"Although meanwhile you are without your parents, don't forget that you must survive, and don't forget to be a Jew as well as a human being."
Aron Liwerant wrote these words on a deportation train in France to his daughter, Berthe. Aron was murdered in Majdanek. Berthe survived.
Aron Liwerant and Sarah Redler, both born in Warsaw, were married in 1926 in Paris. They had three children: Berthe (b. 1927), Simon (b. 1928) and Jacques (b. 1940). Aron worked in the manufacture of leather goods, and Sarah as a home-based seamstress. The family lived in the 20th Arrondissement in Paris.
Following the occupation of France, Sarah was afraid that Aron would be arrested by the Germans, and "expelled" him from their home, lest he be caught. He wandered around different locations for two months, and then returned home.
On 14 May 1941, Aron Liwerant was ordered, together with all the Jewish males in his building, to register at the local police station. His brother-in-law, Max Mendelsohn, the husband of Aron's sister, Paula, warned him not to go. Aron answered him: "The French welcomed me nicely, and I am a fair person. So I will go." Aron was transferred from the police station to the Pithiviers internment camp, and from there to Beaune-la-Rolande. Three months later he escaped the camp, and returned to hide in their home in Paris. In November 1941, he fled to southern France – the so-called "Free Zone" (under Vichy control). Sarah and the children remained in Paris.
On the morning of 16 July 1942, the day on which the infamous Vel' d'Hiv operation began, during which some 13,000 Jews from Paris and its environs were arrested, Sarah and her young son Jacques hid in the attic of their building, after she was warned that the Jews of the area were to be arrested. Just as Berthe left for work and Simon went out to buy milk, the French police arrived at the building. Simon told the policemen that there was nobody at home, but one of them found Sarah and Jacques in the attic. Sarah persuaded the French policeman that it was not they that appeared on his list (the family had acquired documents with the more French-sounding name Liverant instead of Liwerant). The policeman acquiesced, but warned her: "This time I am being nice. Next time we might not be so pleasant."
Sarah decided to flee the French capital, together with two-year-old Jacques. Berthe and Simon remained in Paris, believing that their French citizenship would protect them. Sarah and Jacques arrived at Chalon-sur-Saône in Burgundy, a city on the boundary of the southern Free Zone and occupied France. Her destination was Lyon, where family members lived. But Sarah became sick, and was taken with Jacques to the local hospital. Red Cross workers managed to get Jacques to their family in Lyon, leaving Sarah alone in the hospital.
In a letter she wrote in Yiddish to Berthe and Simon, Sarah asked them to come to Chalon. But as the truck they were traveling in crossed into southern France, Berthe, Simon and the other Jews on board were arrested by the Gestapo. The Yiddish letter found with Simon betrayed his Jewish identity, but a few days later, he and Berthe were released and went to see their mother in the hospital. French underground members helped Berthe and Simon get to Lyon and reunite with Jacques. A few weeks later, Simon and Jacques were taken to a farm in the area of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. Berthe remained in Lyon.
On 31 August, Sarah Liwerant was sent to Auschwitz. Aron managed to see his children before he was caught in southern France. He told them: "I am going to Germany, and I will look for your mother there." Eight months after Sarah was deported, Aron was also sent to his death. On 2 March 1943, a deportation train left the Gurs concentration camp, with hundreds of Jews who had been caught in southern France on board. On 4 March, the train stopped in Drancy. Two days later, on 6 March, the prisoners, including Aron Liwerant, were brought in cattle cars to Majdanek. Aron wrote his last letter on the train. Before it left Drancy, Aron passed the letter through the narrow high window of the cattle car to a railroad worker, who sent it to Berthe in Lyon.
From the summer of 1943, Simon lived under a false identity with some ten other Jewish youths in a boarding school in Figeac run by Noël Gozzi, who was later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. Jacques, who was sickly and in need of medical attention, was given to Edouard and Charlotte Gibert, in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, who looked after him with great dedication. Throughout Jacques' stay in Le Chambon, Berthe and Simon came to visit him.
On 12 March 1944, SS men arrived unexpectedly in Figeac, and assembled all the village residents. They imprisoned some 800 of the locals, and sent them to concentration camps. Among the prisoners were nine Jewish youths. Simon Liwerant and another Jewish youth had managed to hide during the arrest, and later were smuggled to Switzerland by the OSE rescue organization. Only one of the nine Jewish youths taken that day from Figeac survived.
Jacques Liwerant stayed with the Gibert family until 1951, when he was reunited with his sister Berthe, brother Simon and uncle and aunt, Max and Paula Mendelsohn, in Paris.
In 1997, Berthe Sulim-Liwerant submitted to Yad Vashem Pages of Testimony in memory of her parents, Sarah and Aron. In 2000, Simon Liwerant gave the last letter of his father – parts of which are displayed in this exhibition – to Yad Vashem for eternal safekeeping.
Mars 3 1943
Dear Berthe. It is already day four. I am now in the railroad car. We are surely traveling to Germany. I am also certain we are going to work. We are about 700 people, 23 railroad cars. In each car, there are two gendarmes. This is a commercial railroad car, but it is neat with benches and a heater. Of course, German railroad cars. Of course, without compartments. They put a pail in it. Imagine the impression this makes. Not everyone can use it. You have to be strong in every situation.
I hope, my child, that you receive all my letters. If you can, keep them for a memento. Dear Berthe, I enclose two lottery tickets. I don't have a newspaper. I believe I will be able to write a letter to Aunt Paula. I hope, my child, that you will know how to behave as a free person, even though you are without your parents for now. Don't forget that you must survive, and don't forget to be a Jew and also a human being. Tell this also to Simon. Remain free people and observe everything with open eyes. Don't be influenced by first impressions. Know that you cannot open up a person to look inside, at his concealed thoughts, if he has a serious face, or even if he laughs and is pleasant. I don't mean one specific thing only, but everything that lives around you and everything you see. Both false thoughts and honest thoughts are often blurred, and you should watch how a person behaves in your presence. You don't see the falsehoods or the honesty of a person in one day. You understand that my advice is for your benefit. Always remember these ideas. My dear child, I think this letter will be my last because we are nearing Paris. If I can - I will write again. My dear Bertshi, take care of your health, don't drink cold drinks when you sweat so I will be able to see my healthy children once again. Tell Simon everything I have written you. Tell him to study and be a good student, because he is gifted. I am finishing my letter. Many kisses. I am going with confidence that you will grow up and be a good, healthy and smart girl.
Your Father, hoping to see you soon