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My visit to France - Part III

Aside from Metz, Paris was the other destination during our recent family fact-finding trip to France. Paris was where my mother and her siblings were sent in summer 1943 after their parents had been deported. Only the eldest son was not summoned to Paris as he was nearly 18 years old at this time and no longer considered a child.

letter had arrived from the Union of French Jews (L'Union générale des israélites de France UGIF) stating that all Jewish children must go to Paris. The UGIF was established by the Vichy government’s Office of Jewish Affairs on November 29, 1941 as demanded by the Germans. The Jews of France were assured that the purpose of the UGIF was to set up orphanages for the Jewish children whose parents had been deported and to provide social aid.  However it was frequently forced to give in to German and French demands for money, cooperation with mass arrests, and names of Jewish resistance activists. Those UGIF leaders who refused to cooperate were arrested themselves and deported.

At the time there was no reason to think that it would be dangerous for the children to go to the UGIF as dictated in the letter and it was arranged for them to travel to Paris on the train.  When they arrived in Paris all four Szklarz children were taken to the large UGIF children’s home on Rue Lamarck in Montmartre.

My sister Caron and I outside the children's home in Rue Lemarck

What I had not realised when I visited Paris last year was that I had been seconds away from Rue Larmarck as I wandered around the artist’s quarter, enjoying the views over Paris from the steps of the Sacré-Cœur and browsing the gift shops.  This year we headed specifically to Rue Larmarck and there, on the corner at the top of the hill, stood the building where my mother, her twin sister (aged 5), brother Nathan (aged 11) and my uncle (aged 14) had been sent on June 8, 1943.

View from Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre

At least the four siblings were still together, although that was not to be the case for long. On June 24 my uncle was sent to the Ecole de Travail on Rue de Rosiers in the Jewish quarter of Paris (Le Marais) as he was too old to be in the children’s home and needed to learn a trade. That was the last time that he saw his brother Nathan and sister Annette and it would be two years before he was reunited with my mother, Paulette. On July 1, 1943 the three younger children were sent to an orphanage in Louveciennes, a suburb of Paris.

Meanwhile my uncle had not been at the trade school for long before he realised that he needed to escape for his own safety.  When we went to visit the Ecole de Travail he showed us the workshops where he had studied (it is still a Jewish trade school and in use today), pointed out where he had slept and also where he had been forced into a fight when he first arrived and which he quickly won, putting the other boy to shame! He showed us the hatch by the front door which he had escaped through when the laundry was being collected.

When he ran away from the trade school my uncle had arranged to meet his elder brother  at the nearest metro station, Saint-Paul, and he showed us the exact spot inside the station where he had been stopped that evening by a German soldier who asked him what he had in his package and then let him go without checking his papers when he realised it was only a book.

So many stories, so many examples of when good ... and bad... luck decided the fate of these young children and that only two of the four of them would survive the war.

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