Saturday, 25 February 2012

# 48 [24 November 2009]

Last Friday I was privileged to interview Norbert Herz (now 78), Holocaust survivor and Rivesaltes intern. I have applied for a grant to visit him in Manchester, but for now we spoke over the phone. I plan to use extracts from the interview as a soundtrack for a video (I am working on it at the moment).

I shall include everything that he said, unedited, as it really gives a shocking insight into life in 'Free France' during the war.

Section One

JM - How did you come to be at Rivesaltes?

NH - I was at Rivesaltes twice . . .

I was born in Berlin in 1931. In 1938 on the 9th November was the Kristallnacht; the morning after my mother and I and aunt and uncle left from the Alexanderplatz . . . We travelled by taxi to the Belgian border and at the Belgian border the German border guards let us go. In a field, what you would call somebody who helps you pass the border clandestinely, a smuggler if you like, was waiting for us. We walked with him in the night across to Belgium and he had a farm house on the Belgian side. There we waited till daylight and we got the train to Antwerp and in Antwerp I was a year and a half. I went to school there and in 1940 when the Germans invaded Belgium my mother and I and my aunt and uncle got the train to France. Many people, not only Jewish people, got the train to France, the train took us to the south of France.

We went to a village called Boulogne-sur-Gesse [near Toulouse], which is called in French ‘une résidence assignée’ a kind of apartment in that village so that the authorities knew where we were. Then after some time they started putting foreign Jews into internment camps. The first internment camp was called Brens which is next to Gaillac-sur-Tarn [near Toulouse]. There I was for a few months with my mother and then we were all transferred to Rivesaltes, an entirely different camp.

We were in Ilot F. Rivesaltes . . . a flat plain surrounded by hills, it was always very windy and in winter it was extremely cold and in the summer it was too hot. The conditions were very harsh and then I was taken out from Rivesaltes by an organisation OSE, a French Jewish organisation which took out children from the internment camp and placed them in homes. They took me out from Rivesaltes and put me in a home in Brout-Vernet which is near Vichy. I was there some time.

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