Jewish survivors of the Holocaust
Stein, Helen (3 of 5) The Living Memory of the Jewish Community
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1992-11-02, 1992-12-08, 1993-02-01
Is part of (Collection)
The Living Memory of the Jewish Community
Stein, Helen, 1931- (speaker, female)
Hakin, Estelle (speaker, female)
Part 3: The first six minutes of this tape failed to record. Further description of life in small village of St Junien near Limoges in unoccupied France after return of Helen's father and until Spring 1944. Small rations but like everyone else, despite the 'J' on ration cards. Father resourceful and obtained extra food from surrounding farms although very dangerous to do so. Very little social life and they had only a few close friends whom they could trust. Some German Jews with whom they have always kept in touch after the war. Sometimes they visited the cinema. 1942 crisis. Mother again pregnant. Difficult time to have a baby. Friends advised abortion but Mother too frightened as well as being very religious. So little girl born - difficult to find baby equipment etc. Helen says there was a small charitable organisation but she doubts that her parents used it. Baby born in local hospital - Helen's father as a Jew was unable to work so took care of the three other children.Very little money as they had had to set up house again from scratch as unable to get any of their possessions left behind in their lovely home in Strasbourg. Mother very practical and capable, made their clothes etc At that time people not so concerned with material things, only safety. They longed to be able to go to Palestine but nobody went. Some people went to political meetings. Jews began to be taken, probably by the Milice as there were no Germans in St Junien at that time. Helen's family heard radio reports of deportation of Jewish women and children without luggage. Very frightened. Jewish people kept together and talked only of these matters. The Steins heard rumours from non-Jewish friends in the local police and they also got information listening to the radio from London.1944 doctor friend working for O.S.E. (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants) had contact with Limoges and advised the Koenig family to allow their children to go with the Organisation to Switzerland. Helen, her brother and sister and a few other children travelled to Limoges where, after three days in an hotel, left with the group for Switzerland. Remembers being very frightened by seeing so many Germans at the railway station etc They went by train to Lyon - very unhappy to be leaving parents. Children did not know that they were travelling on false papers. At the same time quite excited anticipating freedom. Took very little baggage - Shabbat clothes and a little Swiss money which Helen's parents had managed to obtain for them. They were accompanied by young Jewish members of the Resistance aged about 16 or 17. Children hidden in a convent for three weeks then by train to Annecy where given into sole care of a young German Jewess MARIANNE COHN. Beautiful summer day - children taken for walk round Lake and possibly missed the train which was to take them on to Swiss border. Marianne forced to hire a truck and driver. They stepped out at end of journey, able to see Switzerland across the border, when Gestapo arrived - plain clothes, open car, dogs etc. Demanded papers - the false papers stated that the children were evacuees from Lyon going to a children's home some way off. Helen thought the end had come. Always remembers the huge German Shepherd dogs. Gestapo 'phoned children's home - arrival of German soldiers - no chance of escape - Gestapo made dreadful anti-Semitic remarks.Taken to prison of Pax in Annemasse - special prison for those captured in the Resistance etc - many Resistance fighters in and around Annemasse. Helen and brother and sister kept in large cell with several other children - ate and slept there. Describes very primitive toilet arrangements. Very demoralised. Told children to wear Shabbat clothes as no further use. Had managed to get rid of Swiss money en route to prison by tearing it up and eating it. Youngest child only six. Asked Marianne for advice about interrogations. Helen was sent for the following day - questioned by Gestapo. Asked name of parents, organisation etc, to which she gave false information. Asked many times if she were Jewish - she tried to deny this. There were two men and the interrogator held a revolver in front of him. Helen interrogated twice - each child interviewed separately. Kept in prison about seven or eight days - very frightened - passed time somehow, certainly did not play games. Rescued by intervention of M. Jean Deffauggt the then Mayor of Annemasse who gave his life as surety for their not attempting to escape. Said goodbye to Marianne whose face bore evidence of torture. Later children learned of torture of non-Jewish driver of the truck. Younger children dispersed to various children's homes but older ones remained in prison for further three months where they did domestic chores. Now June 1944 and war nearly over. Lucky. For Helen and her brother and sister the Children's Home was like paradise after the prison. Little to eat. Didn't say they were Jewish. Stayed about two months. Other children mainly evacuees from Lyon. No school lessons as it was holiday time. They heard about the progress of the war but Helen does not remember how. She was worried about her parents so took a chance and wrote care of a neighbour but didn't dare send her own address. Parents thought they were safely in Switzerland. End July 1944 children taken to Geneva in a truck, accompanied by young members of the Resistance. The hostel was like paradise but Helen refused further hospitality from the Swiss Jewish Community being anxious to return to her family. She never doubted their survival. Journey back badly organised by O.S.E. They went by train - many people on the move. After one night in Limoges Helen and brother and sister reunited with parents and little sister. Still in same apartment but they had suffered a lot and it was two more years before they could leave and pick up their lives in Strasbourg.