It all started when our friend Yvonne told us her story about how her family was on the run from the Nazis in France during the Second World War. They were living in Paris and ended up in Cazaubon, every step of the way having to stay ahead of the Nazis by finding places to hide. Yvonne was only a child at the time but her memories are as vivid as if it were yesterday.
We met Yvonne while living in England. She came to speak at our Council of Christians and Jews Lincoln Holocaust Remembrance Day event a few years ago. We became friends that night and as they say, “the rest is history”. That is what led Steve and I to being invited to attend a Big Event in a Little Town.
Yvonne visited Cazaubon a few years ago with her daughter to show her the castle that she and her family were hidden in for a year, along with hundreds of other Jewish people. She was disappointed to find that there was no mention of it in the town. Not a marker – not a plaque – nothing to show what the people of this town did to save many Jewish lives during the Nazi regime. The Maire at that time was not able to do much to make it happen due to circumstances beyond his control.
Fast forward a few years later and the new Maire (Mayor) of Cazaubon contacted Yvonne to tell her that he wanted to move forward with what Yvonne had suggested – having a plaque placed in the town to commemorate the efforts of the people who gave refuge to the Jews, putting their own lives at risk.
The Maire and his team planned the event and invited the Cazaubon community, school children, the Jewish community, representatives from the military, and other officials from Cazaubon and the surrounding villages and towns to attend and participate.
There were many speeches from the Maire, military officials and other public figures in the community, as well as poems read by the school children.
Of course all were in French, but Steve and I understood enough to get the picture as we all stood on the street for over an hour as they each took their turn at the podium. They then unveiled the plaque and placed flowers with messages in front of the plaque. It was a very moving ceremony.
The plaque reads:
The Visitor Centre of Bégué, active from October 1942 to the end of 1945, was put at the disposal of Amitiés Chrétiennes by Mr. and Mrs. Henry and Simone d’André, after consultation between Monseigneur Théas and Maître Fernand Sentou.
Hundreds of Jews fleeing the Nazi regime found refuge here.
Vila Glasberg, alias Victor Vermont, the centre’s director, arrested August 16, 1943 to save the centre, was deported to Auschwitz. He did not return…
There were only five of us in attendance that are Jewish. We were representing Yvonne and the Jewish communities of USA, UK and now France. It was an ah-ha! moment as we were experiencing “History in the Making”.
Steve and I were introduced to the Maire by his assistant and he welcomed us with opened arms. Yvonne had spoken to him earlier and told him that we would be attending the ceremony. They put us on the VIP list and invited us to the Chateau for a glass of wine and very special hors d’oeuvres, where we had an opportunity to meet the many dignitaries and people from the surrounding communities.
Steve and I were introduced to Philippe and Patricia d’Andre, whose family hid the Jews. They invited us to have lunch at their home after the ceremony.
We enjoyed having lunch with our new friends pictured below. I had some good conversations with them between my broken French and their broken English we understood each other and actually shared stories about our family and got to know a little bit about them. They invited us back to visit them again and we invited them to come and visit us in our holiday home.
In order to arrive at the ceremony on time (just barely!), we left our house at 7 am for the four hour drive to get to Cazaubon. We did not leave our new friends until 4 pm, getting home hours later. Some may say that was a long day with eight hours of driving to get there and back, but I can assure you that it was well worth every minute to be able to attend this most amazing event that was history in the making here in France. Steve and I felt that it was important to be representatives for Yvonne as well as the Lincoln Independent Jewish Minyan (LIM).