Hidden Children in France (1940-1944): A Memoir by Joseph Sungolowsky


My younger brother Leon (left) and I are the sons of the late Rabbi Aron Gerson Sungolowsky and Esther Berger. We were born in Charleroi, Belgium, where my father was the rabbi of a small Jewish community. When Belgium was invaded by the Nazis on May 10, 1940, my family consisting of my maternal grandfather, aged 80, my parents, my older sister Fina, my brother and me, fled on a train to France. We had hoped to escape the continuous bombardment by the German air force, but our train was bombed in a city called Lop, close to the Belgian-French border. We came to a stop and the passengers were ordered to seek refuge in the nearby countryside. Since it would be difficult for my grandfather to move about, my father decided that we would all stay on the train.

There were many victims among those who ran off, but miraculously, we were all saved and arrived in Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule, a village near Vichy, France. We were welcomed by French rescue organizations and first housed in an old-age home and later in a barn. We lived in that village for about a month, and I attended public school.

My father contacted the Jewish community in Vichy and we moved there. We were housed at the Charmel Hotel, which served as the headquarters for the ORT, the world organization devoted to rehabilitation, and the OSE, another organization dedicated to the rescue of refugee children. (…)

In June 1940, France surrendered to the Germans. With the establishment of the collaborationist government of Marshal Pétain in Vichy, all foreigners were forced to leave the city. In August 1940, we moved to Nice in unoccupied France.

My father was employed by the Ashkenazi community, located on the Boulevard Dubouchage. As foreigners, we had to renew our residence permits periodically at the police headquarters, yet life went on fairly normally. We attended French schools, and our Jewish education was handled by my father and tutors. My maternal grandfather, Abraham Berger, who had fled Nazi Austria in 1938, passed away in 1941 and is buried in the Jewish cemetery of Caucade in Nice. When, in the summer of 1942, the Vichy government instituted anti-Jewish legislation and the French police began to round up the Jews, my family went into hiding in a basement room. My father hoped to find a safe hiding place for my brother and me. There was even talk of children’s transports to the United States, which my father welcomed, but my brother and I did not want to be separated from the family.

As the rest of France was occupied by the Germans, Italy claimed historic rights to Nice and its surroundings, and the area was overtaken by the Italian army. The Italian authorities turned out to be unofficially sympathetic to the plight of the Jews and they extended their protection to them. We were then able to return to our apartment.

Continue reading Joseph’s story here.

This account is adapted from: The Hidden Child. Newsletter published by Hidden Child Foundation/ADL Vol. XVI, 2008, pp.23-25

You can find a fuller version in French ”Témoignage de Joseph Sungolowsky” in TSAFONRevue d’études juives du Nord,  2004, pp.21-38.

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