(as published in One day in France. Tragedy and betrayal in an occupied village, authored in French by Jean-Marie Borzeix, translated by Gay McAuley; published in 2016 by I.B. Tauris at London and New-York as the English translation of the book Jeudi Saint, authored by Jean-Marie Borzeix, 2008, Editions Stock, Paris)
A little while ago, I received an internet request from Monsieur and Madame Langlois, editors of the weekly newspaper Le Bugeacois, from Bugeat, Corrèze, in central France. They were interested in obtaining additional information about my paternal grandparents, who had taken refuge in their hometown during World War II. As a consequence of their request, I wrote the following article for publication in French; perhaps the English translation will be helpful to today’s Hakol readers.
Lucie Fribourg was arrested for being Jewish at Bugeat by French police and German soldiers on April 6, 1944. Another ten people were also arrested that same day, Holy Thursday, the Thursday before Good Friday. The reader will note the amazement of the persecuted victims and their families, as they faced the cruel treatments inflicted by the Germans, who were actively helped by the French government of Pétain1 and Laval2. This feeling occurred because most of these victims were French citizens and saw themselves being hunted by French authorities and Frenchmen. It seemed inconceivable to these victims that they should be subjected to the "hunt for Jews". Here, finally, we hear the bitterness felt by thinking of those situations in which the Jewish refugees feel abandoned on the land that had welcomed them, as was the case on April 6, 1944, in Bugeat, where eleven of them were brutally arrested, to be deported.
NOTE: The text has been accompanied by short footnotes that will help readers who do not know the period of the Second World War in all its details to better identify events and personalities.
Lucie Fribourg, arrested at Bugeat on April 6, 1944, and her husband Albert, who died at Bugeat in 1943
Lucie Fribourg née Ach was my paternal grandmother. She was born July 17, 1873 in Boulay (Moselle) when Lorraine underwent the Prussian occupation imposed after the war of 1870-1871. I do not know exactly when she escaped from her home province to take refuge in France, but it was at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre that she married Albert Fribourg, my grandfather, when she was 24 years old. And unfortunately, my grandmother Lucie was imprisoned in Convoy 72 of cattle wagons from France to extermination camps. There were 76 such convoys that carried Jewish victims from Paris by SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français = National Company of French Railroads) trains from the Drancy3 camp on the eastern outskirts of Paris to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
THE FRIBOURG’s, ORIGINALLY COMING FROM GERMANY, WERE FRENCH SINCE BEFORE THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Having done genealogical research, I know that Tsadoq Fribourg, my seventh great-grandfather, was the first of my family to live in Lorraine, having immigrated some time before 1641, during the Thirty Years’ War, from Friedberg (Hesse) in Germany to settle in Niedervisse (Moselle), about 20 kilometers from Boulay. Tsadoq married Calgen Quételon Wolff in 1695 and the couple had six sons; the fourth, Kauffman (Marchand) Isaac Fribourg, was my ancestor, born in Erstroff in 1782. He acquired French citizenship in 1792, when it was given by the revolutionary government to all Jews then residing in France. It is indeed France, among all the European states, which was the first modern state to allow its Jewish inhabitants to become citizens of their country of residence.
Caïn Fribourg, my great-grandfather, was the last of my ancestors to be born in Erstroff, because his son Albert Fribourg was born in Paris in 1865, demonstrating that the family had left Lorraine at the beginning of the occupation by the German barbarians.
I knew my grandfather Albert well. It was he who often took me to walk in the forest that surrounds Fontainebleau, when my family went to spend the pre-war holidays in this charming little town, which was not yet a commuting suburb of Paris. Indeed, my family had not only an apartment in the 9th arrondissement in Paris, at 3 rue Paul Escudier, but also a small holiday home in Fontainebleau, at 97 rue St. Honoré. It was a real expedition to go there. First, a taxi to go from the Rue Blanche to the Gare de Lyon (railroad station for trains going southeast from Paris), then queue up to buy four third-class tickets for our family. When it was hot outside, it was difficult to choose: if you opened a window, the temperature became pleasant, but there was a risk of ashes emitted by the coal locomotive ending up in our eyes. After a journey of almost an hour, we got off the train at Avon, a small town on the banks of the Seine. Leaving the station, we had to get on the electric streetcar that would take us seven or eight kilometers to the parish church downtown. A short walk then brought us to our house, where we had to open all the windows to ventilate in summer or make a fire in the furnace boiler in the cellar in winter.
Albert and Lucie Fribourg had a very nice apartment on the 6th floor at 116 rue de la Folie Méricourt. I liked to visit them because the balcony that surrounded the whole apartment allowed me to watch the Place de la République traffic and the barges moving slowly down the Canal Saint Martin that shortened the crossing of the capital. My grandmother Lucie, very pretty during her youth, was slim and always very well dressed. Her mother, my great-grandmother Ernestine Rosenwald, whom I knew, died in 1935, when she was 87 and I was six years old. She was from Sarre-Union (Bas-Rhin) and had married Auguste Ach in 1873. My middle name is the name of this great-grandfather, who had an enormous mustache that he had grown while he was a grenadier (upper grade of non-commissioned officer, a rarity for a Jew) in Napoleon III’s army.
My first name comes from my other great-grandfather, Henry Caïn (Caen) Fribourg, born in Erstroff in 1837, who had also left Lorraine at the beginning of the 1871 Prussian
occupation, to settle on the northern slope of the Montmartre hill in Paris, where he founded a shoe factory in which he employed some five workers. He was the second great-grandson of Tsadoq Fribourg.
I wanted to write this abbreviated genealogy to show readers that the French citizenship of my family went back several centuries; in fact, if I follow my ancestors through the marriages, I can go back to Rabbi Shlomo Yitshaki, better known by his acronym of Rashi, born in 1040 in Troyes (Aube). I could also mention the names of the 58 men of my family who gave their lives for their homeland: one during the French Revolution, one as a soldier of Napoléon’s, another in Indochina, finally 41 during the Great War (1914-1918) and 14 during World War II (1939-1945).
A FRENCH GOVERNMENT ACTIVELY INVOLVED IN PERSECUTIONS
In consequence, this whole story explains why the best day of my life was June 18, 1951 when, having fled Europe with my immediate family during the first week of 1942, just a few days before all borders were closed, and having resided over five years in the United States of America as a legal immigrant, I received my US citizenship. Let me explain. As a child, I sang La Marseillaise (French national anthem) like all my schoolmates and fellow cub-scouts, and I knew I was French. But as soon as Pétain and his anti-Semitic agitators or anti-Semitic aides like Jean Giraudoux4, Charles Maurras5, Xavier Vallat6, Darquier de Pellepoix7, Pierre Laval, Admiral François Darlan8, Police Secretary René Bousquet9, and the Milice10, the “hunt for the Jews” under the Vichy government made me reconsider my patriotism. Of course, most of the xenophobic measures taken by Vichy were aimed mostly at foreign Jews who had escaped from Germany and the countries of Central Europe. However, this does not explain why two houses in Fontainebleau and a beautiful apartment in Paris were stolen by the French government, sold at auction, and my family, having claimed its rights after 1945, could not obtain any compensation.
But I still remember the story of my father, a French Army veteran who, in a fortnight in June 1940, had steadily marched from Amiens in northern France to the Corrèze département in the Cévennes mountainous region so as not to become a prisoner of the Boches who, as he was a Jew, would probably have killed him rather than take him prisoner. His defeat, and that of France and its army, supposedly invincible, originated from the French generals who insisted that they were ready, whereas they had sent my father and his comrades to fight the Panzer tanks with horse-drawn 75 mm cannons - the shells bounced off the armor of the German tanks.
I also see him, sitting at the kitchen table in the apartment where we were refugees in Nîmes (Gard) completing the questionnaire provided for in the Statut des Juifs (Jewish Statute) of October 194011, in order to be able to submit it in time to the Commissariat Général des Affaires Juives (General Commission on Jewish Questions). We could not imagine that this document would become the hunting license targeting our family. Why do that, I wondered, are not we French like everyone else? But Vichy did not see it that way! And that is why one of the German soldiers designated to arrest Jews, guided by Bugeat's official forester, on Holy Thursday in 1944, arrested my grandmother Lucie, 71 years old, at the door of the room she rented at M. and Mme. Manchon's house in Bugeat, where my grandparents had taken refuge after the total occupation of November 8-11, 1942 that followed the Allied landings in North Africa. Then, they took her with other unfortunate people, in an open stake truck to Limoges, threw her in a dank prison cell for three days, before eventually shipping her in an SNCF cattle wagon destined for the Drancy camp.
QUESTIONS ABOUT WELCOMING AND HIDING REFUGEES
I know that most of the French people, when Vichy and Pétain ruled, did not rise up to fight either the French bureaucrats or the German occupation authorities. There is a persistent myth that not only did the maquis gather thousands of Gaullist or communist resistance fighters, but also that the general population helped them and hid those sought by the police, including among them the Jews. In fact, history shows us that there were not so many resisters, perhaps no more than 10 to 15% of the population, and that the vast majority of the occupied population remained with their mouths shut behind their closed doors.
But we must recognize that a number hosted, and even hid, guerrillas and Jews. Among these I count my grandparents residing in Bugeat at M. and Mme. Manchon’s home. Of course, after my grandfather, a former infantry captain in the French army, died of pneumonia in November 1943, my grandmother continued to live with the Manchons. I do not know how the police knew that this 71-year-old French Jew lived openly in Bugeat and had to be arrested for inclusion in a cargo destined for the Eichmann12 ovens.
To conclude this short story, I wish to acknowledge the initiative of MM. Jean-Marie Borzeix, author of the book Jeudi Saint and Mayor Pierre Fournet, both born in Bugeat after the war who, in 2003, erected on the outside wall of the City Hall of Bugeat, a marble commemorative plaque in memory of the Jews arrested in their hometown to be shipped to Auschwitz-Birkenau. My wife and I, along with the descendants of others who were arrested, had the pleasure, on July 13, 2003, of participating in the unveiling of the plaque as guests of the city. It was a good sequel to the nightmare of fifty years earlier!
1 Philippe Pétain, French marshall and politician (1856–1951); head of the Etat français starting in July 1940. He adopted and followed Germany’s directives, accepted the racial laws, the creation of the Milice, the execution of hostages, and the deportations of Jews, Gypsies and other “undesirables”. Due to his actions, he was condemned to death in August 1945, but the sentence was commuted later to life imprisonment.
2 Pierre Laval (1883-1945) French political figure who held a number of government positions. He was Prime Minister for Pétain, led the French government into collaboration with Germany. This policy was opposed by the Résistance, but led to deportation of Jews. His actions in Pétain’s government earned him a death penalty and he was shot in October 1945.
3 Drancy is a village in the Seine-Saint-Denis département, northeast of Paris where, in January 1941, an internment camp was established; many Jews were detained there, in transit to the deportation and extermination camps, mainly the ones at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. From March 1942 to August 1944, 76 train convoys, with about a thousand deportees in each convoy, left Drancy; at least one of these to the Baltic countries, probably all the others to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex.
4 Jean Giraudoux (1882–1944) was a prolific French novelist and author; some of his works have been considered by some reviewers as racist and anti-Semitic.
5 Charles Maurras (1868–1952) , French author and politician; in his party, the Action française, he advocated virulent nationalistic, anti-Semitic, anti-gypsy, anti-republican ideas which supported Pétain’s policies. He was condemned in January 1945 to life imprisonment, but was reprieved in March 1952, a few months before his death.
6 Xavier Vallat (1891–1972), French politician, headed the Commissariat général aux questions juives (Commission in charge of Jewish matters). He originated, from March 1941 to May 1942, the anti-Semitic and anti-gipsy policies of the Pétain government. He was condemned to 10-year imprisonment in December 1947 but received an amnesty in 1954.
7 Louis Darquier de Pellepoix (1897-1980), French political figure, was appointed in April 1942 by Pierre Laval to follow Xavier Vallat in administering the Commissariat général aux questions juives. He .zealously the Pétain government policies, initially preparing the July 1942 Paris raid at the Vél’ d’Hiv’, which arrested thousands of Jews under deplorable conditions. He fled to Spain in 1944, is condemned to death in absentia in December 1947, but continues to reside freely in Spain where he dies in 1980.
8 Admiral François Darlan (1881-1942) French fleet admiral and politician, was an active minister for Pétain, and led collaboration with Germany. He was assassinated by a political activist at Alger in December 1942.
9 Police Secretary René Bousquet (1909-1993), high French bureaucrat, was general secretary of police under Pétain and Laval from April 1942 to Decembr 1943. He organized the “hunt for Jews” at Paris in July 1942, at Marseille in January 1943. An accusation of crimes against humanity was lodged against him and he was found guilty in 1991, but in 1993, he was assasinated at home by a man suffering from mental illness.
10 The Milice française was created by the government of Pétain and Laval in January 1943 as a right-wing para-military organization to fight against the Résistance; under the orders of their chief, Joseph Darnand, the miliciens chase the résistants, participate in the “hunt for Jews”, and fight against all opposition to Pétain and Laval.
11 In October 1940, the French government announced the first statute against Jews forbidding anyone “considered as Jewish” to practice a whole set of professions and functions, and requires the marking of all identification papers and ration cards with a red J.
12 Otto Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962) was an of SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, tasked in 1939 by by SS-Obergruppenführer (general/lieutenant general) Reinhard Heydrich with facilitating and managing the logistics involved in the mass deportation of millions of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps. After the war, he fled to South America and resided for several years in Argentina, from which he was captured by Israeli agents. In Israel, he was judged, condemned to death for his crimes, and executed in May 1962.