When and how were you able to escape?
One night, one of the counselors in the camp took my brother Meir and me aside, giving us instructions to pack our bags; he informed us that we would be smuggled into Switzerland. We traveled together with other boys in the camp from a town in southwest France, Brive-la-Gaillarde, to the town of Lyons; a woman guided us.
Upon arriving in Lyons, she took us to the community center. We stood waiting for hours until we were told that they had a place for us; we were told that they would keep us there for a week. We followed their instructions and arrived at a French school. However, there was one condition: we were told that we could not be Jewish anymore and by no means could anyone discover that we were ever Jewish.
Can you describe the living conditions?
It was horrible there. It was winter time. We were put into one large room, with a stove and a bench. We had nothing to do all day. I tried to daven whatever I remembered by heart. There were cleaning women around and I had to be careful. I would daven Shemoneh Esrei while standing by the stove with my hands stretched out pretending that I was warming them.
Lunch was served to everyone (gentiles and Jews alike). We were summoned to the table and given a little bit of food consisting of potatoes, some vegetables and meat. I was prepared to eat anything — except for “chazer fleish.” I told my brother we will each give our meat to one of our neighbors at the table. The other boys at the table noticed and a big fight erupted. Finally things settled down and we realized that this was not going to be a solution.
There was a room with 30 beds lined up; each boy was assigned to a bed. I was so happy to be able to say Shema under my covers. We did nothing all day, so keeping Shabbos didn’t pose a problem. On Sunday the gentiles went to church. We were given special instructions not to go to church since we were outsiders. The other children were upset about this, too. On Tuesday we were supposed to continue our journey. We waited a whole day impatiently, but no one came to release us. We were terribly disappointed.
Can you describe the final leg of your journey?
Finally, on Wednesday, a woman showed up to escort us. She took us back to the community office in Lyons. Here we were told that a young man who worked for the Maquis (French Resistance) would accompany us overnight and then guide us to Annemasse, a town on the border of Switzerland. He tried to feed us the finest food, but it was not kosher so we wouldn’t eat it. We spent the night in his home. The next morning we left for the station. I had left my backpack in a locker at the station and he retrieved it for me. He gave us French names and told us that if we were asked we were to say that we were visiting an aunt in Annemasse.
We boarded the train and off we went to the Swiss border. My brother and I took our places in different compartments on the train; in case one of us was caught the other one still had a chance of survival.
Eventually the police began making their rounds, asking everyone for ID papers. I tried to ignore it, but then he called to me, “Show papers?” I just said something to the effect of “Yeah, yeah, I showed them to you.” He accepted that and continued on. What a nes min haShamayim. I wondered what would happen with my brother in the other compartment. Well, here was the second miracle. When he got to my brother’s compartment he continued asking everyone for their identification papers. He noticed my brother in a corner; he had fallen asleep. When the policeman saw the youngster sleeping, he let him be.
We continued our journey to Annemasse. On the way we met one or two people from Strasbourg. The maquisard, who knew his way around, told us to stay on the train until it was empty; then we should follow him. (He wanted to avoid the policeman at the gate who was checking everyone’s papers again.) Outside the station there was a hotel. The maquisard spoke with the owner and we were assigned to a room. At lunchtime in the hotel we managed to get out of eating all treifus. We were also informed that Nazi soldiers come to the hotel to eat. It was arranged that when the soldiers arrive, the hotel management was going to let us know and we were not to come down to eat. We met another group of children in the hotel dining room; they were there with another leader. The next day at noon, when we arrived for lunch, we met only their leader. Upon inquiring, we were informed that the Italian police arrived at the Swiss border and the children got scared. They didn’t listen to the exact instructions that were given and they were caught by the police and arrested. This definitely did not give us much-needed encouragement.