Like a fairy tale Château de Chaumont arises on a hill above the town of Mainsat, Creuse in the South Central part of France.
Previous: We sneak out of occupied Paris at midnight for the trip to Chaumont. See previous chapters at bottom left.
During the time Wolfgang and I moved around France we were constantly shuffled from place to place and each time we became part of a new group of children who were strangers to us. All of Europe was in this constant state of turmoil caused by the Nazi regime’s foremost objective to kill all Jews and certain other groups. Various organizations countered this mania as best they could trying to save as many children as possible. They had to move us kids around swiftly each time they received information of an incipient roundup for our deportation to the death camps. Leaving the Auerbach we became part of a group of 42 boys from all around Berlin. After we were kicked out of Chateau de Quincy just Wolfgang and I met a whole new group in Paris. And so as Wolfgang and I became residents at Château de Chaumont again we met about 50 new kids from all over Europe. We had become quite accustomed to sudden changes of our living quarters and associates.
Most of all we dreamed and cried for the day we would return to our parents. We were so sure that would happen one day.
Food was a little better than what we received in occupied France. It was still far below the nutrients a growing child needs. It was just barely good enough to prevent any further destruction from scurvy and rickets but not enough for healing.
Recently I contacted the mayor of Mainsat. He sent me a copy of the students registered at the town’s school in 1941. Listed in it are my name and Wolfgang enrolling on Feb 20, 1941 and leaving on Jul 31, 1941. I assume we arrived at Chaumont in late January as I remember lots of snow. We probably left Chaumont August 1, 1941 to begin our trek to the Serpa Pinto.
The town of Mainsat was about 1 mile from the château which we had to traverse every school day going down the hill in the morning and climbing the hill in the afternoon. I clearly recall a bakery in Mainsat where we would stop on the way back to the Château to pick up several loafs of bread.
As the heat of summer increased we tried to bring back to life an ancient antiquated swimming pool near the Château. It consisted of big stone blocks around and covering the bottom of a pit. No matter how much it rained the pool never held more than a foot of water. Next to the pool was a rectangular area with poles supporting a network of slanted planks to shade a resting area. The planks had huge openings. We scurried around the fields to bring back dried stacks of grass which we used to seal the openings in the planks. But to no avail. Any rainstorm easily destroyed our laborious patching of the roof. Life at Chaumont was idyllic, the war far removed.
Me on the left, Wolfgang on the right busy trying to control the tangled growth in the garden of Château de Chaumont.
Unknown to us the Nazis had begun to demand the roundup and deportation of Jews from Vichy France. Once more we were targets for the depravity of the SS. In July, 1941 two strangers, a man and a lady, appeared. They asked a group of us if we would like to go to America or Israel. We only had vague knowledge of either place, America where the Indians would scalp us, Israel where it is so hot a match would burst into flame if thrown in the air. It did not matter to us.
A few days later our teachers gathered a small group about 10 of us boys and girls and informed us we were going to America. It was no surprise that we would once again be shunted to a new place with new boys and girls. We packed our few belongings and left for Marseille around the first days of August, 1941. Most likely we were transported to Lyon and put on a train to Marseille.
The group of children selected at Château de Chaumont to go to the United States. Collette Wormser one of our teachers at Chaumont took us to Marseille. I was lucky enough to get in touch with Collette a few years ago shortly before her death. She sent me this and other pictures from Marseille and Chaumont.
Previous: Life at Château de Chaumont. See previous chapters at bottom left.
Marseille was a busy spectacular port when we arrived. It also was a sort of melting pot for thousands of refugee children vying for the coveted visa that would set us free on one of the boats sailing to numerous destinations around the world unsullied by the Nazi imprint. We arrived in the first week of August, 1941. A few days later we were reunited with many of our original group from Chateau de Quincy. On August 19, 1941 we appeared before G. McMurtrie Godley, Vice Consul of the United States of America to receive our affidavit in lieu of a passport to allow us to proceed to the United States.
The upper half of my affidavit in lieu of Passport.
The lower half of my affidavit in lieu of Passport. All the kids in our group had the same affidavits.
We did not know when or how we would proceed to the ship. While we waited Collette took us all over Marseille. We visited the big port and crossed on a huge bridge. Another day we spent at the beach of the Mediterranean Sea.
All was not calm from the war. The Germans might as well have occupied Marseille as they dictated the lives of the citizens. And the British had begun to bomb Marseille as they considered it part of the German empire. We had become accustomed to sudden orders to leave our current homes and depart in a new direction.
Probably the next night after we received our visas around Aug 20, 1941, there was a huge British air raid which kept us from sleeping. During the air raid we were told to gather our belongings and rush outside. We boarded a big truck which transported us, in the midst of the bombs falling around us, to a railroad station somewhere in Marseille.
A train took us to the Spanish border. A man had been waiting for us and lead us on a short 2 hour hike through some hilly meadows to another train station. At the station an American met us. He said “You are in Spain now. I am from the Joint Distribution Committee of The United States”. He continued that we were illegally in Spain because Franco Spain was siding with the Nazis and we had to be very careful to not appear Jewish.
The man had train tickets for us to go to Madrid. I vividly remember some moments on that train. It was very old and when it reached one hill the next day the locomotive could not reach the hilltop. We had to wait several hours for another locomotive to help push us up the hill. While waiting the Spanish peasants who seemed accustomed to this rushed into the meadow at the trains side and enjoyed nice family picnics. As we pulled into the Madrid station, mostly female locals with baskets of food and sweets were waiting. We were pleasantly surprised when we found out they were waiting to welcome us. We were swiftly bused to what I believe was a monastery. The nuns made us bathe and dressed us in new clothes.
Do monasterys have weddings? That night we all participated in what I thought was a wedding with much dancing and music. The next day the same man took us to another railroad station and we boarded a train that took us to the Portuguese border. He turned us over to an American couple also from the Joint Distribution Committee. They were to chaperon us to the US.
Colégio da Bafureira
As we had arrived a week earlier than our ship was available for boarding we were sequestered in a beautiful small boarding college on the outskirts of Lisbon, called Colégio da Bafureira. That place still exists today. We spent a wonderful week with plentiful meals and lazy days watching sail boats on a sunny Atlantic Ocean.
Previous: Marseille, Madrid, Lisbon. See previous chapters at bottom left.
After an idyllic week at Colégio da Bafureira we were awakened around 2 am on Sept 8, 1941 to prepare for boarding the Serpa Pinto. It seemed we always were awakened around midnight to immediately move to a new environment. The roads were empty and within 30 minutes we arrived at the dock and saw our new home for the first time. The boat was awe inspiring. I was truly excited at the thought I would soon be on that ship on the open ocean. I already had a love for boats and water ways.
Almost all the passengers were Jews escaping from the Holocaust. It took hours for everyone to board. All passenger’s papers had to be verified. We finally boarded late in the evening. We were led to our quarters which were in a converted steerage section near the bow of the boat. Bunks were stacked 4 high with straw mattresses. Each bunk had a child’s lifejacket. Our handlers instructed us to wear the jackets 24/7. I lay on my assigned bunk and fell asleep instantly. Late on the morning of Sep 9, 1941 I awoke to a swaying motion as the ship began to leave the dock. I rushed up on deck not wanting to miss the moment when we left the port. Less than an hour later we all felt the curse of seasickness. By the mid afternoon I felt much better. I got no further seasickness for the rest of the voyage. Later that day we were taken to one of the lifeboats. We had to remember it’s position. Every day thereafter the captain would drill the entire ship to stand next to our assigned lifeboat.
Our trip was scheduled for 8 days. However it took 16 days from Sept 9, 1941 to Sep 24,1941
The type of German U-Boat that stopped us