble, simple and poor folks, there
was an abundance of kindness and little jealousy. Most had their hearts on the
palm of their hands, and were ready to help and assist in any way possible. It was
to be my first lesson on human behavior
In the meantime, my friend Daniel and I had started a tour of small provintial
villages to project movies
We had also tried to sell new books, that my buddy Daniel, had managed to source.
Literary price books, such as the prestigious Goncourt and others. These were
much in demand. My sister Annette was a great fan of these books.
I then tried to become a sales rep for different articles that were offered from all
sources. It was particularly difficult, I also did door-to-door sales, a particularly
difficult and trying activity as, most of the time, we were received as intruders.
However, during the course of this work, I nurtured an idea, which, I wasnt able to
exploit due to lack of resources which consisted of installing little display windows
in the entrance halls of apartment buildings with samples of goods, and, a small
recorder (a new invention at the time) to record the customer orders! To this day, I
am convinced this would have worked well, even though it was very far advanced
for the times.
I then started incursioning in the manufacture of women skirts, I tried to locate
fabric (something which was not very easy in these times of restrictions) which I
gave to clothiers that would manufacture the goods. I would then take these goods
for ironing and folding.
And then, the next challenge, and a crucial one, was how to sell them! I had no
clear path forward, I would go door-to-door to the boutiques, but, unfortunately
with meager results, I was exhausted and demoralized.
In desperation, I offered the goods to the retailers on consignment and agreed to
be paid when the merchandise sold! W ith all of these obstacles and risks, it was,
however the only way I had found to recuperate some of the money from my stock
of goods.
I would return in the evening in my maids quarter, where, thankfully I still had
some biscuits left from my initial stock of groceries, that, I would then slowly eat,
accompanied by a a glass of tea.
Sometimes, when I also had a little flour, I would fix crepes (flour and water) that I
would fry without any grease or oil!...I can only leave to your imagination the
final result of what is best termed as a bizare ratatouille.

But, the irony is that it tasted good! Proof that all is indeed relative.
Occasionally, when I would accumulate a little money, I would purchase a little bit
of oil, vinegar, sugar and salt which I would accumulate as a reserve, I would then
confection a vinaigrette, into which I would smother slices of onions. I thought
these were delicious.....
There were few, or, I should say, no distactions or leisure time, and, sometimes, as
my spirit started to wander aimlessly, I sought paper or cardboard and penci,
where I would start to sketch. Fortunately, it allowed me to relax for a few
And, as I remember; whenever I earned a little money, I would offer myself a
meal at the brasserie La Biere, a very humble yet popular restaurant! A full meal,
that, invariably consisted of a hard boiled egg with mayonaise of which I
delighted and, that, to this date, still savor its unrivaled taste in my mouth.
On other occasions, I would dine at Chez Julien in the Faubourg St. Denis,
preffered by Paris choicest panhandlers! But, that was very cheap, and, where you
would be served the coffee with a mixing spoon having a hole at its center and
affixed to the table! To prevent customers from running away with the flatware!
Nowadays, that very same restaurant has become a very luxurious and chic
epicurean rendez-vous
I would also, very frequently eat at Annette and Jacquot. They insisted very kindly,
and, that contributed to maintain the morale. My sister would surreptitiously slide,
unawares, a little money, which, allowed me to subsist a little while longer.
Annette and Jacquot continued to live in their little apartment in the XIIeme
arrondissement, Rue du Dr. Goujon
We were edging towards the end of 1945, a happy event was unfolding, with the
soon-to-happy arrival of a cute, pudgy babyClaude, my adorable little nephew
with whom I strongly bonded. I soon assumed the role of baby-sitter, which I
thouroughly enjoyed.
Jacquot was reorganizing the groceries and biscuit wholesale business, and, it
seemed to be starting up well, despite the hardships and difficulties in
procurement of the different items and corresponding rationing coupons.
We were slowly progressing towards 1946, and, despite the sadness of not seeing

my poor parents, the sad souvenirs of war were slowly fading. Such is life.
Outside, people were re-organizing, rebuilding and were very active as best they
could given all of the material difficulties of the time.
I still tried to make a living as a sales rep, this time with linen and other assorted
sundries, but, despite my best efforts and will, it turned into another fiasco. I
therefore decided to sell in the markets, but, for that, I needed merchandise,
which, given my limited resources were hard to get.
I knocked at all of the doors I could find, and, finally stumbled on a small
manufacturer of garments that offered knit shirts (called Loups de Mer loosely
translated as Sea Wolves) in different colors; being stretchable, it had the
advantage of one size fits all, which, was very practical for selling and didnt
force me to carry a range of sizes and lots of stock.
As I discussed with this brave man in his shop, I would interject a few words in the
little Yiddish I had learned, his face lit up, trust and empathy came magically. It
was the Open o Sesame!
He was really very kind as all of his production was already practically sold out in

My first car 1945 - 46

Nevertheless, he entrusted me with a small number of sweaters that were ready

to go from his stock, which, I promised to pay as soon as they were sold which in

fact happened the following week

At that time, there was a lot of trust among people, something that always
surprised me. Nearly everyone kept their word....something which, regretfully, is
not the case any more.
I then purchased two large suitcases, a folding american manufactured bed and a
wooden display table
Encumbered with all of this stuff, which was quite heavy, but, I was strong, I took
the metro towards Porte Montreuil where, I learned, there was a Flea Market;
alas, and to my great disappointment, I was unable to find a place to park my
wares all was taken!
As I wandered the alleyways, I spotted an old merchant that was selling
harmonicas, and that had a large area with little merchandise to display! I asked
if he would consider sharing part of his spot for which I would happily compensate
him with my sales. He agreed! As soon as he acceded, I unpacked my merchandise
next to him. Shortly afterwards, I made my first sales, my morale was in an
A couple of hours later, I had practically sold all of my stock, I was in a state of
euphoria. I settled my dues with the little old man, and, returned with my empty
suitcases, which seemed sooo.. light and returned home, with a little money in my
pockets, happy of this day
For the first time in a long, long time, I had sold something!
In the morrow, I went to my supplier to pay for my merchandise and replenish my
Little by little, I would organize my activities, I thus found other markets in the
suburbs of Paris, that were more or less acceptable, and, I would search for other
manufactureres, I had become solvent!...and, in this media, the word would spread
One day, as I wandered through the street of Paris, towards the Opera, I passed by
the Rue de la Chaussee dAntin, and, admiring all of these elegant and magnificent
boutiques crowded with people in and out, I decided to enquire with the
concierges, if, per chance I could find a carriage door (porte cochere) for rent.
And, I was lucky on that day..I was able to locate one!
You may imagine my pride and my joy, one of the most prized streets in Paris and I
would be able to access it. In one giant step (for me) I was climbing the social
ranks. It was a magnificent stroke of luck and would open the door to many of my

hopes for the future.

I continued to purchase stock, and, at the same time, I opened my little stand of
the rue de la Chaussee dAntin, that I displayed in the most attractive way possible,
I would present my merchandise like the decorators of the high end luxury stores
(it was getting to my head!)
It must have struck a chord as people were attracted. Unfortunately, my
commercial expertise was lacking, I did not know at what margin to operate. I
was selling at a very low earnings...but, you learn everything.
Another difficulty was to keep a steady supply since everything was rationed, but
this settled as time went by, and, little by little I would learn the ropes.
My little stand of the Rue de la Chaussee dAntin, had become a favorite meeting
point for all of the friends. Annette, my sister, loved to come to visit, and we would,
the two of us go for a snack just across, where, there was a beautiful salon de the,
(I had a friend that would manage the stand during my abscence). These were
extraordinary moments. We would exchange ideas, and, tried to project ourselves
into the future!
During this time, Jacquot developed patiently his business of dry food with his
partner.He had just received his first new automobile that he had ordered, I seem
to remember,a couple of years back! At the time, you had to have a lot of
patience!. But, how beautiful was that little 4CV (quattre chevaux)
Annette would drive it with much gusto; a car at the time, was a symbol of
prosperity, and, even in the social milieux especially at that period.
Little by little I developped my customers, but, I didnt want to abandon my
markets. Despite the exhaustion, as I traveled by metro, trains and buses. I didnt
have a car yet.Its incredible what the human body can withstand!
I would, occasionally, have a buddy open my stand of Chaussee dAntin in the
And soon as I had re-packed my merchandise from the suburb markets, I would
rush to return to Paris with all of my unsold goods. As soon as I arrived, I would
buy a Friand (a sort of little pastry bread filled with meats and sausages) which
was all warm and crusty.
I thus continued for quite a while to purchase and resell merchandise, which
allowed me to accumulate a small capital which allowed me to start transacting in

And then, one day as I was strolling in the Flea Market at St Ouen, where, my
cousins George Feffer would unwrap and sell shirts, and, my other cousin Charles
Berger would sell sweaters, we were discussing about this special market that
attracted so many people, and, where it was practically impossible to rent or lease
a place.
My cousin Berger then had an idea to benefit us both! It was during the month of
July , and, he wanted to go on vacations. He suggested I fill his place, which, at the
time, he would sub-lease from the store owner, and that for a length of a month.
Since this was a win-win, I inmediately accepted.
As soon as George went on vacation, I was able to showcase my goods , without the
fear of having to quickly re-pack and move somewhere else! What a pleasure..
But, perhaps even more important, I was discovering the inmense potential of the
market and the customers that would funnel towards the Puces (Flea Market) and
that during the 3 weekdays it would open.
My head would spin, I had never seen so many people in a market! I therefore
stayed at Georges place during the whole month, and, despite being in the middle
of the summer vacation, thus, slower than normal, I would work quite well. I was
very happy about this experience which was very profitable to me.

July came and went, and, I tried to secure a spot in the market, sometimes, lady
luck would smile and one of the spotters would condescend an area of 10 square
feet for my activities..
In the meantime, I had applied at the City Office, but, despite having been
considered a Nation ward orphan, War veteran, etc the answer was invariably
negative. I learned later on that in order to obtain something, anything, it was
necessary to have a carnet of the communist party... and, I have never been
interested in politics.
There were, however, a couple of merchants that dealt waxed cloth in small lengths
from large rolls. These rolls were very heavy and they had a large work surface
area, and, seeing my confusion and how disheartening I was being unable to find a
spot, they often kindly offered an area in their stand. These were people of
uncommon kindness.
In the meantime, I had added to my collection very attractive and colorful dresses
that would become the object of a lot of comments and appreciation from would be
customers. I would display them very attractively as in the large Parisian
Department stores.
When, later on, I managed to find a larger spot, I improvised a little dressing
cabin, but, then....laughter would break! The lady customers (that arent
particularly modest in this Parisian quartier), would call me and ask for my
comments! And that was when they were in their underclothes (and thats the least
I could say). Since I was terribly shy and awkward, I must have looked as a real
fool....I really did not know how to behave in those types of situations!
I was starting to know quite a few people at the puces (Flea Market)which
endeared me more to my newfound home almost like a little village to my eyes.
Little by little, the seasoned merchants that knew me well by now, would suggest
or recommend spots where Iwould be allowed to display my merchandise, and, this
was of great help.
I therefore purchased my first barnum (iron bars that would assemble into a little
display stand) as well as a large tarp to cover everything in case of rain. Net, net,
I was starting to accumulate stock.
Presently I had to store my goods somewhere! Jacquot, my brother-in-law had
facilitated a little depot in the XVIIIeme arrondissement. It served me well to
store my material and my stock of merchandise
In front of the depot, there was a coalman that sold combustible and leased carts
(at the time, people of modest means would often use this mode of transportation
as automobiles were not plentiful)

During the 3 days the Flea market operated, I therefore would rent thehand cart,
would load my material, and, just like a hauler, I would drag this awful chart!! I
would sweat profusely, and, above all would fear crossing and meeting friends or
acquaintances that knew me and I would feel shame invade me. But, no matter, it
was what it was and had to be done.
All of these trials, stiffened my will. The hardest part was returning at night, my
chart loaded with all of my material and all of my stock pushing uphill as the
roads sloped higher and higher....towards Montmartre, and, it was so much harder!
At the time, however, I was quite strong.

We were already in 1948, the work at the puces was becoming more regular, I was
starting to build a little reserve capital, I had a few good friends that worked the
marketplace, and, one of them was Elie. Elie would often visit me his parents had
a store where they would sell work clothes on the opposite sidewalk. Elie had an
extraordinarily optimistic nature.
It was exactly what I needed to brighten me up when my situation looked dark.
Like all of the young men at the time, we would flirt and joke with the girls that
strolled by. One day, when Elie was in my stand, I noticed a very pretty young lady,
dressed with an attractive and unusual black raincoat. She had magnificent
auburn hair, a lovely face and a superb smile, she stopped a moment, kisses Elie
and continues walking.
I ask Elie who was she? Laughing, he replies that it was his sister! He introduces

her, her name was Helene.

He had immediately noticed, by my stare, that I was attracted to her!
The days flowed by, I was starting to make good sales and built up steady activity
and regular customers, which, was quite a good thing!

Helene, every market day, would innocently pass by my stand! Always coquette,
smiling and feminine on her way to her parents store. Little by little we routinely
talked of everything and anything, and, despite her young age, she was a very fine
young lady, very smart and having an inner sense of commerce. Little by little our
relations grew stronger, more affectionate which led to stronger and more intense
sentiments between us
Helene was a very determined young lady, and, when we became engaged, she
insisted in accompanying me when purchasing merchandise. I had since then,
purchased an old pick-up that was in deplorable state, but, still able to operate,
albeit with difficulty. I would routinely purchase a newspaper indicating the
opening hours of the different markets of the region of Paris, and, thanks to this
information, would know in what bourough I should direct my activity each and
every day.
Thus, early in the morning, around 5 or 6, after loading the merchandise in the
pick up, I would go for Helene, who, at the time lived with her parents, rue des
Orteauxs in the 20th arrondissement.
She would await for me by the door!....from there we would head towards the porte
Clignancourt, where, we would take a short pause in a cafe, I seem to remember
its name was Verse-toujours (Keep pouring) where we would have an abundant
breakfast and , to this date, I retain excellent memories of the place. We were very

young and laughter would come easily. W ith the breakfast behind us, we would
drive towards the market while at the same time praying to the heavens for the
pick up not to break-down
Once arrived, the trickiest part was to find a spot to sell. There was a person a
placier whose job was to assign spots to all of the merchants. The difficulty, of
course, was to find a good spot
The sales volume depended entirely on this.
It was a very pleasant environment all of the merchnts would set up their
barnum some would joke, others would complain, and, when the weather was
becoming, we could feel the fresh air, the sky was blue and what else was
needed...Helene relished adored this ambiance. Once the merchandise displayed, at
the time the pull overs would sell especially well, Helene would like to tour the
food market, and would return with fruits, vegetables and all kind of goodies.
We were very courageous, and, I recognize also very ambitious...
But, the most important, the essential, was to routinely purchase merchandise,
and, little by little, we were learning the art of how to deal and behave with the
customers, to perceive and anticipate their tastes and their budget, in other
words, to learn the trade which is not something that comes naturally, but, very
interesting....We were, I seem to recall in 1950
After finishing our purchasing expeditions, we would return towards Paris, and,
there, I would accompany Helene to her residence. Her parents were extremely
kind people, her Mom would not let me go, unless I had eaten a good supper with
them. This would be quite a change for me as, in general, I had become
accustomed to be alone, but, at their home, the atmosphere was always very lively
amongst her parents, her brother, her sister and the two of us! This would be quite
a change from my routine since the war, I had become quite taciturn. Afterwards,
in the afternoon (during the weekdays) we would go for a stroll along the grands
boulevards. She would not allow me to spend a sou even for a coffee! We would
talk about our ideas, our ideas of the future, we had the same way of thinking and
thought very much alike! She knew that my goal was, above all, to build a little
capital, to be able to get ahead, and to this, she greatly contributed.
The weeks, then the months flowed by. Helene was always so pretty, and, we would
get along so well, it was already summertime, and, for a change, we strolled to the
place de la Bastille and where, at the time, was a little train station where trains
departed towards the forest of V incennes, Joinville le pont and Nogent-sur-Marne.
This little train dated from the time of Mathusalem ,and, that pulled little old
passenger wagons in the ancient style of separate compartments. The entire train,
pulled by a very old locomotive was, at the time a favorite distraction for many
Parisians since at the destination awaited a multitude of very pleasant little

restaurants with popular orchestras where grilled meats and frites where the
favorite fare. All were on the shore of the Marne river. Some of the customers
would swim in the river, others would rent boats or canoes. Couples would mingle
in all of this conmotion dancing, strolling and alltogether have a good time it
was, at the time, a fun filled place and a needed distraction for many people. One
of the favorite, better known places at Nogent was chez Gegene, very well known
for its excellent moules and frites (fried in lard), which, certainly would not be
eaten in todays nutritional health concious world.........
We would, the two of us, go towards a little island, located a little further at
Joinville le pont. There was also a nice little restaurant, and, also a little marina to
store boats and canoes for customers. There, I would get my canoe, and, Helene
and I would sail, I must, recognize with much anxiety as Helenes stepped gingerly
on the boat, and, not having learned to swim, made me rather anxious....
And, from there, we would meander along the Marne, and , sometimes its little
tributaries. It was rather sympa.
At the time, our tastes where so much simpler than today, there was no televisionl!
Neither were there sophisticated distractions. We would greatly appreciate nature
, and the little birds, simply happy to be alive. (It was, what is known in French as
our fleur bleud season).
I always lived in my little room on the sixth floor of the rue Eugene in he XVIIIeme
arrondissement. I was starting to make a living and a little more self assured, and
, since Helene and I got along well, we would envision our future marriage
which soon happened, it was January 1952!
Helenes parents started to organize the marriage. Helenes Dad wished for us to
marry in the synagogue of tghe rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth. I didnt this street
reminded me of the very bad memories of the time of the war. Regretably, in front
of the synagogue was the apartment where my aunt, her husband and their four
children lived; only two survived Edmond and his little sister Suzanne
I therefore decided that the marriage would take place at the synagogue of the rue
des victoires in the IXeme arrondissement. Previously, however, it was required to
due diligence and obtain all necessary papers from the great rabbi of Paris which,
at the time, was the great rabbi Kaplan an especially kind gentleman
After an interogation about my life as a child, my Bar-Mitzvah,my adult life, and,
that I had escaped death by luck, and being ward of the nation, etc, he readily
prepared all necessary papers, and, as a bonus, in my particular case, exonerated
me of any fees.
At that time, it was especially difficult to find a place to live, and, invariably the

result was an unattractive apartment, usually quite expensive.We therefore moved

in my room in the meantime, after having purchased a stove that operated with
Butane gas. Also several kitchen utensils.We had to remember to purchase all of
our foodstuff, otherwise, we would pay by having to climb up and down six flights
of stairs any time we had forgotten something (not funny)! Our friends and family
would come and visit with us top of the stairs....when they would arrive, they were
invariably out of breath. It was strenuous exercise but we would laugh a lot. After
what seemed quite a long time living in these quarters, we started our search for
a more decent place ! (Not very easy)
The transfer fee for any apartment seemed obscenely large in our eyes. At that
point, I decided to search for an apartment to purchase no matter how small, but
to purchase.
It was not the custom at the time, people would stare at us with disbelieving eyes
when we would let them know of our intention to purchase a property a process
that was very rare in those years.
Elie, Helenes brother, who, at the time worked part time in the real estate
business suggested a small flat of 34 m2 (375 ft2), located 107 rue Manin in a
nice, clean building. It was very small, but, it would be ours, and I would not be
subjected to the whims of a landlord. And that was also another reason to buy our
own!...Telephones, (at this time you would need to patiently await a good 2 years
to have a new line installed), would be an extra expense. This little flat seemed
superb to us , especially when compared to the single room we lived in (it was
part of the process of continuous improvement as we moved forward with our
We furnished our first flat very nicely, installed gas heating, set up the (small)
kitchen and we even installed a compact shower in the bathroom that we had
spotted at the Paris fair designed for very compact areas.
We were delighted...what else to ask. Our little flat seemed so much more
comfortable in comparison to our previous quarters.
I remember aso that one day, as we strolled along the banks of the river the two
of us, Helene was pregnant at the time, she was taken by a sudden craving to eat
fries and frank from a roadside vendor in the vicinity. Today, we wouldnt even
think to try food from unknown sources.
I was able to rebuild a normal life
Ever since the war, each and every day of my life I tell myself that I am alive and
in this world by some miracle....