1915-1944 | Naissance: | Arrestation: | Résidence:


“They could have eluded them!”

Claude Jacquier, Honorary Research Director at the CNRS.
Composed on September 19, 2012 at Brison-les-Oliviers in the municipality of Brison-St-Innocent (last version: December 4, 2015).

This little piece is a modest testimonial that came to mind at the death of my mother in the summer of 2011. While presenting the essential events of her life in a eulogy given before the village I couldn’t help putting in a reference to her friend Sylvia, whom she met during the World War II Occupation. Going through our family’s things I came across some documents and photos concerning Sylvia Littmann and Robert Rosengarten. On a subsequent visit to the Mémorial de la Shoah, I discovered that Sylvia was on the list of the last convoy of 1300 people, convoy n° 77 from Drancy to Auschwitz.

This article has been put together from meager bits of information. The dossier compiled on Sylvia Littmann and Robert Rosengarten comes from oral and written testimony (wartime letters — postcards and unsealed letters1, mostly quite short, censored and often self-censored) and from photographs bequeathed by my mother and father, Mélanie2 and Jean-Marie Jacquier3, among the affairs they left behind where they lived, in the hamlet of Brison-les-Oliviers in the municipality of Brison-St-Innoncent in Savoy. It was in this village that Sylvia and Robert resided during that part of the war. This information is filled out and confirmed by data from the Mémorial de la Shoah and many other sources, including the archives of the Savoie department and from the files of the AJPN (Anonymes, Justes et Persécutés durant la période Nazie dans les communes de France).

Born in 1947 after the Second World War, I did not know Sylvia and Robert, was not present at the events related here. At this stage of my research the written documents available on them are scarce. Nor do I have anything written by them. To a certain extent I can write about them only by grasping their relationships with others, in this case my parents, and especially my mother, in short, with our little Savoy community. The result is an essay largely centered on my family and our village in Savoy. The memory of these people and these events have always run through our family history, kept alive by my mother Mélanie, who had become close friends with Sylvia in a very short time. I have tried to reconstitute the circumstances of their relationship, which was to end in all-too-familiar tragedy. Despite the silence and the absence of testimony, let us try to imagine as well those brief moments of serenity and, perhaps, even happiness.

Sylvia and Robert

The documents brought together in this tribute deal most especially with the Sylvia’s relationship with my mother Mélanie. They are mostly a reconstitution of my mother’s recollections about Sylvia. Sylvia is inscribed on the Wall of Names as Sylvia Littmann, born on September 20, 1915 in Bacou (Bakou, Azerbaijan). Residing in Aix-les-Bains (Savoie department), where she was no doubt arrested, she was transported from Chambéry to Drancy on the 3rd or 4th of July, 1944, and then deported from Drancy in convoy n° 77 on July 31st. (document n°1).4 She was living at n° 6 rue des Bains in Aix-les-Bains (documents n°1 and n°3). In reality, she was not born in Bacou (Bakou), information that led me at first to search in the Caspian Sea area, but rather in Bacău, Romania. According to my mother’s account her father was a Romanian ambassador at the time, but I have been unable to find any information on him in the archives. It would no doubt be necessary to search in Romania.5 On the Mémorial figure three other people besides Sylvia with the family name Littmann: Julius, born on December 4, 1886 in Bucharest (profession? date of death?),Chaim, a tailor born on March 20, 1889 in Tubiskow, resident in Paris, deported in convoy n° 3 on June 22, 1942, and finally Johann, with no further details.

Robert Rosengarten was Sylvia’s companion, “her fiancé”, my mother said, but there is little information on him in the family archives except for a few photos he is in, the other photos no doubt having been taken by him. According to my mother Mélanie’s comments, he was a druggist at the spa center in Aix-les-Bains, or perhaps at the Pharmacy des Thermes, a private pharmacy located near the spa center on the corner of 1 place des Thermes and 1 rue Davat (document n°3). In this event was he a salaried employee or the owner, and in the latter case, was he dispossessed of his belongings? I have been unable to clarify this point despite the aid of the family notary, the heir of an old office in Aix. A more thorough search into the origins of ownership would probably clear up these doubts. At any rate, there is no Robert Rosengarten on the Mémorial’s list of deportees. There is, however, an Elias Rosengarten on the convoy n° 77 list. Was this the same person? He was born at Frysztak (Poland?), resided at n° 73 rue Anatole-France in Villeurbanne (Lyon, France), and not in Aix-les-Bains (document n° 2).
An acquaintance made in the context of a family community (cf. annex — the site)

At that time my family owned a small hotel-restaurant on the shores of the Lac du Bourget, an establishment with about thirty tables and some ten rooms designed to exploit and promote on the spot the production of the little farm — products of the earth and products of the lake (we might say today supply from the neighborhood , to get access to financing). This all happened when tourism was just taking off and the thermal resources of Aix-les-Bains were being relaunched and renovated under the impetus of the British at the end of the 19th century. The establishment opened by my grandfather and his sons in 1936 had replaced an old inn acquired on the lifetime annuity (“viager”) system in 1874 by my great-grandfather, who was at the time a salaried farm worker for the owners.

During the Occupation and the privations of World War II this kind of establishment with its own little farm growing many different crops, raising livestock, and engaged in fishing, running on its own resources, was in great demand. This family enterprise was distinctive in its ability to build customer loyalty. Those who took room and board — our “boarders” – and came back through habit every year soon became part of the family. It was an expanded family, the “Jacquier house”, since with the grandparents, Francis and Joséphine, lived their two sons (Jean-Marie, born in 1910 and Fernand, born in 1912), their wives (Mélanie, married in 1939 and Andrée, married in 1943), as well as their kin, their friends, and neighbors dropping in. The “pauper’s place”, traditional in the rural mountains, was always set, and what we today call the close family circle  hardly existed, the family meal being a sort of theater open to the public.

A meeting of two worlds. Who were Sylvia and Robert?

Sylvia Littmann and Robert Rosengarten must have come one day to have lunch or to quench their thirst on the terrace of the restaurant with its view over the Lac du Bourget. It was probably in the autumn of 1941 or the spring of 1942. “They arrived by bicycle,” said my mother (document n° 4) from Aix-les-Bains, about ten kilometers (6 miles) away, and like many others before and afterwards, they came back. Bonds were woven from visit to visit with the whole family, and especially between Sylvia and my mother. The photos found in the archives say more than any long speeches (cf. the photos annexed). In 1942 Sylvia was 27 years old. My mother was 22. Sylvia was a kind of older “sister” to her who had always played the role of the eldest in the family and suffered its consequences.
About Robert there is little in the documents except what has been mentioned previously.
Sylvia and Mélanie had little in common physically, socially, or culturally, but they must have understood and liked each other almost instantly. Knowing my mother as I do, shy, off in her kitchen avoiding contact with the customers, it must have been “Mademoiselle Sylvia”, as she called her, who took the first steps toward her. I say first steps in the plural, as it surely took more than one to approach and temper that skittish, untamed woman. Then the look in their eyes and their intense sensitivity, so obvious in the photos, forged a reciprocal bond. About Sylvia I know only what my mother said of her, very little in fact. How can feelings be expressed better than by eloquent silences, my mother’s specialty. I have found nothing written by Sylvia in the family archives. No letters exchanged! But then why should they have written, since they were so often together? They no doubt used the formal “vous” when addressing each other, as was the custom of the time. Moreover, I never heard my parents use the familiar “tu” with any of the hotel-restaurant’s customers, even with certain regulars who chanced it themselves.

Sylvia came from a rather comfortable background, if not financially, then at least culturally and intellectually, the diplomatic social milieu to which her father belonged and that opened doors for her to other worlds. What studies had she pursued? Mystery! She was just “Mlle Sylvia”, radiant, opalescent, with her sunny countenance under her red hair. She spoke several languages, which helped make her exceptional to my mother, who would so have loved to become a teacher. Sylvia was there, present, close, no doubt constantly tempted to bridge the distance my mother coyly endeavored to maintain.
On her part, my mother came from a rural background, a family that had to live modestly after some business reverses. One sign of this financial erosion was my maternal grandfather’s having to move in with his wife’s family. The eldest of her siblings, she had come to this village on the shore of the Lac du Bourget from the Savoy countryside around St.-Julien-en-Genevois. Despite her wish to become a teacher she had been obliged right after elementary school to “go into service” and work as a maid “for others”. It was necessary to provide for the needs of the rest of the family. Through the connections of family and friends she found a situation on the lake in the “cradle of Savoy” as a housemaid at one of the village’s two restaurants. There she met my father, the eldest son of the owner of the other restaurant in town. My grandfather had spotted the little maid in the nearby restaurant and wasn’t long in concluding that she would be the perfect companion for his eldest son, who married her on June 28, 1939. And that is how, by marrying him, she became a “housemaid” in her husband’s family.

A hard daily life… but sometimes joyful

The bond between Sylvia and Mélanie did not last long, two years at most. My mother’s life was that of the wife of a war prisoner living with her husband’s family and under their thumb. Scarcely wed, her husband was mobilized in the summer of 1939, and when the Germans put an end to the “phony war” by their offensive in June, 1940, without having fired a single shot he was taken prisoner in the north of France, at Boulogne (Pas-de-Calais department) on Mai 31, 1940, attributed the I.D. number 74902, and hauled off to a stalag. First sent to work on a farm belonging to a small manor in Pomerania called “Monbijou”, the property of a Francophile German family, at Poganice (Poganitz in German), near Stolp (today Slupsk in Poland), not far from the Baltic, he then became a laborer in a brickworks in Stolp. In addition to finding herself alone, forcibly abandoned by her husband, she was caught in the meshes of her in-laws, who were hard on her, trapped in a situation that robbed her of her youth. One day in September, 1939 she fled back to her parents. A bad move, as her father shut his door in her face, telling her she had her own home and she should go back to it immediately. It was hard times for her and my father, as can be seen from their correspondence. We no doubt need to recollect how harsh family relationships were in those times, and even if it was nothing as compared to the lives stolen and destroyed in the camps, it gives a good idea of those people’s ability to endure travail and suffering. Often when I brought up the subject with her, she told me, “You cannot understand today”! Did she talk to Sylvia about it? Despite my mother’s reserve, I imagine that Sylvia had become to some extent her confidante. Certain photos and certain looks are extremely revealing! Certain passages in the letters, too! Did she talk with Sylvia and Robert about their daily lot? She knew that as Jews they were being hunted. The whole family most probably knew it. Just some fifteen kilometers (9 ½ miles) from the village, north of the lake in the town of Ruffieux, the French administration had set up one of the numerous holding camps for aliens and, starting with the census in 1942, had collected the foreign Jews who had arrived in France after 1936. I have not yet been able to find much information on this camp, which seems to have been erased from local memories.

In Savoy 1942 was also the year of the Italian occupation, bringing with it an interruption or suspension of the deportation measures. A hope hanging on a thread?  How much information filtered back to them on the deportees’ destinations and, above all, on the exterminations carried out in the death camps? What did they say to each other about the threat? I have the impression, as my family’s usual reaction to dramatic events would indicate, that they knew, but preferred to keep silent so as not to stir up the suffering and give anguish a hold! From my childhood I have kept the memory of our listening not to French radio, but to Swiss shortwave, Radio Sottens, above all for the quality of its weather forecast in the Alpine regions. My father and my uncle were professional fishermen in the Lac du Bourget, and they systematically, almost religiously listened to that bulletin every evening. Silence was the rule at our table of ten, a silence that made it possible to first hear what this radio had to say about what was going on in the world. That was how I later at the age of seven heard about the war in Indochina and the defeat at Dien-Bien-Phu in 1954. That is also how I learned about the war in Algeria, a war of liberation waged by Algerian resistance fighters, a war the French media were for a long time to call the “events in Algeria”, the work of terrorists, the Fellagha. Present at our table for every meal was an Algerian, Moktar Hachmaoui… a silent witness of that world in upheaval. He was one of the Algerians mobilized for the world war and for the reconstruction of France afterwards.  In our region some of them had worked on the Génissiat dam on the Rhône, begun before the war and launched in 1948. How did he come to us afterwards? A mystery!

I do not know if the family tuned in to Radio Sottens during the war, nor what information that  reputedly “neutral” station transmitted on the deportations and exterminations. Was my family informed? Research needs to be done in the archives of that radio on what it broadcast and how it was presented.

A few evocations of Sylvia in the letters of 1942

I often talked with my mother about Sylvia, about their relationship and what Sylvia meant to her. Completely taken up with the tasks of a family enterprise where everything had to be done (crops, livestock, fishing, managing the restaurant and the hotel, maintenance) in the absence of the two sons off at war, my mother had little free time… and very few friends. Sylvia was certainly for her a truly special encounter, unexpected, strange and welcome, contact with a person sensitive to her life, that of a young woman who had scarcely ever traveled (i.e. her honeymoon of a few days in Nice), who found in her someone who surely opened up a perspective on the unknown world, who gave her a chance to travel at home. She told me that in the short time the relationship lasted she experienced not only moments of great tenderness, but also of liberty and happiness, the kind that make the heart leap for joy.
My mother was a simple person. She was extremely sensitive, but not always capable of finding the words to express it. She had trouble talking to me about that period. At the time she and Sylvia were only about twenty years old, Sylvia being slightly the older. In the photos where they are together Sylvia is more open and smiling, Mélanie more reserved. They made dates to meet in the nearby town of Aix-les-Bains (9 km — 6 miles), where my mother would go to sell her fish and produce, or Sylvia would come to the village. Always by bicycle. “We would go and eat ice cream,” she told me. There was a certain blitheness to it. I think they felt deep affection for each other. Among the photos there is one taken by Robert of which I am particularly fond, where they have posed behind a fishnet hanging in the yard. Sylvia is looking away, and my mother is looking at her with a great deal of affection and admiration. They were beautiful. My mother was a brunette and Sylvia a fiery redhead, according to my mother. I imagine my mother must have been happy and no doubt proud of this unhoped-for friend who appeared when she was yearning for someone who was absent. How far did their carelessness extend? While it was real during Italian occupation of the summer of 1942, it was no longer apt when the threat became more dire and information managed to seep through about the tragedy underway. They could not have avoided being informed in the world in which they all moved at the time.

During 1942 Sylvia is occasionally mentioned in the letters. These standardized letters – handwritten on one side of one page formatted 27.8 x 15 centimeters (11 x 6 inches), of 24 lines, folded in three and unsealed (cf. the annexed model) left little room for free expression. This silence could also be attributed to censorship and self-censorship. Among the mail and parcels sent to my father at Stolp were some of the photos appended to this text, with their date of reception noted on the back.  There are two series of photos: one dating from the spring of 1942, “Received on September 28, 1942”, and another sent during the summer and “Received at Stolp on December 12, 1942”.
I have transcribed below the passages of those letters in which Sylvia is mentioned.

Mélanie, Monday, September 10, 1942
“I crossed the lake to Hautecombe with Papa and Aunt Dédée. From there I took the big boat to Aix, where I lunched with a close friend, Mademoiselle Sylvia. Afterwards we went to the movies and I spent a pleasant evening in good company. I got home at 1:30 a.m., on foot”. (…) “I enclose a little photo taken of me with Mlle. Sylvia”.

Jean-Marie, Monday, October 5, 1942
“In your letters you often mention Mlle. Sylvia, but you have not yet told me who she is”.
In the following letters my mother never answered this question.

Mélanie, November 19, 1942
“Yesterday, the 18th, I sent you another [parcel] containing the muffler and the socks, a tin I had soldered in which I put some char [a succulent fish native to the deep lakes of Savoy], and in the package sent on November 16 a large cake made by Mlle. Sylvia”.

Jean-Marie, Sunday, December 20, 1942
“I thank you for the parcel of November 16th; it took only 23 days to get to me, arrived in perfect shape with everything intact except for a cake that was broken up, which took away nothing of its value; it was delicious and my compliments to Mlle. Sylvia; all these good things are going to embellish my Christmas menu, which would otherwise have probably consisted of potatoes”.

1943 and 1944: nothing more is written and there are no more photos indicating the presence of Sylvia and Robert!

From 1943 on, neither the correspondence between my father and my mother nor any letter of those close to them, nor any photo explicitly refers to Sylvia and Robert. What happened during 1943 and up to the beginning of summer in 1944? A few letters are missing, as is indicated by my father’s numbering system. Censorship? The wartime mail service after the allied landing in June, 1944 must have often been patchy as well. My father was demobilized on August 29, 1945. The last letter from him that my mother kept is dated July 24, 1944. The last letter sent by my father is dated December 13, 1944. In it he writes that he had received no mail since the month of July, 1944.

In all this plentiful mail there is no more mention of Sylvia and Robert. No reference to any events that could have affected their freedom or their lives.  Nothing special in my mother’s letters after July 4, 1944, presumed to be the date of Sylvia’s arrest at Aix-les-Bains. She often mentions that she went to Aix to deliver the part of their crops and fish they supplied to their customers or to sell the surplus (fish, peaches, cherries) on the market. Did she see Sylvia and Robert there? Probably! Knowing the way she operated later within the family and toward the neighbors, from her old legacy of domestic ruse, she probably got food supplies to them clandestinely where they lived! She says nothing of her friend Sylvia in her letters of 1943 and 1944. She makes no mention of her coming to the village or the restaurant. No new photo bears witness to Sylvia and Robert’s stay in Brison-les-Oliviers. Nothing indicates that they did not come, either. It is true that even in 1942, when the photos were taken, she scarcely mentions them in her letters to my father, whereas there is visual proof that they were present at the restaurant and well integrated into the family circle. Can we say that this silence was due to her reserve, plus self-censorship, at the end of 1943 when the first house arrests and deportations started again? No one could still be ignorant, including in Savoy, how the Jews were being treated!

Starting in April, 1942 foreign Jewish families were held under house arrest in Savoy and were compelled to declare themselves to the police.6  The first roundup in Savoy took place on August 24, 1942. It concerned 168 Jews interned in the camp at Ruffieux. The list naming those 168 persons is available (cf. annex)7. During the night of August 25-26, 63 or 68 Jews, the number varying according to the source, were brought to the Ruffieux camp, then transferred to the holding camp for foreigners at Venissieux before being sent to Drancy for deportation. Sylvia and Robert are not on this list. Moreover, in November, 1942, as is mentioned in the letters, Sylvia furnished a cake for the parcel my mother sent my father. From November, 1942, the total occupation of Savoy by the Italians put a temporary halt to the roundups. This change in the occupier’s attitude could have had a liberating effect on what was sent in writing, at least for a time. This regime lasted until the departure of the Italians in September, 1943 and the renewed takeover of Savoy by the Germans. It was only then that the roundups and deportations were to start up again. In all, the archives I have consulted mention over 430 people rounded up and deported from Savoy up to the end of the war and the liberation of Chambéry and Aix-les-Bains in August, 1944.

For the time being I have not found that list of 430 people, and I cannot say whether or not Sylvia and Robert are on it. And I have not yet found Robert on the lists of those who were shot. But then I must admit I haven’t finished going through all the press of the period. The only certainty is that Drancy’s data sheet 24711 belongs to Sylvia. The person who made it out mentions having…

Received from Mme Littmann
3, rue des bains,
Aix les Bains
the sum of two thousand one  hundred sixty-five francs,
P.A.  Chambéry 9:05 p.m.
Drancy, July 4, 1944

Family and village life in 1943 and 1944

All this quite brief mail exchange during the war deals, besides daily affairs, the weather, morale, hardships, and notably the production and prices of foodstuffs, with important information about war events, bombings, surveillance of communications, the Paris-Turin railway, locomotives hidden in tunnels to elude allied bombardment , troop transport, the exchange of war prisoners for forced laborers and young men seeking to avoid the Obligatory Labor Force STO), as well as the presence of the Italian and German occupation armies. Political and military information was sometimes followed by eloquent suspension points. Sometimes certain epithets are found in quotation marks (“les verts” for the German soldiers, “the nice Italians whose heels we prefer to see”), sometimes disparaging ironies or even unambiguous judgments, denoting as “good-for-nothings” those who denounced the young men hidden in the mountains to avoid being indentured in the STO. In certain letters there are sentences crossed out by the censor. In others the censor gives this order: “Handwriting must be large and legible” (cf. the annexed example). There is in these letters no aim to hide content in tiny script, but rather an attempt to gain room by diminishing the size of the letters.

My mother often told me that Sylvia and Robert felt themselves threatened. They no doubt refused to let our family take risks. My grandfather Francis and my grandmother Joséphine, who appear in some of the annexed photos, doubtless proposed to help them, to put them up, lodge them in the village, or hide them in farmhouses up in the mountain pastures, in order to escape arrest.  That kind of attitude toward adversity and that kind of behavior corresponded to family tradition, as is apparent in the sketches hereafter.

Francis, the paternal grandfather

Long the village’s deputy mayor, he had learned to take strong, courageous decisions. Born in 1879, he had been a sergeant in the French army during the Great War. Along with his field medals from the campaigns of the Somme, of Artois, of Champagne, of the Yser, of the Orient, of Salonika that I have preserved, there were other proofs of courage and responsibilities undertaken. He knew the meaning of being under fire, feeling fear in his entrails, and thus, the costs of responsibility. The family tradition has always been to avoid shirking, to face injustice squarely. The “Jacquier” family, of Savoyard origin but from a nearby village, was considered as immigrants in the village. As children of the fourth or fifth generation we often were told in the 1950’s and 60’s, “You Jacquiers, you’re not from here”. An example of common courage: my great-grandfather had bought a house in the village to keep its inhabitants from being expelled. My grandfather made the same fictional purchase for another village family. One day, when my brother wanted to buy the real estate, the notary told him, “I don’t understand why you would want to buy it, since your grandfather already owns it”.  That grandfather died of a badly treated pneumonia in November of 1943, just when the German army and the Nazis were reoccupying the “Italian” zone and imposing new waves of roundups and deportations.

Joséphine, the paternal grandmother

This grandmother was hardly outshined. Born in 1880, she was known as “La Phine Jacquier” by the Italian and Savoyard custom of putting a definite article before the first name. She was a forceful woman with a sturdy character who grew crotchety as she got older and sometimes even “mean”, my mother wrote in her war correspondence. A new mother at age 34 with two very young children born in 1910 and 1912 when war was declared in 1914, she found herself alone, her husband gone off to war, to manage the inn and the farm. She was to draw from this experience a kind of legitimacy (her favorite expression when she was having one her domineering fits of anger was “I am still the master here in my house!”, considering herself a model of courage as she never hesitated to remind her daughter-in-laws, whom she didn’t think came up to snuff. When the German army occupied Savoy in 1943, she did not flee to the mountains with the rest of the village. She was 63 years old. She stayed in her restaurant, with her cane in hand, to wait for the rough soldiers, who upon occupying the restaurant and the hotel rooms, intended to lay into her “schnaps” among other things.

In short, these two characters were respected in the village, and no one would have dared touch anybody under their protection. None, however, can tell what happened during those times when denunciation and informing were the rule – a rule no doubt bound to return shortly, whatever one says!
The epistolary reticence on Sylvia and Robert’s presence and what happened to them can also be explained by many other reasons that have little to do with the war situation and its exterminating violence. The unsealed correspondence between my father and mother could be read by anyone in the family, and not just by the censors. My mother reports these reasons in some of the letters. There was in particular the reputation imputed to married women who remained behind alone and were subject to a law of October 11, 1940 “that forbid them to work and have access to public life”. Gossip ran wild, and the emancipation of these young women, who despite their backbreaking work occasionally wound down by going to town, to the movies, to the circus, or to the lake for a swim, no doubt awoke a good deal of jealousy in their elders. My mother’s letters are quite clear about this gossip. Her mandatory comings and goings to deliver produce to the neighboring market town of Aix-les-Bains supplied plenty of grist for the rumor mill. Grandmother Joséphine also doubtless contributed to the bad atmosphere that had sprung up between the daughter-in-laws and their mother-in-laws, but also between husband and wife. Again the war correspondence between my father and mother and between him and his brother, mentions this several times. Did this grandmother enviously try to forbid them certain activities in the neighboring town and certain company in her restaurant? Apparently relations between them and the ambiance in the family deteriorated especially in the autumn of 1943. That was when Joséphine decided to stop working – not in the fields, not in the restaurant, not in the kitchen – and even to lead her daily life away from the rest of the family. She then spent her time slandering her daughter-in-laws throughout the village and probably also in town. What did she say? I have often had my doubts about the consequences of her envy and her anger!

However that may be, from the beginning of 1943 there is no longer any mention in the letters of Sylvia and Robert, the correspondence becoming more sparing in confidences, as if the secret could no longer be kept. Despite the resumption of the deportations and the threat8, according to my mother’s account Sylvia and Robert did not wish to cause trouble for the family, and they perhaps distanced themselves for that reason. At the grandfather’s death in November, 1943, a calming family force vanished. All that was left was a son, stricken in turn by pneumonia in the winter of 1943-44, and women in smoldering conflict.

It is also possible that with passing time Sylvia and Robert thought they could escape the threat. The allied landing on June 6, 1944 took place in Normandy, and they perhaps thought they were no longer really at risk. I imagine they stayed at Aix-les-Bains in their apartment and that that is where they were arrested, or at least she was, at the end of June or beginning of July, 1944.
My mother was never able to tell me really how they all lived through those last months. She didn’t tell me when she was informed of what had happened to them. In her recollection, Robert and Sylvia were shot. It was when I was looking into convoy 77 that I found out Sylvia Littmann’s fate on July 3rd or 4th, and also the uncertainty, still unresolved, of what happened to Robert Rosengarten. Perhaps Robert tried to escape arrest by fleeing and was killed or executed, whence the information my mother retained on their being shot. The liberation of Aix-les-Bains and the area occurred on August 22, 1944, seven days after the landing in Provence.

It was also on finding the photos of Sylvia and Robert that I was hit with another qualm. They were well aware that my mother was going to send these photos that Robert and Sylvia gave her and on which she is present with her in-laws to her husband, a prisoner in Stolp, Germany. They may even have given them to her for that purpose. Did they know she would note their first names, occasionally the last name of one or the other, or even one time both on the back? I don’t know how many times she sent photos, twice probably, not more. Might photographs sent like that, subject to certification and to being kept on record not have contributed to their identification and maybe even their arrest? Might they have thus been the playthings of a denunciation which they had mutually helped to author? We can try to reassure ourselves that these photos were not retained by the censor as evidence, either at their departure from France or at their arrival in Germany. They did in fact reach their recipient.
The main rail line from Chambéry to Paris runs along the Lac du Bourget, alternatively on a levee and through tunnels. It goes past the village of Brison-les-Oliviers, just in front of the restaurant terrace where certain photos of Sylvia and Robert were taken with my family. The train from Chambéry to Drancy that carried the batch of people arrested, among whom was Sylvia, no doubt passed in front of the restaurant at Brison-les-Oliviers on July 3rd or 4th, 1944.

In the eulogy for my mother’s funeral in 2011 I recalled these things.
“We often talked of that episode of her life with Sylvia, and she would tell me her incomprehension at the death of such a complete stranger who was yet so dear to her heart. The strangeness of the stranger did not frighten her. A lesson for the years to come”9.

Several anecdotes come to mind as I venture through this past that was my childhood. Let me add them to this Savoyard chronicle of the Occupation.
An anecdote concerning the Yechiva Hahkmei Tsarfath of Aix-les-Bains: Transferred from Neudorf in Alsace after the Second World War, it is today, I am told, one of the principal Talmudic academies in France. In the 1950’s and 60’s the public schools of Aix-les-Bains — the Bernascon middle school and the Rossignoli high school, which I attended, incorporated the pupils transferring from the Yechiva into the seventh grade of the modernized curriculum. The weekly schedule was adapted so that courses were over before sundown on Friday, and no important courses were given on Saturday. All the rest was the same for everyone. I recall some memorable rugby matches with comrades in yarmulkes, felt hats, and sundry other headgear. I particularly remember one of them, Azairoual, an excellent three-quarter wing imbued with the rugby spirit. And then the others —Benchetrit, Kayat, Mimram, and a math whiz, David Sebag… What has become of them?

A final anecdote on the name Jacquier: It was frequently used on false papers during World War II, often on false papers issued by the occupier and the French police to trap Jews and resistance activists. Among the well-known celebrities that used the name was Michel Debré. It was also the case for the Jacob family in Nice, which included Simone Veil. A colloquium was organized for the Fondation de France by Claude Beau, a female magistrate who had set up the first Legal Advice Center, in the Neuhof neighborhood of Strasbourg. Entitled “The justice system and urban mutation”, it was held on May 30, 1994 at the National Assembly. I was seated on the rostrum next to Simone Veil, who was then Minister of Social Affairs, Health, and Urban Planning. She was chairing the opening session and I was about to give the introductory speech. In an aside she asked me, “So it is you then Monsieur Jacquier?” I only recently discovered the sense of her question, which I had thought quite ordinary coming from the chairwoman of a session inquiring as to the names of those sharing the rostrum with her. It was while watching the program “Un jour, une histoire” entitled “Simone Veil, l’instinct de vie” (Simone Veil, the instinct for life), broadcast on France 2 on November 1, 2015, that I understood the other meaning behind the question. In one of the interviews she gives in this documentary on her arrest in Nice at the age of 16 she says, “Deep down I was always afraid of being arrested”, even with the false name on her papers that “no longer sounded Jewish”. At her arrest in March, 1944 she was told by the SS in plainclothes and the police at the Hôtel Excelsior, the headquarters of the German army where the Jews were being collected, that that false name had been overused and no longer fooled anyone. Currently in charge of an association of immigrants in a Grenoble neighborhood run by the drug dealers, with whom I have clashed occasionally in ensuring the security of the premises of our association, I am often assaulted with such unambiguous abuse as: “Filthy Sephardi, we’re gonna stick you!” When it is cold I do wear the black felt hat typical of the Savoy region. Such headgear is obviously sufficient to confuse those numbskulls!

[1] –   My parents kept almost all their war correspondence, more than a hundred letters written between September, 1939 and August, 1945 (being separated for nearly 6 years from the moment of his mobilization through the period of his internment as a prisoner of war). I have read them all. Beyond the repetitive nature of comments on the weather, their health, and their morale, these letters relate daily events that help us to apprehend what my father’s life as a prisoner and my family’s existence were like under the Occupation. Unfortunately, some letters seem to have been lost, confiscated, or censored.
[2] –   Born Chatenoud on December 5, 1920 at Mésigny in the Haute-Savoie department, died on July 21, 2011 at Brison-St-Innocent in the Savoie department
[3] –   Born on August 28, 1910 and died on August 19, 2001 at Brison-St-Innocent (Savoie)
[4] –   Official telegram of August 20, 1942 with orders for the material preparation of the convoys. Departmental archives of the Savoie department: 1362W. “Strew cars with straw […] STOP. Ensure each car equipped crock drinking water slop pail bought or requisitioned in your district […]”
[5] –   KARA, I (1995) Jewish Community in Bacău, Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania and Central Pentru (Bacău, Romania) Translation of Obstea Evreiasca Din Bacău Eritropia Communitatil Israel
[6] –   Source: AJPN (The anonymous, the Just, and those persecuted in the Nazi period)
[7] –   Source: departmental archives and AJPN
[8] –      March 1, 1942 Aix-les-Bains, surveillance of the Jewish colony. Letter from the Prefect to the Mayor. Departmental Archives of the Savoie department 1382W 199  “[…] I ask you to submit the Jewish Colony of Aix-les-Bains to special and very close surveillance, as soon as the season opens.”
Deportation of foreign Israelites, reminder of the attitude to keep in mind. August 23, 1942 Departmental archives of the Savoie department 1362W 4 “The Head of Government insists on your personally taking charge of overseeing the measures ordained toward foreign Israelites. You are not to hesitate to break any resistance you may encounter among the population and to report the civil servants whose indiscretion, passivity, or obstruction have complicated your task.
Furthermore, in the days following the planned operation I ask you to have drastic corroboration and identity checks carried out by substantial police forces with a view to cleansing your region of all foreign Jews, whose concentration has been ordered in my letter of August 5th […]”
[9] –      Eulogy for Mélanie Jacquier


Claude Jacquier
  1. MENAGER 7 years ago

    Très beau et émouvant témoignage, et terrible “anecdote” sur les insultes dont il fait l’objet aujourd’hui, de la part de dealers, en se rendant au local de son association.. Du fond de mon cœur, merci Monsieur pour votre magnifique témoignage.

  2. Serge Jacubert 7 years ago

    Madame, Monsieur,
    nous sommes certains que votre message d’appréciation aura touché Mr Jacquier, pour l’excellent travail réalisé et la qualité des références rapportées. L’anecdote concernant Mme Veil et le nom de Jacquier est particulièrement émouvante et intéressante.
    Si vous souhaitez vous associer à notre démarche, vous serez le ou la bienvenue dans l’association.
    Bien cordialement
    Serge Jacubert
    Fils d’une déportée du convoi, membre du Conseil d’Administration de l’Association Convoi 77.

  3. Jean-Paul Truc 3 years ago

    Passionnant devoir de mémoire. je me suis intéressé à ce sujet après avoir lu un livre pour adolescents, du soleil sur la joue d une romancière américaine, Mrs Sachs. Ce livre est basé sur les souvenirs d une de ses amies juives, ayant miraculeusement échappé aux rafles de 1943 à Aix les bains.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


hébergement Umazuma - OVH

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?