My trip to Paris last week was a tale of two halves. Firstly my visit to Louveciennes to see the orphanages where my mother was held during 1943 and 1944. There were two buildings – the first an agricultural orphanage founded in 1880, and the second a requisitioned villa where the children were moved to at the beginning in 1944 when the Nazis took over the first building for their own use. I knew that it would not be possible to enter the first building which is
hidden behind locked gates and stone walls and at the end of a long driveway, in fact one cannot even see the actual building from the street. I did however have hopes of being able to go into the second building, the villa, and I was quite disappointed that it was boarded up awaiting a renovation project and ‘out of bounds’. At least I could see the villa from outside and the overgrown garden through the locked gates. I even walked along the railway track at the bottom of the garden to take a photograph. I was trying to see the steps where my mother and her sister had been photographed on, but it was not to be.
What most struck me from my visit to Louveciennes was the cold – real bone-chilling cold and I thought about the poor children and how they must have suffered without heavy winter coats and boots to wear in the cold months of 1943/44. I was struck also the number of large and beautiful homes there, including a Rothschild estate, and I wondered what the residents had thought about the Jewish orphans who had been arrested and taken away to their deaths on 22 July, 1944. Had anyone thought to help in any way or did they all just turn the other cheek for fear of their own safety?
The other half then of my visit was to the Shoah Memorial in Le Marais, the Jewish quarter of Paris. I found the names of all of my family members who had been taken to the camps on the ‘wall of names’ and the resource centre was able to identify a number of documents referenced to my mother’s name which are being sent to me.
I was given some contact details where I might be able to find information about the convent where my mother was hidden from 1944 to 1945, which is the missing piece of the puzzle. So my disappointment from the previous day in Louveciennes and not being able to go in to the villa was soon forgotten.
A quick mention for my travel companions to Louveciennes. Thanks to André Convers who arranged the visit and drove me there and back. André contacted me on Facebook after reading one of my blog posts as the only member of the Serge Klarsfeld association who lived in Louveciennes (he recently moved to Brittany) and was involved in the inauguration of the commemorative plaque (photo at the top) in 1990. [Serge Klarsfeld and his wife Beate are activists known for documenting the Holocaust in France to enable the prosecution of Nazi war criminals and to commemorate the Jewish victims.]
André also arranged for Evelyne Pewzner-Apeloig to come with us. Evelyne's father ran the orphanage in Louveciennes before the war and she was born there in 1939. During the war Evelyne's father was drafted into the French army and her mother took the Jewish orphans to safety in the south of France.
Once at Louveciennes we also met up with Laurence Fitoussi-Brust whose mother Martine Brust had been in the orphanage during the war but was 'kidnapped' and taken out by her brother (the celebrated author Andre Schwartz Bart) in early 1944 and therefore escaped deportation. Laurence and I had only spoken on the phone up til this meeting and it was a pleasure to meet her in person.
So this was our little group along with Francis Goudchaux, a member of the now tiny Jewish community of Louveciennes who thankfully speaks excellent English as my knowledge of French is typically “un petit peu”.
Nothing received in the post from the Shoah Memorial yet......