Paul Lévy came from Schaffhouse-sur-Zorn, an Alsatian village located some twenty kilometers [12 ½ miles] northwest of Strasbourg. Its name is taken from the river valley in which it is situated. The Zorn River’s source is in the Moselle department. The town was known in the 19th century as Schaffhausen (not to be confused with Schaffhouse-près-Seltz, another Alsatian village on the German border, or with the Schaffhausen in Germanic Switzerland.).
Paul Lévy’s ancestors settled in Schaffhouse-sur-Zorn in the 19th century. In 1784 the village included 12 Jewish families1. The 1808 census, in which the Jews were made to take on a family name, counted 80 people2, that is, about a fifth of the village’s population. In 1895, the year before Paul Lévy’s birth, the town had 442 inhabitants altogether3.
Paul was born on October 15, 1896 at 7:00 a.m. A midwife registered the birth in the town records under the name Paulus Recht4. As Alsace was under German occupation, the first name was Germanized, whereas the family name was that of his mother, Ernestine Recht (1872-1941), said to be unmarried at the time of the birth. A note in the margin indicates that when they were married in a civil ceremony on December 11, 1899 they acknowledged that the child had been conceived by them, which was tantamount to a recognition of paternity.
The merchant, Isaac Lévy (1872-1960), and his wife Ernestine were to have two more sons — Gaston, born in 1900 but deceased at the age of 4 months, and Camille, born in 1902. Paul and Camille grew up in Schaffhouse-sur-Zorn, and the former began to make his living as a livestock trader, while his younger brother decided to pursue medicine.
On April 9, 1928 Paul married Georgette Lévy (1905-1988), a native of Durmenach, an Alsatian town in the Haut-Rhin department close to the Swiss border. Georgette was a descendant of Rabbi Seligmann Lévy, who in the time of Napoléon Bonaparte participated in the work of the Grand Sanhedrin. The couple had two children in the 1930’s and decided to settle in Hochfelden, a few kilometers away from Schaffhouse-sur-Zorn (The synagogue at Hochfelden, built in 1841, was classified a historical monument in 1996). Paul’s brother Camille married Edith Lieber in 1930, and they had a son Claude, born on February 5, 1933 at Durmenach, where Camille was temporarily living.
The rupture caused by the war
The eruption of the war and the occupation of Alsace profoundly and irreversibly upset this family’s life. It has turned out to be hard to reconstitute its precise course after they left Alsace, probably in 1940. Paul and Camille’s parents, Isaac and Ernestine Lévy, were transferred to the Dordogne department. Their trace shows up in 1941 at the château de la Roche-Beaulieu, in the village of Annesse-et-Beaulieu, which was being used as a shelter for indigent or disabled elderly people who had been expelled from Alsace after the occupation5. Ernestine died there on August 16, 1941 at the age of 69. A year later, during the summer of 1942, Isaac was taken with the other residents to another shelter, made up of five shacks, in the hamlet of La Jarthe, part of the neighboring community of Saint-Astier. Supported by the Aide sociale israélite (ASI), set up to assist the Alsatian Jews exiled in the Dordogne, the residents of la Jarthe were scattered in January of 1944 by the threat of the German occupier’s intention to requisition these shacks6. Isaac was no doubt able to join up with the rest of his family at the end of the war.
Camille left Alsace and settled on October 7, 1940 with his wife Edith and his son Claude at Molles in the Allier department. Inventoried as French Jews by the Vichy régime, they were arrested by the Gestapo at their home on November 23, 1943 and imprisoned in the Mal-Coiffée, a German military prison. A week later, on November 30, they were transferred to Drancy7 and were deported to Auschwitz on December 7, 1943 in convoy n° 64. Edith (age 33) and Claude (aged 10) were probably killed upon arrival, whereas Camille, selected for work duty, was transferred to the sub-camps of Monowitz and Eintrachtshütte. In January 1945 he was evacuated to the Mauthausen camp, from which he was liberated on May 5, 1945.
Paul Lévy sought refuge in Lyon with his wife Georgette, his two children, Yvan and Nicole, and his mother-in-law, Reine Lévy, née Weill. At first they lived on the Place du Gouvernement in a building where other members of the family were lodged. Also living there were a brother of Reine, Armand Weill, who had come with his wife Alice and their four children, and Reine’s sister, Palmyre Weill, who married Marx Picard of Durmenach, as well as Simon Lévy, Georgette’s half-brother, who was there with his wife and three children.
Afterwards Paul Lévy moved with his wife, children and mother-in-law to n° 18 cours Tolstoï in Villeurbanne. There they led a precarious life, Paul having found a job with Rhodiaceta, a company that produced synthetic thread. They tried to keep from being noticed, especially after the Germans also occupied the Free Zone. Villeurbanne was the stage of roundups in 1943, and the restrictive measures made the atmosphere ever more unbearable.
Arrest and deportation
Several unfortunate coincidences were to disrupt subsequent events. In July 1944 Raymond Blum, aged 22, a second cousin by marriage of Paul Lévy, was arrested in Lyon. The young man, a medical student, was residing at the time at n° 69 chemin des Grandes Terres. When he was arrested he had on his person an address book containing the name and address of his cousin. When the Lyon militia showed up at the Lévy home on the cours Tolstoï, they also found there André and Marcel Weill, two of Armand Weill’s sons, who had come that same day to visit their aunt and uncle. The three men were taken off under the eyes of Georgette and her children to the headquarters of the Gestapo on the Place Bellecour. The family was never to see them again.
Transferred to Drancy, the three men were deported to Auschwitz at the same time as Raymond Blum on July 31, 1944 in convoy n° 77. Paul Lévy, 47 at the time, is on the list of the camp’s French prisoners. The list is not dated, but it indicates that he was still alive in September 1944.8 Armand Weill died in Lyon on August 11, 1944, shortly after the deaths of his two sons, André, aged 31, and Marcel, aged 23.
Raymond Blum was transferred to Mauthausen on January 25, 1945 and assigned four days later to the Ebensee annex. He died there on February 26.9 When the camp at Mauthausen was liberated in May 1945, Camille Lévy, Paul’s brother, was hospitalized in the medical unit of the First French Army on the bank of Lake Constance.10 He was brought home to Mulhouse at the end of July.
After the war those members of the family who had remained in Lyon were to come home to Alsace. Only Georgette, her mother Reine and her two children chose to stay in Villeurbanne. They later moved to the rue Brigadier Voituret and waited in vain for news of Paul, not knowing where he had been transported or what his fate was. They were subsequently to learn from a survivor that he had seen him at Auschwitz. That was the only information they ever got after the war. Under the terms of the Law of May 15, 1985, he was officially declared dead between July 30, 1944 and July 1, 1946. A ministerial decree of September 18, 1995 fixed his death under deportation on August 5, 1944 at Auschwitz.11
Inventory of the Jews of Alsace 1784, Jewish Genealogy Club, Paris, 1999
2 Declarations of the Jews’ choice of family names 1808, AD du Bas-Rhin, 5 E 439