FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld  

 
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Belsen and survive. The rest of the children, 232 of them, are deported to Auschwitz on July 31 on convoy 77. The convoy carries 1,300 Jewish deportees, among them 50 UGIF staff members, arrested with the children by Brunner. Thirty-two teenagers survive Auschwitz, but all of the younger children perish.

Denise Holstein, 17, was in charge of nine children at the UGIF home in suburban Louveciennes. Arrested and deported with the children, she alone survived. On her return to France in 1945, she gave this account of the journey to Auschwitz:
The bus drove us to a little station near the camp. There, cattle cars awaited us, already furnished with provisions, pails and mattresses, and now another 60 people had to be crammed into the little space remaining. For better or worse, we wedged the poor 48 children into one side of the car; the 12 adults perched on top of people's belongings, next to the food.

At noon, the convoy set off. We were 1,300 people being led toward the unknown. The first day was not too terrible, but by evening, when we had to put all those children to bed in the pitch-dark, the screams began, and we were unable to sleep even for a minute: the children were hot, they were thirsty, and we were running out of air, since the only openings were tiny. That very evening we crossed the Rhine and left our country behind. Despite everything, morale was good. It had to be, because we had the children and we had no right to complain. We sang songs of travel and hope. The trip took two and a half days and it was only the beginning of our suffering. The food was marvelous but no one could swallow it: we were too thirsty. The children were crying. We had to console them, to convince them to hold on until our tormenters agreed to let us stop for water. With my red armband, I was able to get off with the doctor on several occasions and at the same time inhale a bit of fresh air, quench my thirst and wash up a little. Things grew a little calmer on the train, the children tending to fall asleep when the train stopped.

We hear shouts in German, the doors are opened, the trip is over. Men in bathing attire, their heads shaved, take the children in their arms to help them from the train; the poor things were mostly half naked and without shoes, and they were terrified at the sight of these strange looking men, most of whom were foreigners. Among them I saw a young man with big blue eyes; despite his striped suit, he was dressed impeccably. I instantly turned to him; he had to be French! He answered between clenched teeth so the others wouldn't see him speaking, "Get back on the train. I can't talk to you here." I obey him and he follows me and tells me right away what this camp is: just enough food to keep you from dying of hunger, no room to stretch out at night, announcements all the time and then, above all, he says as we climb down from the train, don't carry any children in your arms. I ask him why not, and he says, "You'll understand a few days from now." I really don't understand what he means. "You see?" he says, pointing to all the children, "They're going to be soap." He had just told me that he'd already been there for two years, so I took him for a madman. I asked him smiling if there were any other Holsteins in the camp. He replied, "There are probably millions of us in this camp. Take my advice: don't ask about your family, and above all, stop thinking about them."

I was very upset as I got down from the train but I didn't want to say anything to my girlfriends. There would be time enough for them to learn the truth. I saw a little girl standing all alone on the platform and crying. I couldn't leave her like that, so I took her by
     
   

FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld

 
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