Children in the Holocaust
Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day 2009
The parents of Maurice and Liliane, Chapse Alexandre Gerenstein, born August 23, 1901, in Odessa, Russia, and Chendla Entine Gerenstein, born January 10, 1903, in Odessa, were both deported on November 20, 1943, in convoy number sixty-two, to Auschwitz, where Mrs. Gerenstein was murdered. Mr. Gerenstein, a musician, played trumpet in the camp orchestra at Auschwitz; he survived and emigrated to the United States.
Liliane wrote a heart-rending letter, addressed to God, only days before her arrest. The letter was found at Izieu after the raid.
God? How good You are, and how kind, and if we had to count all You have bestowed upon us that is good and kind, our counting would be without end….God? It is You who command. It is You who are justice. It is You who reward the good and punish the evil. God? I can therefore say that I will never forsake You. I will always be mindful of You, even to the last moments of my life. You can be absolutely certain of that. For me, You are something beyond words, so good are You. You may believe me.
God? It is thanks to You that I enjoyed a wonderful life before, that I was spoiled, that I had lovely things, things that others do not have. God? As a result, I ask just one thing of You: BRING BACK MY PARENTS, MY POOR PARENTS, PROTECT THEM (even more than myself) SO THAT I MAY SEE THEM AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. HAVE THEM COME BACK ONE MORE TIME. Oh! I can say that I have had such a good mother, and such a good father! I have such faith in You that I thank You in advance.
Klarsfeld, Serge. The Children of Izieu: A Human Tragedy Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, New York, 1985 p. 56
Serge Klarsfeld, distinguished French author and attorney, was born in Bucharest in 1935 but spent the WW II years in France. In 1943, his father was arrested by the SS in Nice and deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he died. Young Serge was cared for in a home for Jewish children operated by the OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants) organization; his mother and sister survived the war in Vichy France, helped by the underground French Resistance.
Serge Klarsfeld has published lists and background information on the succession of convoys deporting French Jews to concentration camps from 1942-4.
Klarsfeld has published over a dozen books on the fate of French Jewry during World War II and has been instrumental in bringing Nazi and Vichy officials to trial for the crimes they committed. He has led and worked on many legal cases against Nazi criminals that operated in France. He revealed to the French public the crimes of Vichy and is seen as the inspiration for President Jacques Chirac's declaration that officially recognizes the responsibility of France for Holocaust-related actions committed on its soil during World War II.
He is president of the organization, Sons and Daughters of the Jewish Deportees of France and Vice President of "la Fondation pour la Memoire de la Shoah.
Serge Klarsfeld has compiled an astonishing, haunting document that restores for contemporary readers the memory of 2,500 children deported by the Vichy government to German death camps. French Children of the Holocaust: A Memorial containing a picture of each child, with a short paragraph detailing his or her place of birth, parentage and manner of deportation.
Based on this work, an exhibition, Jewish Children Deported from France was exhibited from 2004 through 2006 in main (SNCF) railways stations in France and then in various German cities.
Serge Klarsfeld’s own French-language account of the comprehensive commemorative endeavor that he has initiated and lead appears in a detailed, illustrated and extensively documented presentation: http://ffdjf.org/brochure_ffdjf_paris.pdf
Following are excerpts from Mr. Klarsfeld’s preface to his monumental memorial publication:
More than 50 years have passed since the murders of these beautiful children – for they are all beautiful in my eyes – who once played in the streets of Paris, Marseilles, Lyons, Nice, and other French cities and villages you may know. It has taken so long for many people in France to confront what happened here, to these children from our neighborhoods and towns and cities. And perhaps it is time to share this with others so they may know how these terrible events happened and come to know some of the young victims, arrested in the streets you will find if you visit France.
This book is born of my obsession to be sure that these children will not be forgotten.
Twenty years ago, when reconstructing the lists of Jews deported to death from France, I found that some of the deported children were listed only by number – the infants were too young to know or say their names – and I felt a deep shame that they died nameless to the world. At first I was gripped with an obsession to know all their names and to discover the places where they lived; eventually I had an obsession to know their faces. After years of searching, of asking French survivors, of writing in Jewish newspapers and speaking on the radio in France, Israel, America, and other countries, I have found photographs of more than 2,500 of these lost children. After 50 years their faces are seen again in the pages of this book.
I myself was a Jewish child hunted by the Gestapo. [SS officer Alois] Brunner seized my father in Nice on September 30th, 1943, but failed to find me or my mother and sister; the three of us were hidden behind a false partition in a deep closet. We were of Romanian nationality, and if we had remained in Paris we would already have been arrested, a year earlier, in the great roundup of Romanian Jews by French police in the early morning hours of September 24, 1942. We would have been deported September 25 on convoy 37 – the 37th convoy of railway freight cars that shipped Jews to the East – and gassed at Auschwitz on September 27, 72 hours after our arrest.
Brunner led the Nazi action in Nice, preferring to work with his own commando of Austrian SS rather than use the local French police, whom, as a result, I never feared. It was the men of the Gestapo whom we feared every moment and from whom we succeeded in escaping. From November 1942 to September 1943, Jews living in the Italian Zone of occupation, as we did, were in an oasis of tolerance, protected by the Italian army with the support if Italian diplomats in Rome. The Italian military authorities prevented, by force when necessary, the arrest of Jews by the Vichy police. I never feared the French police nor knew I should. When Brunner’s SS broke into our Nice apartment building, beating our friends and neighbors, from our hiding place I heard – and I hear it still – my friend’s father shouting “Help! Help! French police – Help!We’re French! Save us! Save us!”
I wanted to create a children’s book that would make an original contribution to the literature on the Holocaust. I believe this has now been done by bringing together the children’s names, with precise personal information; places, their addresses at the moment they were arrested; and faces –as many photos as possible of the deported children. We have been able to identify in this book the faces of more than 2,500 of these children.
This memorial to the children comes from the heart and from my experiences documenting their lives, as well as my personal relationships with survivors from the families that lost children. I would have wanted a book of 11,000 pages, of 11,000 faces; but this work as it exists is the culmination of more than 20 years of militant engagement. For this work to exist, it was necessary to experience what I have since my childhood and to do what I have done. And I publish this book hoping it will strike a blow against anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.
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