Kiwa ZYLBERMANN

1935-1944 | Naissance: | Arrestation: | Résidence: , ,

Kiwa ZYLBERMANN

“In search of history”

Following in the footsteps of Henri, Léon and Kiwa Zylbermann

This biography of the three young Zylbermann brothers was written by a group of nineteen 9th grade students from the La Fosse aux Dames secondary school in Les Clayes-sous-Bois, in the Yvelines department of France. They spent a year working on it as part of a voluntary workshop called “In search of history”, under the guidance of their history and literature teachers, Marie Hurtevent and Géraldine Kerserho.

In this undated photograph, Claude-Kiwa (8) is on the left, with Henri (10) in the middle and Léon (9) on the right. (c) Shoah Memorial, Paris/Serge Klarsfeld collection.

It all began with this photo … the photo of Henri, Léon et Kiwa Zylbermann, the photo of three Jewish children, three brothers, who were deported to Auschwitz on Convoy 77.

Questions came thick and fast: Who were these children? What do we know about them? What happened to them? Who were their parents? How did they come to be on Convoy 77? Did they survive Auschwitz?…

From a few initial records held by the French Defense Historical Service in Caen, provided by the Convoy 77 team, we began by determining their personal details, and soon found out that they had been deported to Auschwitz, where they died.

 

The cover page of the civilian victim’s file on Henri Zylbermann.
Source: Defense Historical Service

The cover page of the civilian victim’s file on Kiwa Zylbermann.
Source: Defense Historical Service

The cover page of the civilian victim’s file on Léon Zylbermann.
Source: Defense Historical Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And thus we set off back in time: “in search of history”. We followed in the footsteps of Henri, Léon and Kiwa in order to reconstruct their lives and write their biography.

Here it is….

 

Marion D., drawing during one of our workshop sessions.

 

Chapter 1: From Chelm to Nancy – the journey of a family of Polish immigrants

by Thoann B., Delphine B. and Ines K.

Henri, Léon and Kiwa’s parents were David Zylbermann and Rywka Mandelbaum. They were both born in Chelm, a medium-sized town in the Lublin region of Poland. Prior to 1939, around 15,000 Jews were living there, which represented almost half the population.

 

The red circle shows the location of Chelm, the town from which the Zylbermann family came.

David was born on May 21, 1902. His parents were Joseph Zylbermann and Chaïa-Sura Zylbermann née Szysler. His wife, Rywka Mandelbaum, who was born on February 9, 1898, was the daughter of Benjamin Mandelbaum and Sura Mandelbaum, née Szok.

David and Rywka were married in Chelm. We found two different marriage dates, however. The first is from a French translation of their marriage certificate, which was included in Henri’s application for French citizenship by naturalization and is held in the French National Archives. It refers to a religious marriage ceremony on December 10, 1929.

The other date is December 1, 1923, which appears on the family census form provided by the Nancy municipal archives service. We think 1923 is the most likely date, as David and Rywka would have got married before they had children, particularly if they were devout Jews. But this remains a mystery…

 

A present-day photograph of the building at 2 rue du Duc Raoul, Nancy.

Henri was born on the first (ground) floor of this building in October 1933. (c) Google Maps

David and Rywka had three children in Chelm: Benjamin, who was born on December 20, 1924, Louis, who was born on February 1, 1926, and Sarah, who was born on November 15, 1927. These three eldest children were therefore Polish nationals, a fact that was to play a significant role in what happened to them later on.

David left Chelm three years before the rest of the family. He moved to France in 1930, as his wartime census records show. He must have had to find a job and then somewhere for himself, his wife and their three children to live when they arrived. We do not know where he lived from 1930 to 1932, but we discovered that he moved into a first(ground) floor apartment at 2 rue du Duc Raoul in Nancy, in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department of France, on September 19, 1932.

The Shoah Memorial in Paris sent us a scanned copy of Rywka’s Polish passport. We discovered that Rywka was issued a passport on March 16, 1932 in Chelm, in order that she and her three children could join her husband in France.

Couverture du passeport de Rywka Zylbermann

Cover of Rywka Zylbermann’s Polish passport, which also covered her children.
(c)Shoah Memorial, Paris / Serge Klarsfeld collection

The third page of Rywka Zylberman’s passport (c)Shoah Memorial, Paris / Serge Klarsfeld collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L'itinéraire de migration de Rywka Zylbermann et ses enfants en janvier 1933

Map of Europe in 1939, showing the route that Rywka and her children took when they left their home in Chelm (on 7 January 1933) for Nancy.

 

We were able to retrace their steps thanks to the various passport stamps and visas: on 8 January 1933, Rywka and her children, Benjamin, Louis and Sarah, left Poland and crossed the border into Germany. We assume that they travelled by train. The family then travelled through Germany and crossed the Belgian border at Herbestahl. Then, having travelled across Belgium, Rywka and her children arrived in France at the border post at Jeumont, in the Pas de Calais department in the north of France, on 9 January 1933.

Rywka and the children then went to join David in his home on rue du Duc Raoul in Nancy. Henri was born there on 17 October 1933.

The family then moved to than apartment on the third floor at 22/24 rue de Phalsbourg. Léon was born there on 3 October 1934, followed by Kiwa on 7 December 1935.

 

Present-day photograph of 22/24 rue de Phalsbourg in Nancy.
Léon and Kiwa were born on the third floor of this building in 1934 and 1935. (c) Google Maps

When each of the three younger children was born, David applied to the Justice of the Peace in Nancy for them to be granted French citizenship, as all three were born in France. As a result, Henri, Léon and Kiwa were French nationals.

 

Present-day photo of 20 rue des Fabriques in Nancy. (c) Google Maps

Towards the end of 1936, the family moved again, to a second-floor apartment at 20 rue des Fabriques. This was to be their last home in Nancy.

 

Chapter 2: From Nancy to Savigny-sur-Faye – the journey of an evacuated family

By Florent P. and Mahery R.

After war was declared on 1 September 1939, the authorities arranged for people living in the German border areas to be evacuated as a precautionary measure. The Zylbermanns were evacuated from Nancy to Bordeaux, in the Gironde department of France, on Saturday November 18, 1939. They left at 5pm on train number 3. The following day, they were sent, probably by bus or train, to Saint-Jean de Blaignac, the village where they were to take refuge.

The authorities placed the Zylbermann family in this little village near Libourne, about eighteen miles east of Bordeaux. Sarah and Henri must have gone to school in the village. Unfortunately, we have been unable to find out any more details about this.

Fiche de recensement d'Henri Zylbermann en Gironde

The census form on which Henri Zylbermann registered himself as a Jew. Source: AD 33, 61W23

In accordance with an order from the head of the military authorities in France, the Zylbermann family registered as Jews at the sub-prefecture of Libourne as of October 20th 1940.

We found the family’s eight census forms, which are held in the Gironde departmental archives. Based on these records, we were able to determine the occupations of the men in the Zylbermann family: David was a tailor (as he had previously declared in Nancy), Benjamin, who was 16, was a mechanic’s apprentice and Louis, who was 14 and used the Yiddish name of Srul, was a plasterer’s apprentice.

On 26 November 1940, the German army ordered that all foreign residents in Gironde be expelled. The French authorities then relocated them to other departments away from the coast. The refugees from Lorraine were allowed to return home, all except for the Jews. The Zylbermann family was therefore not allowed to move back to Nancy.

On December 14 1940, a train carrying 2,378 people left Bordeaux station for Châtellerault, in the Vienne department of France. The Zylbermann family, who had been ordered to leave St-Jean-de-Blaignac, were probably among those on board. The Prefect of the Vienne department then ordered that around a hundred Polish people, including the Zylbermann family, be placed under house arrest in the village of Savigny-sous-Faye, west of Châtellerault, with effect from December 16, 1940.

 

Chapter 3: Savigny-sous-Faye – a refugee family under house arrest

By Jarod B., Ines L. and Alex M.

David, Rywka and their six children were thus under house arrest, meaning they were not allowed to leave Savigny-sous-Faye without permission and had to report to the town hall every day. According to their refugee file, held in the Vienne departmental archives, they stayed with a woman called Lucie Mattakowska in the hamlet of La Plaine. Unfortunately, we do not know who Lucie Mattakowska was, nor do we know her home address.

Already registered as Jews in the Gironde department, the Zylbermann family also registered in the Vienne department between December 1940 and early 1941, as shown by the eight census forms. The Zylbermanns were also listed as Jews in the Vienne department until October 1942, so the authorities always knew where to find them!

 

Tableau récapitulatif des allocations perçues par la famille Zylbermann

Summary table of refugee allowances paid to the Zylbermann family between 1941 and September 1942. Source: Refugee file held in the Vienne departmental archives.

From January onwards in 1941, the Zylbermann family, which had previously had no income, was fortunate enough to receive a monthly refugee allowance. This amounted to 68 francs per day per family member. In order to claim it, David had to fill in a refugee form, which revealed a great deal about the family’s life in the village.

To boost the family’s income, 17-year-old Benjamin got a job as a farm hand on August 2, 1941. He worked for a farmer called Jules Davignon in Savigny-sous-Faye. We found a record of this farmer in the 1936 census: Jules Davignon was born in 1889. He lived in the same hamlet as the Zylbermann family, together with his wife Georgette and their four children.

 

Copie du certificat médical attestant de la salpingite de Rywka Zylbermann, datée d’août 1941.Source: Refugee file held in the Vienne departmental archives.

From a medical certificate signed by a doctor, Louis Gallet, on August 9, 1941, we discovered that Rywka suffered from salpingitis, an infection of the fallopian tubes. This was a fairly serious condition and may have required surgery, but we found no further details about what happened to her.

In August 1942, when the family failed to receive their monthly allowance, David Zylbermann went to the Savigny-sous-Faye town hall to ask for an explanation. The mayor of Savigny-sous-Faye helped David by sending a written complaint to the prefecture and managed to get the family an allowance of 767 francs.

We know from the pay slips of the men in the family that from June to the end of August 1942, David worked as a farm hand for a man called Louis Godet. He earned 50 francs a day and worked an average of twenty days a month, which made his monthly salary about 1000 francs. On 24 June 1942, Louis Godet also took on David’s 16-year-old son, Louis, as a farm hand, earning 700 francs a month.

We found a record of Louis Godet in the 1936 municipal census. He was a First World War veteran who was 44 years old when he hired David and Louis Zylbermann. He was a widower living with his four sons, his maid and his mother in the hamlet of Soudun near Savigny-sous-Faye. He was a fruit and/or vegetable grower.

As of June 24 1942, another local fruit and/or vegetable grower, Adrien Giraudeau, from the nearby village of Orches, hired David’s eldest son, Benjamin, who was 18, as a live-in laborer. His salary was 833 francs a month.

In September 1942, the family received an allowance of 1634 francs. This was to be the very last one, because in October 1942, the family was interned in the Poitiers camp…

Chapter 4: Poitiers, October 1942 – a family interned and separated

By Léna B., Amina K. and Hawa T.

 

Letter from the Vienne prefecture to the Poitiers military police, explaining the arrangements for the roundup on October 9, 1942. Source: AD 86, 109 W 17.

 

On October 8, 1942, acting on orders from the Germans, the Vienne prefecture arranged for all foreign Jews in the department to be arrested. The prefect’s letter to police departments and military police units stated that the arrests were to take place on the night of October 8-9, or failing that then during the day on the 9th. It also detailed the arrest procedure and the belongings that the rounded-up Jews were allowed take with them.

This was how the Châtellerault military police was given the list of 147 people to arrest. In their report, drawn up on October 9, they stated that they had rounded up 130 people, including a number of children. The Zylbermann family members were among those 130 people who were arrested and subsequently interned in the camp on the Limoges road in Poitiers. We were able to view the register of prisoners held in the camp, in which we found a record of the whole family having been interned on October 9, 1942.

 

Extract from the Poitiers camp register dated October 9, 1942, on which the entire Zylbermann family is listed. Source: AD 86, 109W314

 

During their time in the camp, Elie Bloch, the local rabbi, who had taken refuge in Poitiers after having fled the Moselle department in the autumn of 1939, helped the Zylbermann family. Elie Bloch was also involved in the local UGIF (Union Générale des Israélites de France, or General Union of French Jews). He had been working since 1941 to have Jewish children released from the Poitiers camp. He also arranged for them to be placed with host families in the local area.

It was thanks to Elie Block that Henri (who was 9), Léon (8) et Kiwa (7) were released from the Poitiers camp on October 15, 1942. Along with some other children who had recently been arrested with their parents, they were allowed to leave the camp because they were French citizens. Their three older siblings, Benjamin, Louis and Sarah, who were Polish citizens, had to stay in the camp with their parents.

 

David Zylbermann’s internment card from Drancy camp. (c) Shoah Memorial / French National Archives

On October 16, 1942, the parents and the three eldest siblings, Benjamin, Louis and Sarah, were transferred to Drancy, a transit camp north of Paris. They were part of a convoy of 231 Jews that was under police escort. The Zylbermann family arrived in Drancy later that day, as documented on their individual internment cards held in the Shoah Memorial archives in Paris. David, Rywka and their three children were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on November 6, 1942, on Convoy 42.

We wanted to find out if there was any record of their arrival in Birkenau. We searched the database on the Auschwitz Memorial website. We thought that David, who was 40 at the time, or Benjamin, who was about to turn 18, might have been selected as being fit for work.

Sadly, however, there is no mention of the Zylbermann family in the database. We have therefore concluded that David (40), Rywka (44), Benjamin (17), Louis (16) and Sarah (15) must have been killed in the gas chambers on November 9 or 10, 1942, soon after they arrived in Auschwitz.

Chapter 5: Henri, Léon and Kiwa – children who were released, but on borrowed time

By Wilona D., Amélie W.-P. and Andréa Z.

According to the register dated October 15, 1942, Henri, Kiwa and Léon were released from the Poitiers camp and sent to stay with Jewish families. For the first time, the three children were separated: Henri was placed in Chasseneuil-du-Poitou, and Léon and Kiwa in St-Georges-lès-Baillargeaux.

 

During the Occupation, the Vienne prefecture frequently asked local mayors to submit lists of Jews living in their area. From one such list, we discovered that Henri Zylbermann was placed with the Mayer family in Chasseneuil-du-Poitou in October 1942. At that time, the Mayer family was made up of Régine, the mother, and her son Marcel, who was 17. . Régine had been a widow since the previous year, when her husband Ernest died in Poitiers on December 18, 1941. When she took Henri in, Régine Mayer was 49. She was originally from the Moselle department, but she and her family had been evacuated in the autumn of 1939. Since then, she had been living in Chasseneuil-du-Poitou, near Poitiers.

Elie Bloch placed Henri with her because she was Jewish, and the Germans only allowed Jewish families to take in children who had been released from the Poitiers camp. Régine and her son Marcel, although Jewish, were French, which explains why they were not arrested during the roundup on October 9, 1942.

On October 30, 1942, the mayor of Saint-Georges-lès-Baillargeaux sent the prefecture a list of the Jews living in his area. This list included Léon and Kiwa Zylbermann, as well as their foster families. Elie Bloch had placed Léon with Charles and Cécile Israël, and Kiwa with Marcel and Jeanne Bing. The rabbi chose these families, as he had in Henri’s case, because they were Jewish.

At this point in our investigation, we were lucky enough to be put in touch with Mr. Jacques Grillet, who lives in St-Georges and is a member of the Association Les Amis de Sierck-les-Bains (the Sierck-les-Bains Friendly Society). With his help, we found out more details about Léon and Kiwa’s host families.

The Bing and Israël families were both French Jewish families who had fled to St-Georges in September 1939. They came from Sierck-les-Bains in the Moselle department, which had been returned to France in 1919 under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. This meant that both the Bings and the Israels had been born in the German Empire, given that Moselle had been part of Germany since the 1870-1871 war. Men from Moselle had thus served in the German army during WW1, Charles Israël and Marcel Bing among them. The Israëls and the Bings had only become French citizens in 1919, when Moselle once again became part of France. Germany annexed Moselle yet again after the armistice was signed in June 1940 and Jews were forbidden to go back there, so the Bings and the Israëls were unable to return home and had to stay on in St-Georges.

 

Present-day photo of the house at 12 rue des Cours in St-Georges-les-Baillargeaux.
This was the home of the Israël family, who took in Léon between October 1942 and May 1943. (c) Jacques Grillet.

 

When Léon was placed with Charles and Cécile Israël, they had been staying with Gaston Delaunay and his wife in their home at 12 rue des Cours home for three years. Charles was 48 at the time, and his wife Cécile, who came from Luxembourg, was 47. Before they were evacuated in 1939, Charles was a jeweler in Sierck-les-Bains, where he was a prominent member of the local Jewish community, holding services at the synagogue and giving religious education classes to children.

According to Mr. Grillet, the Israëls had two sons, both of whom were born in Sierck-les-Bains, but were already adults when the war began. One of them, Roger (b. 1913), lived with them for some time in St-Georges and then secretly left the village in June 1942. He therefore never met Léon Zylbermann. As far as we know, both sons avoided being deported.

When they took in Kiwa, Marcel and Jeanne Bing (who were 47 and 39) were living with their three children, Maurice (17), Eliane (14) and Yolaine (11). For the previous three years, they had been staying with Norbert Augustin, at 39 route du Peu. Before the war, Marcel Bing had owned a general goods store in Sierck-les-Bains and was the president of the Jewish community in the town.

 

Photograph of Jeanne and Marcel Bing taken in the 1920s.
(c)Shoah Memorial / Simon Oungre collection

 

Photo taken in St Georges les Baillargeaux in 1943.
From left to right: Maurice, Yolaine and Eliane Bing.
(c) Gérard Heintz, Businesses and public buildings in Sierck-les-Bains, 1875-1945.

We know from Mr. Grillet’s account that another Jewish family, also refugees from Moselle, were also staying with a Frieda Hayum at the same address. Mr. Grillet also told us that another child released from the camp was placed with Ms. Hayum at the same time as Kiwa: Estelle Jacubowitz. She subsequently followed the same path as the three Zylbermann brothers, and she too was deported on Convoy 77.

Despite Mr. Grillet’s help, we have been unable to find any further details about the lives of the three Zylbermann boys in their foster homes. They must have gone to the local school, since they were the right age. Did they make friends? Did they see each other during those eight months that they spent apart?

 

Extract from the list of foster children to be transferred to the Poitiers camp on May 24, 1943. Source: AD 86, 109 W 17.

On May 24, 1943, the French military police arrested 70 Jewish children whose names were on a list that the Germans had given them. They went to fetch Henri from Chasseneuil and Léon and Kiwa from St-Georges-lès-Baillargeaux, and took them to the Poitiers camp. The children were interned there for two days. Then, at 5 a.m. on May 26, they were transferred by train to the Austerlitz station in Paris. Also on the train were another 67 children who had been arrested at the same time, and 44 adults bound for Drancy. When they arrived at the Austerlitz station, the UGIF (Union Générale des Israelites de France, or General Union of French Jews) took charge of the 70 children.

A search of the Shoah Memorial database revealed that Régine Mayer and her son, together with Charles and Cécile Israël, Marcel and Jeanne Bing and their three children were all arrested on January 31, 1944. Despite being French nationals, they were transferred to the Drancy camp, from where they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on Convoy 68, which left Drancy on February 10, 1944. All of them were probably murdered soon after the convoy arrived.

 

Chapter 6: Henri, Léon and Kiwa – children “blocked” in UGIF children’s homes

By Angèle B. and Matthieu C.

The UGIF archives were invaluable in helping us to trace what happened next. The UGIF, the General Union of French Jews, was an organization created by the Vichy government on November 29, 1941, to represent Jews in their dealings with the authorities. One of the organization’s tasks was to take care of Jewish children placed in its homes, particularly in the Paris area. Most of the children had been arrested with their families and were then placed in UGIF centers instead of being deported.

From the UGIF movement list for May 1943, we discovered that Henri, Léon and Kiwa Zylbermann were transferred from the camp in Poitiers to the Lamarck children’s home on May 27, 1943..

Located in the 18th district of Paris, the Lamarck center was a former asylum that had been converted into a UGIF home following a series of roundups in July 1942. It was able to house a large number of children: in May 1943, for example, there were more than 160 children staying there. Having studied the arrivals and departures register for 1943, we discovered that all of the children that the UGIF took care of passed through the Lamarck center at least once. As such, it can be seen as a transit, or sorting center. Once they had been checked in, some children were transferred to other homes, such as the one in Louveciennes, in the Yvelines department of France, west of Paris. Children were sorted according to age, meaning that siblings were often split up.

 

Extract from the Lamarck center arrivals and departures register, which lists the three Zylbermann brothers and the date on which they first stayed in Louveciennes.
Source: Lamarck center archives

When they arrived at the Lamarck center, the children were assigned a serial number. Kiwa’s was 3733, Léon’s 3734 and Henri’s 3735. Information about their identity, including first name, surname, date and place of birth, nationality, previous address and where they came from, was recorded in registers kept by UGIF leaders. These registers were also used to list the children’s food and clothing ration cards. However, many children arrived without one or more their cards, because the managers of the camps from which they came had kept them. We know none of the Zylbermann brothers had their food ration cards with them when they arrived at the Lamarck center since the UGIF managers applied for new ones from the town hall of the 15th district of Paris.

Photograph of the “Séjour de Voisins” home in Louveciennes (taken before the war).
Source: Serge Klarsfeld’s booklet about the UGIF home in Louveciennes (CDJC).

 

From the movements list for August 1943, we discovered that Léon and Kiwa were transferred from the Lamarck center to the children’s home in Louveciennes center on August 2, 1943. This home was in a converted, villa called “Séjour de Voisins”, at 1 place de Dreux in Louveciennes, which had only opened in spring 1943. It meant that the UGIF could provide a home and schooling in the countryside for children who would otherwise be staying in Paris.

But where was Henri? We soon discovered, again from the Lamarck center register, that Henri was also sent to Louveciennes on August 6, 1943. The three brothers were thus reunited there and all three returned to Paris together on September 3, 1943.

It appears that they then stayed in the Lamarck center for six months, but we do not know any more about what they did during their time there.

 

Photograph of the villa at 18 rue de la Paix in Louveciennes, west of Paris,
where the Zylbermann brothers stayed between March 1, and July 22, 1944, when they were arrested. Source: S. Klarsfeld collection

 

The Lamarck center register also shows that Henri, Léon and Kiwa Zylbermann left Paris for good on March 1, 1944, when they were transferred back to Louveciennes. In the meantime, in January 1944, the home had been relocated to 18 rue de la Paix.

Present-day photo of the Paul Doumer school in Louveciennes, where Henri and Léon went to school between March and June, 1944.

As soon as they arrived back in Louveciennes, Henri and Léon started at the Paul Doumer school for boys. The principal was a Mr. Jamet.

We were lucky enough to be able to view copies of some of the pages of their class roll-call register dated between March and May 1944, from which we know they were in the same class. We even discovered that Léon was absent for six days between March 25 and April 3, probably because he was sick.

As for the only photo of the three Zylbermann brothers, we believe that it was taken in one of the UGIF homes. From their outfits, we assume it was taken during the winter of 1943-1944. By chance, while browsing the digital version of Serge Klarsfeld’s “Memorial to the Jews deported from France”, we discovered that a second photo was taken on the same day. The only difference between the two is that on the second photo, the three boys are all wearing berets!

 

From left to right: Kiwa, Henri and Léon Zylbermann. Undated photograph taken from the digital version of Serge Klarsfeld’s Memorial to the Jews deported from France

 

Chapter 7: Henri, Léon and Kiwa – three children deported and murdered

By Matthieu D., Clémentine I. and Marion L.

On July 22, 1944, all the children staying in UGIF homes in and around Paris were arrested on the orders of Aloïs Brunner, SS officer and commandant of Drancy camp. Henri, Léon and Kiwa Zylbermann were among the children arrested that day in the Louveciennes home. Denise Holstein, a 16-year-old girl who helped to look after the children, was arrested at the same time. When she returned from the camps after the war, she shared the details of what happened to Henri, Léon and Kiwa, in her testimony, published in 1995 and called Je ne vous oublierai jamais, mes enfants d’Auschwitz (I shall never forget you, my children of Auschwitz)

 

Photograph of Drancy camp, taken in 1941.
Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10919.

 

Early in the morning, at around 6am, German officers came to the home to arrest the children, who were still asleep. They allowed the children and staff take a small amount of food and a few personal belongings with them. Outside, a bus was waiting to take them to Drancy internment camp.

When they arrived at Drancy, Henri, Léon and Kiwa were assigned the registration numbers 25511, 25512 and 25513. They were sent to a room on the second floor of staircase 7, as was Denise Holstein. The letter B on their registration cards meant that they were all to be deported immediately.

 

Henri’s internment record from Drancy camp.
(c) Shoah Memorial / French National Archives.

Léon’s internment record from Drancy camp.
(c) Shoah Memorial / French National Archives

Kiwa’’s internment record from Drancy camp.
(c) Shoah Memorial / French National Archives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last March, we had the opportunity to visit the Memorial and the exterior of the Drancy camp buildings. Their appearance has changed very little, except for the staircase numbers, which have been reversed!

A model of the buildings at Drancy, on display at the Shoah Memorial in Drancy.
The red arrow points to staircase 7, where the Zylbermann brothers were interned between July 22 and 31, 1944.

The German authorities set July 31, 1944 as the date on which all the Jewish children interned at Drancy were to be deported. Henri, Léon and Kiwa Zylbermann, together with all the other children from the UGIF homes, were deported to Auschwitz that day on Convoy 77, in cattle cars. Children and adults alike were crammed into the wagons.

Denise Holstein described the travelling conditions: “There were sixty of us in our car, including about fifty children, and I was the only supervisor. […] As for the other adults, they were obnoxious and couldn’t stand being disturbed by the children who, given the lack of space, pushed them around, made noise and complained about the heat, thirst and lack of air.

Thanks to this invaluable eyewitness account, we know exactly what happened when the Zylbermann boys arrived at the camp. It was dark when they arrived at Auschwitz. They were met by Germans yelling, and as the doors of the cattle cars were carriages opened, they were dazzled by floodlights. “On the third night, we came to an abrupt halt. The doors were thrown open and the children, most of whom had finally fallen asleep, were awakened by shouts of “Raus! Schnell!” (“Out! Quick!”) They had to get dressed and scrabble to find their belongings. They were terrified, dragged out by men in striped convict suits who spoke no French and let no one take any bags with them.”

 

Present-day photograph of the ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the selection was made when Convoy 77 arrived.

It was at this point that the selection took place. The deportees from Convoy 77 lined up alongside the train and were separated into two groups: those who were deemed fit to work were taken into the camp, while the others were immediately sent to the gas chambers.

Denise wrote: “I walked alongside the railroad track alone, just as we were told. It was dark, but the spotlights were shining brightly on us. A little further on, across the road, there were five or six Germans. One of them was gesturing with his riding crop, not saying a word, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left, and I realized that all the little children were moving to one side, as were the seniors. On the other side, there were only people aged between about eighteen and thirty-five.”

She added: “And that’s how the children from Louveciennes and the other U.G.I.F. homes disappeared”; […] [they] were pushed into trucks and taken away, while we made our way through a sinister landscape of wooden barracks, between two rows of barbed wire.

According to Denise Holstein’s account, counting the days from their departure from Drancy to their arrival at Auschwitz, Henri, Léon and Kiwa were probably murdered in the gas chambers at Birkenau on August 3, 1944. They were not yet 9, 10 and 11 years old.

But their story doesn’t end there…

In the 1950s, Henri, Léon and Kiwa, as young French citizens, would have reached the age at which they had to do their military service. The army office in Nancy therefore carried out an investigation into each of the three boys in the relevant year. Until then, no one had ever questioned what had become of them, as none of their family members had survived.

These three investigations led to the three civilian victim dossiers with which we began our research. They made it possible for the French justice system to issue death certificates, which were then recorded at the civil registry office in Savigny-sous-Faye, their last official address, in 1955, 1956 and 1958.

 

Sources :

The details needed to tell the story of the Zylbermann brothers were gathered from numerous archived records:

  • The French National Archives at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine: Naturalization files for Henri, Léon and Kiwa Zylbermann.
  • The French Defense Historical Service in Caen: Civilial victim files in the names of Henri, Léon and Kiwa Zylbermann.
  • The Shoah Memorial in Paris: Rywka Zylbermann’s Polish passport, naturalization certificates in the name of Henri, Léon and Henri Zylbermann (from the Serge Klarsfeld collection), individual Drancy internment records (from the French National Archives).
  • The Vienne Departmental Archives: Refugee files on the Zylbermann family (22 W 341), various documents from the prefecture during the occupation (reference 109W).
  • The Gironde Departmental Archives: Digitized Jewish census records (61 W 23).
  • Nancy Municipal Archives: records relating to the evacuation of Nancy in 1939.
  • YIVO archives: UGIF movements lists, sent to us by the Convoy 77 team.
  • Jewish Center in Montmartre archives: Lamarck center register, sent to us by Mr. Bruno Mandaroux.

“The students also began and expanded their research by reading articles and passages from the following works.”

  • Françoise Bottois, La maison d’enfants de Louveciennes (The children’s home in Louveciennes) published in Petit cahier n°7
  • Denise Holstein, Je ne vous oublierai jamais mes enfants d’Auschwitz, (I shall never forget you, my children of Auschwitz) 1995.
  • Serge Klarsfeld, Louveciennes se souvient de ses enfants juifs victimes de la barbarie nazie, (Louveciennes remembers its Jewish children, victims of Nazi barbarism) CDJC, 1990.
  • Paul Levy, La tragique odyssée des enfants de Poitiers (The tragic odyssey of the children from Poitiers), published in Le Monde juif, 1996.
  • Paul Levy, Poitiers, un camp de concentration français, (Poitiers, a French concentration camp) , Sedes, 1995.

 

Further reading: biographies of Liki Bornsztajn and Wolf Agrest

 

Contributeur(s)

The biography of the three young Zylbermann brothers was written by a group of nineteen 9th-grade students from La Fosse aux Dames secondary school in Les Clayes-sous-Bois, with the guidance of their history and literature teachers, Marie Hurtevent and Géraldine Kerserho.
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