Sunday, 8 August 2010

Yizkor… Remember…

Yizkor refers to the Judaism’s memorial prayer service.

In remembrance of my father, Kurt Levie

His name has been added to 
The Central Database of Shoah Victims

by Renée Eve Levie ©

LEVIE Kurt, born 04/11/1902, in Marburg; enlisted voluntarily in the French Army in 1940; hunted and arrested in Les Cabannes (near Cordes), France, on 9/9/1943; interned at the Camp de Noé; sent as slave worker to the Todt Organisation, 212e G.T.E. of Caronte l’Avéra at Martigues; transferred to Drancy on 23/04/1944; deported on 15/05/1944 to Kaunas/Reval on the Convoy 73. Presumed date of death: 20/05/1944, circumstances unknown.

Bucharest, 14.04.1935: my mother, Erna Levie; my father, Kurt Levie; my brother, Jean Levie


Why do we write about our life? How do we play the vertiginous game of memory and reminiscences when there are no pre-established rules? Nevertheless, a rule imposes itself to true writers: the defiant refusal of an autobiographical illusion. Though it is said that memories give reassurance and comfort, writers know that memories cause disturbances first and above all. Things seen, known, or silenced intertwine themselves in a fictional opus to create a kind of an “utopist reconstruction” of what was deeply experienced. But then, remembrances are also merciless, tenacious, and cruel. As much as we wish, except for that last handful of earth that we throw over the coffin, there is no landfill in this world capable of silencing it forever. At the end, all that remains to those who survive and linger behind is to wander among the shadows of sepia photographs and some sentences written in haste on a small piece of yellowed paper folded in four written and addressed to a loved one without an envelope, handed over to the first stranger willing to take it and forward it by any means available, and to remember, between sobs and tears that refuse to roll down their faces, what was, could have been, and shall never ever be again. Nowadays, there are many similar stories told by the Shoah survivors, be it in print, on video, in the several Memorials archives spread around the world, and on the Internet. Almost all have the same background, and all are permeated by the essence of their fears, their suffering, their losses and their nearly primeval survival. All narrators remember those years with a lump in their throats, stuttering, blocking some memories and reviving others the same way we read and hear them with a lump in our throats. Nonetheless, all are different and unique. All are singular, individual, and profoundly and almost secretly personal. All recount one and unique experience: the one that kept them alive as human beings, minute after minute, second after second, in spite of the terror, in spite of the persecutions, in spite of the separations of their loved ones, in spite of the incarcerations behind electrified barbed wire fences, in spite of the hunger and the thirst, in spite of the abominable inhuman living-dead conditions, the cold, the dreck, the bones, the hairless skulls, the lice, the smoke coming out of the crematoria, the families torn apart, the babies and children and adolescents murdered, the old ones left to die, the men, women and children shot from near or far, their bodies tumbling down into a vast pit, then piled up and burned by the Nazis beasts as an offering to their god whom they always saluted with a stiff arm: Heil Hitler! Yes, in spite of all this and even if the stories told after so many years of silence and shame and guilt, and this terrible and constant fear that if their memories were put into words and spoken aloud that past, that unforgettable experience,  would start all over again; that no one would understand them; that no one outside their world could even begin to imagine what they had gone through; that no one would believe them: the horror… the horror… that unspeakable horror. This same horror that my mind refuses to remember, this void that I have been joining by bits and pieces until I had in front of me and inside of me a beginning, a middle and, maybe, an end. It took me more than half a century. Today my father’s name is engraved on the stone at the Yad Vashem Memorial in Israel and also in Paris, in the stone of the Holocaust Memorial. It certainly was not an easy task and definitely not a light one.

But I leave to you, reader, to judge in what way and how much the story of my father and my family differs from all those that you have heard and read so far about the Shoah.

Frankfurt a/M view of Marktstrasse towards the Römerberg and the town hall


“Until 1933 we had a good life in Frankfurt…”

Between 1933 and 1945 almost 280,000 Jews fled from Germany and sought asylum in more than 90 countries of the five continents. At the beginning of the Nazi occupation the most sought after were the neighbouring countries, such as Czechoslovakia, Netherlands and France were the refugees felt momentarily safe, hoping to return soon to their countries of origin, their homes. But it was only a matter of time until the German Army occupied these countries and from there and other occupied countries sent 6,000,000 Jews to the gas chambers and to their otherwise premature deaths by the hands of the Nazi henchmen.

After Berlin and before 1933 Frankfurt was home to the second largest Jewish community  in Germany and most of the Jews never had had any personal experience of virulent antisemitism. They had lovely parks to stroll about, restaurants and cafés for the klatch hour, shops and theatres where they went and came without any hindrances and in school no Jewish child had any problems with children of other faiths. They all played together.

In 1933 a dark menacing shadow began to cover slowly and steadily the European soil, followed by the sound of goose-stepping soldiers marching hard and noisily through the German roads and cities. No one knew how long this darkness would last, when it would be blown away and disappear but everybody hoped that it would be soon and the sun would shine again as usual. It was a Spring of fear and loss of innocence. There was a fetid smell in the air. Chaos installed itself. It would last 12 long bloody horrendous years.

The Timeline of some of the main basic foundations of the installation of Nazi terror against German Jews shows that: in January 1933, all Jews were kicked out of German artistic ensembles and opera companies, orchestras, theater companies. On April 1st, 1933, all Jewish doctors, lawyers, shops, and stores were boycotted. Six days later, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service (in German: Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums or in short: Berufsbeamtengesetz) was passed, banning all Jews from being employed in government. These laws meant that all Jews were now indirectly and directly dissuaded or banned from privileged and upper-level positions reserved for “Aryan” Germans. From then on, all Jews were forced to work at more menial positions, beneath non-Jews. In May 10, 1933 “undesirable” Jewish books and literature were burned in Berlin and other university towns. In May 1935, all Jews were forbidden to join the Wehrmacht (Armed Forces); that same year the first anti-Jewish propaganda appeared in Nazi German shops and restaurants. The Nuremberg Racial Purity Laws were passed during the great Nazi rallies at Nuremberg. On September 15, 1935, the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour (in German: Gesetzes zum Schutz des deutschen Blutes und der deutschen Ehre) was passed, forbidding marriage between any Jew and non-Jew. At the same time the Reich Citizenship Law (in German: Reichsbürgergesetz) was passed and reinforced in November  by a decree, stating that all Jews, even quarter and half-Jews, were no longer citizens (Reichsbürger) of their own country (their official status was Reichsangehöriger, “subject of the state”). This meant that they had no basic civil rights, such as that to vote. This removal of basic citizens’ rights preceded harsher laws to be passed in the future against Jews. In 1936 all Jews were banned from all professional jobs, effectively preventing them from exerting any influence in education, politics, higher education and industry. Because of this, there was nothing to stop the anti-Jewish actions that spread across the Nazi-German economy. On November 9-10, 1938, the Kristallnacht riots took place. Hundreds of synagogues were smashed to pieces and burned, Jewish businesses and shops were also destroyed, and 91 Jews lost their lives. In addition to the destruction, injury, and loss of life that accompanied the Pogrom, the Jews of Germany were subjected to a 1 billion Reichsmarks fine and 30,000 Jewish males were rounded up and sent to extermination camps.


As was the case with many Jewish families in our situation, my mother hardly ever spoke about what had happened to her and to our family during the Nazi occupation. It was just too painful. It was nothing the three of us, my mother, my brother, and I talked about around the dining room table at home. It was just something that didn’t come up, and when it did, more out of my curiosity and my need to know, the subject was quickly changed to something else, less painful, less… everything and anything.

I discovered only recently, in 2000 to be more precise, the circumstances in which my father was murdered by the Nazis on May 20, 1944. Until then I only knew some fragments of his capture by the French authorities, who actively collaborated with the Gestapo in the persecution and arrest of foreign Jews in France and their deportation and assassination in the death camps. These fragments include a dramatic tattletale that was told to me by Mme. Blanche, the midwife who helped my mother during my birth on the cold, almost winter night of November 11, 1942, in Les Cabannes dans le Tarn, a tiny village with a population of only 200 inhabitants, situated 7 Km from Cordes sur ciel, 22 Km from Albi and 48 Km from Montauban in the South of France, which I visited in 1974, a tale that I shall include further down.


My parents, Kurt Levie and Erna Goldberg, lived a great love story. He was handsome and she was beautiful, both were young, both had the same Jewish middle-class upbringing and background and the two families, the Levie’s and the Goldberg’s, got along well and approved their children’s marriage without any further ado.

One day, many months after I had started my father’s search-research, and was rummaging for the umpteenth time through the family documents and photos kept in a small square box covered in a fabric with little yellow and blue plain flowers painted over a red background, I found my parents yellowed marriage license, dated May 12th, 1928.

Time had been lenient. The document folded in four was in mint condition, as if it had been put in the box just a few days ago. It was a precious document indeed, and a curious one, to say the least. Besides all the usual data such as names, dates and birth places, witnesses, signatures and stamps, it included a remarkable clause describing the bride’s dowry:

The items listed bellow belong to the bride’s dowry:

“All the clothes and objects for her own personal use; one bedroom with a complete bed, a     closet, a dressing table-lavabo, a bedside table, a small table, two chairs. A complete cutlery silver set for 12, dishes, porcelains and crystals; her personal jewelry composed of five rings, two watches, a pearl necklace, etc. [sic]. She also brings an amount of money corresponding to RM10.000,-. The total declared value of the bridegroom and the bride possessions is valued at RM15.000.-”

This meant that the bridegroom added very little to his future bride’s dowry, consisting of some furniture and utensils. Not even a stove – there were no refrigerators then – or a dining room set or a tiny couch. No, he was marrying the woman, her complete bedroom, her silver cutlery set for 12, her porcelain dishes, her jewels and, of course, her money. Not bad for a 26 years old handsome Jewish boy, a movie salesman, and a good and obedient son.

Their honeymoon with its moments encapsulated in amber lasted exactly five years.

My father was a representative for the major movies studios of his time such as, for example, UFA, Germany’s greatest film company, RKO, Paramount, Columbia Pictures and Warner Brothers. My mother was the youngest of three daughters. Her mother, my grandmother, died when she was 6 years old of, so my mother told me, unknown causes, and she was raised by her two older sisters, Martha, die Schöne, the Beautiful, and Bella, die Dicke, the Fat. Their father, my grandfather, Adolf Goldberg, was born in Odessa, Russia, and had fled the Pogroms during the 19th century. He finally settled in Frankfurt a/M, where he built a solid business as a
baker and pastry maker. The bakery, located at the Leipziger Straße 26, 

Café und Konditorei Adolf Goldberg - Frankfurt a/M

was also a café, the “Konditorei Goldberg”, where people would sit in the garden in summer, order a few pastries and a cup of coffee, read the newspaper, or just klatch away about the latest gossip in town accompanied in the background by a Streichquintett playing the Strausses and Lanner waltzes.


As to my father’s family Dutch branch some important changes must be included at this point. In my last draft I wrote: “My father’s mother, my grandmother, of whom I do not know the first name as I also do not know the name of her husband…” and “I remember vaguely my mother telling me that when the Nazis took power my grandmother went back to Holland with her husband – her four sons stayed in Germany for unknown reasons to this day – from where they were deported to an extermination camp and murdered. So my mother told me once and only once.”

Well… a week ago, more precisely on August 08, 2010,  I had the great fortune to find on the Internet the names of almost all the members pertaining to my  Dutch family branch. This information was in its major part provided by Ed van Rijswijk, an extremely generous human person to whom I am deeply indebted. Mr. van Rijswijk found me on the Net while I was researching one of my uncle’s name, Rolf Levie, and  without my asking took upon himself to make a thorough research of my family’s Dutch branch.  To my amazement this is what he found:

1.   Kurt Levie was born on 04-11-1902 in Marburg (D), son of Julius Levie and Sophia Amanda Lorjé. Deceased on 20-05-1944 in Kowno (Lit), aged 41. Kurt married Erna Goldberg. Erna was born on 11-08-1908 in Frankfurt am Main (D), deceased December 15, 1995 in Teresópolis, Brasil.

Julius and Sofia Amanda Levie, née Lorjé,
Marriage Certificate

by courtesy of Tom Hoomstra (June 2013)

Kurt Levie 
Birth Certificate

by courtesy of Universitätsstadt Marburg

Standesamt - Marburg (August 2010)

Children of Kurt and Erna:

a) Hans Günther Levie, born 17-05-1929 in Frankfurt am Main (D); deceased in 1990 in Teresópolis, Brasil. 
b)  Renée Eve Levie, born 11-11-1942 in Cabannes dans le Tarn (F).

2. Sophia Amanda Lorjé was born on 22-04-1879 at 00:30 in Brielle, daughter of Izaak Lorjé and Carolina Mendelsohn. Sophia died on 02-04-1943 in Sobibor (P), aged 63. At the age of 21, Sophia married Julius Levie, aged 27, on 24-04-1900 in Bonn. Julius was born on 02-02-1873 in Eckardroth (D). Julius died on 20-11-1932 in Kassel (D), aged 59.

Sophie Amanda Lorjé Archivkaart
by Courtesy of Tom Hoornstra
May 2013

Children of Sofia and Julius:

1. Siegfried Levie, born on 20-04-1901 in Kassel (D).

May 2013 - New Data about Siegfried Levie
(by Courtesy of Roderick Mille)

a) Bundesarchiv Residentenliste:

Levie, Siegfried, born 20.04.1901 in Kassel, resided in Berlin, emigrated 00.00.1934 to France.
Levie, Klara nee Frankenberg, born 26.05.1896 in --, resided in Berlin, emigrated 00.00.1934 to France.
Levie, Ingeborg, born 00.00.1922 in --, resided in Berlin, emigrated 00.00.1934 to France.
Levie, Margot, born 00.00.1927 in --, resided in Berlin, emigrated 00.00.1934 to France.

Obs: (One would suppose that it is the same family as they all emigrated to France in 1934. The only person I remember my mother mentioning is Margot Levie, Siegfried's daughter)

b) Jewish Addressbook 1934:

Siegfried Levie, Kaufmann, listed at Agricolastr. 13 in Berlin-Tiergarten NW 87.


2. Kurt Levie, born on 04-11-1902 in Marburg (D).

3. Helmuth Levie, born on 11-05-1904 in Marburg (D).

October 2010 - New Data about Helmuth Levie
- Married Rol, Lucie, born 13-04-1807, in La Larenne-Colombes.  They were married 07-07-1932, in Paris, and had two children.

- Helmuth served at the Foreign Legion from 31-01-1925 until 31-01-1930. Returned to France on 02-03-1931. Had a German Passport nr. 50/1931 issued at Dusseldorf on 26-01-1931.

- The couple lived at 31 Place Kléber, Strasbourg, then at 1, rue Roche, Colombes; 10 rue Vergniaud, Levellois-Perret; 17, rue Paul Déroulède, Colombes; and 12 rue Albert de Mun, Asnières.

- From 16 June 1936 Helmuth was a "répresentant de chaussures d'Asnières", 29 bis rue d'Astorg, Paris.

Obs: I received this information through the ITS (International Tracing Service) on 28 October 2010. The original documents were from the Préfecture de Police, Direction de l'Administration et de la Police Générales, dated 6 Mars 1941, signed "P. le Préfet de Police - Le Directeur de l'Administration Générale". Stamp: Conseil Général Haute-Garonne - ARCHIVES.

4. Rolf Walter Levie, born on 08-12-1911 in Frankfurt am Main (D). (see below)

Last known address in  Germany: Uhlandstr. 116-117 in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, Berlin, no date available.
In: Bundesarchiv Gedenkbuch, Ausbürgerungkartei, by Courtesy of Roderick Miller, May 2013


3. Rolf Walter Levie and his family:

Rolf, Carolina and Rolf Jules Charles names have been added to Yad Vashem Central Database of Shoah Victims - <> 

Rolf Walter Levie -  Head of family,  born Frankfurt am Main, 8 December 1911 – deceased Midden-Europa, 15 March 1945.
Carolina Rozette Catharina Levie-van Biene – Spouse, born Amsterdam, 21 June 1916 –  deceased Auschwitz, 6 March 1944.

Rolf Jules Charles Levie – Son, born Arnhem, 1 October 1940 – deceased Auschwitz, 6 March 1944.

They lived at:

Josef Israelslaan 111, Arnhem  (Situation in 1 May 1940)
St-Antonielaan 152, Arnhem (Situation in 10 February 1943)

In the Netherlands

In Memoriam

By courtesy of Tom Hoornstra at the - May 2013

Carolina Rozette Catharina Levie van-Biene, 28 years, murdered at Auschwitz. My aunt. Her name hits me like an iron fist in my stomach. I cannot breathe.  My body aches. My heart shrinks. My soul fills with a sorrow so deep that I cannot see the end of the dark pain. Carolina Rozette Catharina Levie van-Biene, 28 years, murdered at Auschwitz. I never knew her. I did not know the colour of her eyes, her hair, her skin, her height, her laughter. Carolina Rozette Catharina Levie van-Biene, 28 years, murdered at Auschwitz, was taking her first steps into adulthood. Into motherhood. Her first born, a boy, Rolf Julius Charles Levie, four years old, was murdered the same day at Auschwitz. They had a whole life in front of them. Had they lived, they would have died later, much later, maybe of old age, maybe of one of those deceases that permeate the 20th century, maybe they would not die at all. Maybe they would fall asleep one night and never wake up again. An endless sleep.  In their own time, their own hour. Carolina Rozette Catharina Levie van-Biene, 28 years, murdered at Auschwitz. I cry for you, for your first born child.  I mourn for you. I hurt for you. I feel your anguish. I feel the fear in your eyes. I touch your tight fisted hands.  I see your outstretched hands gnarling the poisoned air. The mortal gas filling your lungs.  Your panic. Your need for air. Your death. Your lifeless bodies falling down over other bodies. Carolina Rozette Catharina Levie van-Biene, 28 years, murdered with her small son, Rolf Julius Charles Levie, four years old, at Auschwitz… gone in smoke…

May 2013

It never ceases to amaze me when I find new data about my family, as in this case, when this story of this branch of the Levie's brings new facts to light and fills in the last missing gaps:

Levie family

Rolf Walter Levie (1911-44 was born in Frankfurt am Main. In the 1930s he left Germany for the Netherlands, where he married Carolina Rozette Catharina van Biene. They lived in the provincial capital of Arnhem, were Rolf made a living as a manager of a cinema and in advertising. Carolina gave birth to a son, Rolf Jules Charles, in October 1940. The Germans separated the family in February 1943: the elder Rolf had been stateless since 1941, while Carolina and the younger Rolf claimed Portuguese-Jewish descent. In the summer of 1942 efforts had been made to convince the Germans that Portuguese Jews were of largely Aryan blood, and hence four hundred were held from deportation. The elder Rolf was interned in Vught on February 10, 1943. But the family was reunited in April when Carolina and the younger Rolf were sent to Vught as a result of the decision to intern hitherto protected Portuguese Jews. On July 16 the family was sent to Westerbork. Because of Carolina's Portuguese-Jewish origin they were not sent on to Sobibor but kept in Westerbork, where senior SS officers were to examine the Portuguese Jews. This inspection took place on February 10, 1944. The SS officers decided that the Portuguese Jews in the camp were a "subhuman race" and ordered that they were to share the fate of other Jews. Most of them were deported to Auschwitz. The Levie family was kept back for a week and finally deported with 729 others on March 3, 1944, to Auschwitz. They arrived on March 5. Mother and son were murdered on arrival, together with 475 other Jews. The elder Rolf belonged to the 255 Jews considered "useful" to the Germans. Two weeks later he also died.

In: At the Edge of the Abyss: A Concentration Camp Diary, 1943-1944, David Koker (Author), Robert Jan van Pelt (Editor), Michiel Horn (Translator), John Irons (Translator) p.370 (Mar 29, 2012) 

Westerbork, Holland, Jews boarding a deportation train to Auschwitz.
Belongs to collection: Yad Vashem Photo Archive


Carolina and Rolf were married ‎15 Aug 1939, Arnhem.

Marr ID number 488

In: (May 23, 2013)

Rolf Jules Charles Levie
Birth Announcement
Algemeen Handelsblad 2 Oct 1940

by Courtesy of Tom Hoornstra, May 27, 2013

Algemeen Handelsblad 2 Oct 1940

According to the address written on Rolf's Sperre ID shown below in 1943 the couple was living in Arnhem at St-Antonielaan 152.

Arnhem, St. Anthonielaan hoek Annastraat, ca. 1930. (Foto: collectie Patrick van Dijk).


Carolina Rosette Catharina Sperre Invalid ID 
Page 45

Afb. 3.3. Het persoonsbewijs van Carolina van Biene met Sperrestempel, stempel
BdS. Sperrenummer: 86.730. Op de Joodsche Raadkaart staat vermeld dat de Sperre
is gebaseerd op de functie van haar echtgenoot. Zij werd gedeporteerd naar
Auschwitz op 3 maart 1944 en is daar direct na aankomst op 6 maart 1944

Fig. 3.3. The identity card of Carolina van Biene with Sperrestempel, stamp BdS.
Sperrenummer: 86 730.The Joodsche Raad (Jewish Council) List stated that her
Sperre was based on her husband's function. She was deported to Auschwitz on
March 3, 1944 and murdered there immediately after her arrival on March 6,
1944. (126)

Rolf Walter Levie
Sperre Valid ID
Page 46

The SPERRE System in the Netherlands


The efforts of the Jewish Council (see same page, &lt;;) to reduce the number of Jews to be deported were fruitless. The Nazis did, however, allow the Jewish Council to arrange exemptions for Jewish Council staff and others. As soon as the exemption system became known, the Jewish Council was besieged by people hoping to obtain one. The Jewish Council was responsible for selecting the 17,500 staff members to be issued such a stamp. This procedure, and especially the selection criteria applied, were severely criticized after the war on the grounds that the selection was based on nepotism and corruption. In any case, the Sperre system was a highly effective means for the Nazis to divide and conquer. In the course of 1943, each of the exemption lists toppled like a stack of dominoes, as the Nazis proclaimed them invalid. In fact, the lists became an instrument for the Nazis to select certain groups of Jews and their families for deportation.


On a generous day my mother told me the following four stories about my father's mother and my  grandmother, Frau  Sophia Amanda Lorjé Levie :

The first time my grandmother met her future daughter-in-law, she looked her over from top to bottom and said with a very superior and disdainful tone of voice: “And on top of it all you squint!” even though my mother never had been and never would be… cross-eyed.

Then… one day, while my grandmother was out shopping it started to pour cats and dogs, and she had left her umbrella at home. She did not hesitate for a second: she went into a hat shop, asked to use the telephone and dialed the number of the poshest hotel in Frankfurt. The dialogue that followed was as follows: “Frankfurter Hof, Hoffenstäter speaking. Can I help you?”

“Good afternoon, Herr Hoffenstäter”, said my grandmother. “Yes, you can. This is Frau Levie speaking. I just had lunch at your restaurant and forgot my umbrella. Could you please have someone bring it over to me? I am at the…”“But of course, Gnädige Frau”, replied Herr Hoffenstäter obligingly. “Could you describe it to me?”  My grandmother thought for a moment and said: “Hum… I really don’t remember which of the three I took with me when I left home this morning. Maybe it would be best if you described the ones you have at hand?” Which Herr Hoffenstäter did. When he had finished describing all five umbrellas with all the smallest details in the so very meticulous German way Frau Levie chose the most expensive, had it brought to her at the hat shop, and went home where she put it along the other four she had collected from various places along that year.

The third story shows how much my grandmother was one of her kind: The couple Levie had four sons: Siegfried, born on 20-04-1901 in Kassel (D); Kurt, born on 04-11-1902 in Marburg (D); Hellmuth, born on 11-05-1904 in Marburg (D); and Rolf, born on 08-12-1911 in Frankfurt am Main (D). Due to circumstances that I ignore she had rented a room in a boarding house. The only problem was that the landlord only allowed one person per room. Now, everybody knows that to keep four youngsters quiet in a confined space 24/24 is an Herculean task, I would even say an impossible one. Anyway, having heard strange noises upstairs the landlord knocked on Frau Levie's door: “Ah, Herr Schmidt. Good morning, what can I do for you?” Herr Schmidt's tightened his lips in an angry line and answered: “Good morning, Frau Levie. Frau Levie, you know perfectly well that you are not allowed to have visitors in your room. There have been complaints…” My grandmother clasped her hands on her bosom and replied in astonishment: “Me? Visitors? Aber, Herr Schmidt, this is preposterous! The only living soul in this room besides myself is Mäulchen, my cat! Look! There she is on the windowsill. And she is as quiet as a mouse!” The landlord had no choice but to excuse himself and leave. When my grandmother heard Herr Schmidt’s footsteps receding away down the stairs and after the door of his apartment was closed with a bang she walked to the bed, lifted the covers, bent over, looked under it and said: “All right, boys, you can come out now.”

And the fourth and last story: On Sundays the Frankfurter society liked to go to the Galopprennbahn Niederrad,  bet on horse races, parade amongst the people, meet friends and, most importantly, be seen. One sunny Sunday morning my grandmother decided that she would take her four sons to the Galopprennbahn but, due to the difficult financial times, she would not pay a pfennig to get in. “The prices they ask! It is preposterous!” (a word she definitely favoured). So, everyone put on their best Sunday clothes and off they went. When they arrived at the main gate they met with a queue of people at the gate controlled by one single man in uniform. My grandmother positioned herself orderly in line with her three eldest sons; at the same time, she pushed Siegfried, the smallest one, between a group of men and women in front of her. When they handed over their tickets and went through the gate, the little boy simply slid along hiding between legs and flowing skirts and was duly overseen by the gate keeper who was too busy controlling new comers and tickets. As soon as Siegfried arrived safely on the other side he stopped, turned around, and remained standing in the middle of the crowd facing the entrance’s gate, looking completely lost. My grandmother did not waste one second. She started to shout and wave her arms in his direction:“Hoo-hoo! Rolf! I am here! Hoo-Hoo! Rolfchen!” She caused such a commotion in the orderly queue of well-dressed and well brought-up Frankfurters that the gate keeper stopped what ever he was doing and asked her very politely:“Gnädige Frau, what is going on? Can I help you?” “Oh, yes, please! It’s my son! My son is over there! I must go and fetch him at once. He is deaf and mute, he will get lost! Please let me through, it won’t take a moment. Roolfchen! I am here! Mama is coming!, answered my grandmother with tears in her eyes. The man looked at the small boy “over there”, who still looked completely lost and wouldn’t move an inch in spite of his mother’s deafening uproar. With a sigh, he opened the gate wide and said, anything to stop the shrieks of that unpleasant woman: “By all means, gnädige Frau, please go in, go and fetch him.” My grandmother thanked him profusely, wiped her inexistent tears from her face, and before the man could blink an eye, she pushed her other three sons in front of her and all went in making waves with their arms and shouting “Rolfchen, Rooolf” until they reached him. Head high, murmuring a “Well done, my boy”, my grandmother grabbed her youngest by the hand and kept on walking followed by her other three sons until all four got lost in the crowd.

I  imagine that the Nazis must have had a hard time in convincing my grandmother to obey their orders…


My grandfather, Adolf Goldberg, my aunts Martha and Bella and their husbands left Frankfurt in 1933 and somehow managed to migrate to Brazil in safety, where we, my mother, my brother and I arrived on the hot summer day of February 23, 1947, by boat from Marseille, with a stop in Casablanca, Africa.

I was four years old and up to this day have no recollection whatsoever of what happened during the first four years of my life in France. It is probably because of this trauma, this not knowing, this blank scribbled with questions and filled with doubts, that has been my constant companion for over 50 years, that when I arrived at an advanced adult life that I decided to start searching and researching my father’s fate of whom, always according to my mother and to the information she had received from the Red Cross, I only knew had “disappeared” in a Russian extermination camp from which only three men had survived, which proved to be untrue, as I will explain further down.


In 1933, 30,000 Jews lived in Frankfurt. That year, Nazi member Friedrich Krebs replaced the city’s Jewish mayor, Ludwig Landmann, and all Jewish officials were fired, and most of the Jews started to leave Germany to escape the growing persecutions.

My parents and my brother were no exception. All they could think of was to protect themselves and their  first son, a birth so fundamental for the Israelites,  born on May 17, 1929, a child barely 4 years old, whom they named Hans Günther Levie.  Later, in France, my parents changed his name to Jean Levié, as if the literal translation into French of the first name of their first born and a shy accent on the last e could masquerade his Jewish origins to the piercing eyes of the Nazi henchmen. For reasons never explained nor hinted at the question why my parents and my three uncles and their families chose to remain in Nazi occupied Europe, instead to follow them to South America and escape the Nazi’s persecution remains unanswered to this day. The question “why did they not leave Nazi occupied Europe while there was still time?” has been on my mind as long as I can remember and is impossible to be answered. All the actors of those dark years are now dead. Yet there must have been a single moment in time when they realized they were cornered, that what they were experiencing was not just a passing phase, and that it could and would only get worse. Until the day when the wish of “it will pass” burst and scattered around them in million pieces and reality finally settled in. They realized that the only way of escaping the SS and their incessant night and day Jews persecution and search was fleeing from Germany and start a new life in another country where they thought they would be out of reach of the claws of their henchmen. It cannot have been an easy decision to “tear oneself up by the roots and leave an environment that has been one’s physical, cultural and emotional home perhaps for generations” [Werner Weinberg, “Why I Did Not Leave Nazi Germany in Time,” Christian Century, March 21, 1982, p.4]. Though Jewish by birth the German Jews were, some first and above all, German citizens who lived by the same laws, had the same way of life, ate the same food and spoke the same language as any other Aryan German. They did not put themselves apart or above in any way from the society as a whole and the Orthodox Jews, with their strict kosher laws and different garments, were never harassed in any way. All this changed under the Nazi Rule. It was either die or survive.

Old Frankfurt

My parents probably had to sell their few belongings… “one bedroom with a complete bed, a closet, a dressing table-lavabo, a bedside table, a small table, two chairs…” in a hurry and much under priced. How did they manage to get a passport? Visas were not only hard to get but outrageously expensive. Somehow they coped and one night they boarded the train to Bucharest, Romania, and left Germany behind them.

In another one of her generous moments my mother told me that when they boarded the train to Bucharest my brother, who was only four years old at that time, was forbidden to speak: “You don’t open your mouth, did you understand?” (Du machst den Mund nich auf, hast Du verstanden?) while they were in German territory. Maybe they had forged papers; maybe they already spoke French; maybe…

I have found school certificates belonging to my brother from the time he studied in a school in Bucharest. He always had the highest grades. They stayed in Romania until 1940, when Hitler gave the orders to the Wehrmacht to occupy this country, which they accomplished in a few days without firing a single shot and became the proprietors of the greatest central European country in oil production. And the cat and mouse chase continued: from Romania to Hungary, from Hungary to…??? Who knows which roads they walked on before they arrived in Paris, France? Looking at the map, they had to make a detour if they did not want to land in Germany again, probably going through Italy or Switzerland. And always with the Nazis at their heels.

After the Germans occupied France in June 22, 1940, the country was divided into two zones; the occupied zone of the north and the “Free zone” ruled by the Vichy fascist government which actively collaborated with the Nazis. The French police was ruthless and cooperated willingly with the German occupier. To a large degree, the war against the Jews of France was also a war against children. Between 1942 and 1944, 11,401 children were deported to Nazi death camps.

My family followed the exodus of the thousands of Jewish refugees who hoped they would be safe in the Zone Libre. Carrying their meager belongings and taking the children by the hand or carrying them in their arms they started the long journey from many European cities by any means they could find: hitch-hiking on a wagon pulled by a horse, by bicycle, mostly on foot. It didn’t really matter how you got there as long as you got there.

The French villages of Carmaux and Montauban were two of the main centers to where the Jewish refugees converged as, for instance, Hannah Arendt, the great German Jewish political theorist, who was arrested in 1933 in Germany and after being briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo for gathering evidence of Nazi antisemitism also fled to France where she worked for Jewish refugee organizations until 1940 when she and her second husband, Heinrich Blücher, were interned in southern France. The couple stayed for a while in Montauban, one of the neighbouring towns of Les Cabannes dans le Tarn, where I was born.

In her highly acclaimed, prize-winning biography, Hannah Arendt, for the love of the world, Elizabeth Young-Bruehl describes briefly the conditions the refugees encountered in these towns:

[…] Montauban became a meeting point for escapees from camps all over Europe […] Many residences had been vacated in the general panic and demobilization and the [socialist] mayor turned them over to the refugees. Every mattress that did not have a Frenchmen on it was moved into one of these houses, where refugees slept in conditions not unlike those of the camp barracks they had just left behind […]*
[* Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World, Yale University Press; 2 edition (October 11, 2004) (text copied from Amazon Online Reader, on 11-01-2008).]

My family finally made it to the south of France. In the back of one or two photographs taken at that time where my mother smiles almost happily one can read the handwritten inscription “Pas-sans-Peine”, which, ironically, means “Not-without-suffering or hardship”, in English. As I could not find a village by this name on any French map maybe it was just an encrypted clever pun intended for the enemy, despite the big stamp with the word Juif on the identity cards.

Like many foreign Jews who found a temporary shelter in France before the Nazis changed the Zone Libre in Occupied Zone and started to round up all the Jews living in that area, my father volunteered for the prestigious and famous (or infamous, as some said) Foreign Legion, la Légion Étrangère. The interview for the enlistment must have been something like this:

“Ah, you are Monsieur Levie, yes” the arrogant French official would say. “A Jew. A former German. Now a stateless person. So, you want to join our Légion Étrangère? You have come to the right place. I am in charge of the preliminary papers. After that you have to present yourself to the sergeant of the Legion that comes here every week to enlist those who choose this opportunity. The enlistment is for five years. You will be sent to North Africa for training.” My father would look respectfully at the official and reply: “Thank you, Monsieur. Can I fill in the preliminary papers now?” Later that week, my father would have met with the Foreign Legion sergeant, signed the papers, swore an oath, and given the obligatory physical exam by the same sergeant. The following day he would receive the documents that allowed him to leave the Zone Libre and directed him to report, in two weeks, to the Foreign Legion headquarters in Paris.”

A few photographs of him wearing the uniform of the Légion Étrangère show him very sun tanned, a cigarette in the right hand, and a smile on his face.


Zone Libre - Vichy - France

In 1940 no one could have foreseen the active part the French would take in the extreme and deadly actions implemented by the Nazis against the Jews immediately after the Wahnsee Konferenz which took place on January 10, 1942 and lasted 90 minutes exactly. Neither how they would collaborate with the Nazis to guarantee that the execution of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question (Die Endlösung der Judenfrage, in German), involving the complete removal of the Jews from the German-occupied territories, was applied in France and in Vichy’s Zone Libre without any resistance, delays, or flaws. From then on the anti-Jewish laws were executed not only by the Nazis and the Gestapo but also by the French police. As if the evils the Jews suffered in the hands of the Nazis and the Gestapo were not enough, now they could also be arrested by the French police. 

The German occupied the Zone Libre on the same day I was born, November 11, 1942. The Nazi deportations began soon after Pierre Laval’s government, in a futile attempt to save the French Jews, traded them for the Jewish foreign refugees living in France. At the end, nearly 80,000 foreign and French Jews were murdered, my father amongst them.

One night of September, 1943, I was only ten months old, the French police and the Gestapo knocked at our door and took him away – that much my mother told me (Sie haben Ihn mitgenohmen…)

The midwife

In 1974, while I was in Switzerland on holiday, I decided that it was time I paid a visit to my place of birth. As it happens, some friends of mine were going to Andorra that same week by car. I told them of my intentions of going to France and they invited me to join them, as they would have to go through France anyway. After looking up Carmaux on the map I suggested that we could make a stop at Les Cabannes on the way back. The detour would take us just a couple hours longer before we returned to Zürich.

Les Cabannes dans le Tarn (1900) - I was born in the 2nd house from right. 

Les Cabannes dans le Tarn… one main street with houses on both sides, one café-restaurant, two old women comfortably seated on wicker chairs chatting outside their houses, a dog sniffing at a tree and, at the end of the street, a small square with a well in the center surrounded by a few houses. I left my friends at the café and went to speak to the two old ladies. “Excuse me, bonjour. Could you help me? I was born here during the war, in 1942, and was wondering if you remember my family”, I said, at the same time showing them a photograph of my mother which I had brought along. “This is my mother, Erna Levie. Maybe you remember her?” The women took turns to examine the photo and after a short, a very short time, one of them exclaimed: “Oh, of course I remember her. She was that German lady who always knitted from left to right!” That is, the French knit from right to left and the German vice-versa, or is it the other way around? Anyway, apparently this technique was so strange to the French that it was engraved in their minds. “But”, said the other one, “we don’t remember very much about her. You should ask Madame Blanche. She was your midwife. She knows”. “Madame Blanche? And were can I find her?” I asked, my heart thumping so loud and wildly that I was afraid that it would not resist in the face of so many emotions and stop right there, in the middle of a street of which I remembered absolutely nothing. “Do you see that house on the other side of the well?” asked the other old woman. “Yes”, I said“She lives there. You were born in the house in front of the well. The one with the windows boarded up. They are going to demolish it soon.” Legs shaking I walked the few meters up to “my” house. I would have liked to get in, smell it, touch it. Maybe it would have jogged my memory. Unfortunately this was an impossible task: not only were the windows boarded up but the door as well. I walked past it with my eyes glued on the house that belonged to Madame Blanche. I opened the gate, went up the few steps that led to the porch and pressed the bell. The door opened and a woman with blond hair, a nice round grandmotherly face and body appeared at the threshold. “Oui?”, she said. “Madame Blanche?”, I replied in a tiny, tiny hushed voice. “Yes… oh, my God! You are Madame Levie’s daughter!”, she exclaimed. It is true that sometimes people said that I look like my mother but I could never imagine that after so many years I would be recognized as her spitting image. Madame Blanche invited me into her kitchen, made coffee, put some pastries on the table and after we both calmed down told me the following story: “Your mother was a beautiful woman. There was this man, Monsieur Braun, who was head over heels in love with her. It was he who informed where your father was, that he was a Jew, to the gendarmes.” And that is all she would say. I left the house with a heavy heart and walked back to the café to meet my friends. Before we left I bought a postcard and sent it to my mother. She never mentioned it even though she confirmed having received it when I asked her.


The years passed, my mother and my brother died, as did most of my family. I became a literary translator and an excellent researcher on the Internet. Then… on the morning of September 1st, 1999, 7:00 am, I woke up with a jolt asking myself this question: if I can find anything on the Internet why not my father? Had this insight materialized out of a dream or out of the sheer pressure in my mind? I do not know. I did not lose any time. I jumped out of bed, turned on the computer and typed my father’s name: Kurt Levie. And lo and behold: the first entry showed a list of Jewish French deportees which had left the camp of Drancy, Paris, on May 15, 1944, on the Convoy 73, composed of 15 cattle wagons with a cargo of 878 Jews of all nationalities, men only, including 38 boys aged between thirteen and eighteen, bound to Kaunas (Lithuania) and Reval (today Tallinn, Estonia). It also stated that my father had died on May 20, 1944, five days after the departure:


Birth Place: MARBURG; Birth Date: 04.11.1902; Convoy Number: 73; Convoy Departure Date: 15 May 1944; Convoy Destination: Kaunas / Reval.

Camp de Drancy: Kurt Levie Deportation Registry 

Camp de Drancy - 1944

Camp de Drancy 2010 - Today, this apartment building shaped as an U is inhabited by French families.  The building's wings overlook the deportation cattle wagon.

After this first amazing discovery everything moved very fast. In the following days I found out that the families and the friends of the deportees of this convoy had founded a French association called “Les Familles et Amis des Déportés du Convoi 73 (Families and Friends of the Deportees of Convoy 73). This Convoy had the peculiarity of being the only one of the 79 convoys that had left France to the extermination camps that had been sent to the Baltic States. The men were told that they were being sent to work for the Todt Organization, where my father had already worked as a slave worker after his arrest in Les Cabannes dans le Tarn. Up to this day nobody knows why the train went to Kaunas/Reval. After a terrible journey that lasted  5-10 days the train and its 15 cattle wagons arrived at Kaunas where it was split into two parts and five wagons out of fifteen continued to Reval (today Tallinn) in Estonia. On arrival at Kaunas 400 were taken to the slave labour camp at Pravieniskes where many were lined up along the ditches and executed by Lithuanian SS auxiliaries. As I mentioned, the other 478 men continued to Reval, Estonia, a slave-labor camp. This last stretch took two days and upon their arrival sixty of the prisoners were shot in a nearby forest, a hundred more, judged too frail to work, were also murdered and the rest sent to the camp in Tallin. When the Russians arrived and freed them they only found 35 survivors. After the war it was found that only twenty-three of the original 878 deportees had survived. So far, it has been an impossible task to find out if my father was murdered during this nightmarish voyage, or upon his arrival in Kaunas or Reval. 

Route Convoi 73  - May 15, 1944

For once, the Nazis had not kept any records of the dead deportees of the Convoi 73 or maybe they got lost. And I cannot even be sure that my father was really murdered on May 20th, 1944. The Article 3 of the French Law No. 85/528 of 15 May 1985 on the acts and declarative sentences of death of those who died in deportation, promulgated forty years after the end of the 2nd World War, and that applies to all of the deportees, resistants, politicians,  hostages, etc., states:

“Lorsqu’il est établi qu’une personne a fait partie d’un convoi de déportation sans qu’aucune nouvelle ait été reçue d’elle postérieurement à la date du départ de ce convoi, son décès est présumé survenu le cinquième jour suivant cette date, au lieu de destination du convoi.”


“When it is established that a person has been part of a convoy of deportation and no news has been received from him/her subsequent to the date of departure of the convoy, his/her death is presumed as having occurred on the fifth day following that date, at the place of destination of the convoy.” [Translated by the author] – January 21, 2008]

Notwithstanding all these discoveries, notwithstanding the fact that my mother and my brother had already died by the time the pieces of this puzzle began falling into place, one question still nags me: how did my mother, my brother and myself escape from the Nazis and the French Police?  
The raids of 1943 and 1944

Even more than the previous years, the two years preceding the liberation of France belong definitely to the dark years. On November 11, 1942, the day I was born, the Germans invaded the Free Zone, which became the South Zone. At any time Jews were likely to be arrested, interned and deported. The round-ups were local, sometimes executed by the Gestapo, sometimes by the French police under the orders of Vichy, if not in collaboration. Foreigners and Jews became Jewish French victims without distinction. Between march 1942 and august 1944 the collaborationist French government helped deport 75,721 Jewish refugees and French citizens to Nazi death camps. Half of them were from the Parisian region and the other half from the French provinces. In 1942, 16,000 Jews from the French provinces were sent to Auschwitz. In 1943, 8,000, and in 1944 12,000. In general, these men were initially transported in passenger train wagons, and then in cattle wagons, to Drancy in small groups from internment camps controlled by the Gestapo under German or French escort. On the other hand, I was told that, at that time in the Zone Libre only the men were arrested and deported and that the women with children less than two years old and those who remained behind with their children and without their husbands were left to fend for themselves. I did not find any document to corroborate this.

The last document I found about my father was his Arrest Warrant (Avis de Recherche) issued by the Nazis and the French police.  (Below is a facsimile of an original Arrest Warrant in the Zone Libre.)

9 Septembre 1943
L’an mil neuf cent quarante trois le 9 Septembre ;

      Nous, E. K., Préfet du Tarn ;

      Vu les renseignements déjà parvenus à notre connaissance ;

      En vertu de l’article 10 du Code d’Instruction Criminelle ;

      Mandons et ordonnons à M. le Commissaire de Police de xxxx de procéder, en se conformant à la loi, à une perquisition au domicile de xxxx à l’effet de découvrir le nommé xxxx, qui s’est soustrait à la mesure de regroupement des israélites étrangers.

      En foi de quoi et pour la garantie du dit Commissaire, nous apposons notre signature.

                                                                       Albi, le 9 Septembre 1943

                                                                            Le Préfet du Tarn

Maybe he went into hiding, maybe he was with the French Resistance, maybe he was searched for something altogether different. I couldn’t find out. Anyway, it goes to show how meticulous the Nazis were. My brother, then  thirteen years old, remained untouched. Another unsolved mystery…


Amazing New Discoveries

1.   … a mystery that has been finally unveiled on 
September 21, 2010

On September 21, 2010 I wrote first to the Jüdische Gemeinde (Jewish Community, see LINKS) of Frankfurt am Main who directed me to the Jüdisches Museum (Jewish Museum, see LINKS) of Frankfurt am Main asking them if they had any additional information about the exact date and conditions of my family when they had left Frankfurt in 1933. 
24 hours later I received their reply containing an amazing document (in German) where all the how’s, where’s and why’s of my family’s flight  and my father's arrest were explained in full.  Here is my (rough) translation:


Kurt Levie was born in Marburg; married, his wife and the two children born in 1929 and 1942 managed to escape to the Brazilian exile; businessman, film distributor.

Kurt Levie received the lower school certificate at the Wöhlerschule, then completed a business education. After 1921 he held various jobs, first in the film industry, until – date unknown – he became the proprietor and director of the “Neuen Deutschen Lichtspiel-Syndikat“, Industriehaus, Taunusstraße 52-60. After the accession of Adolf Hitler Kurt Levie was prohibited to enter his office again. Adresses in Frankfurt: Georg-Speyer-Straße 9/III (Parsevalstraße), Inheidener Straße 31/I.

On May 3, 1933, Kurt Levie and his wife fled to Paris/France in exile. Initially, the U.S. film company Warner Brothers gave him a representation in Bucharest (Romania), then in Brussels (Belgium); however, both agencies had to be given up due to the [Nazi] persecution. Kurt Levie returned to Paris, where he briefly enlisted in the Foreign Legion.

Kurt Levie was arrested and  deported, first to the camp of Angers and later to the camp of Saint Lambert. After a successful escape he was arrested in Les Cabannes (Tarn) on September 10, 1943, deported to camp of Drancy on May 15, 1944, and from there to the concentration camp of Kaunas Kovno were he was killed – date unknown.

Kaunas Kovno Railway Station

2.    A New Cousin 
Found on September 9, 2010

While continuing my search for Siegfried and Hellmut Levie, on the same page where I had found the information about my uncle Rolf Walter Levie and his family, there was a comment stating the following:

“Some letters of Carolina van Biene and Rolf Walter Levie which they wrote to her relatives have been preserved. Her parents and her brother survived the war.
Addition of a visitor of the website”

The visitor had left no name or e-mail for further contact.  I immediately wrote to Ed van Rijswijk if there was a way of finding out who had left this note.  He contacted the Joodsmonument/NL and, after explaining that I was a member of Levie’s family, the editors were kind enough to provide the address and email of W. van Biene. Van Biene, as you might remember, was the surname of my aunt Carolina Rozette Catharina Levie-van Biene. 
Unfortunately my first email to Mr. van Biene  returned as undeliverable.  As I had his full address in the U.S.A. the only way to contact him was by snail mail.  However, before sending my explanatory letter, I decided to search his email address on the Internet.  Thirty minutes later I was writing to him by e-mail. This time it went through. The reply came one hour later: much to my, and the recipient’s, amazement and emotional wonder, W. van Biene was the son of Carolina’s brother, my cousin!  After a longish silence we resumed our correspondence in 2013 and, hopefully, I will be able to read Carolina's and Rolf's letters in the near future.


And this is all I know... so far...  And as it seems very unlikely that I shall ever remember the first four crucial years that we spent in France, the years of survival, the years of fear, so ends the unfinished (or maybe not…) story of my family in Germany and France and now the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation. I am still looking for further information about my two uncles, Siegfried and Helmut Levie.

Thank you for reading, thank you for listening…

Rio de Janeiro, August 2010

Renée Eve Levie