When I was a little girl, I heard stories around the dinner table from family members about what happened during the Nazi German occupation of Paris, home of my mother’s family. My Grandmother has always been my hero, as she helped to save approximately 300 Jewish refugees escaping to Free France using the family Hardware Store basement.
Marie-Anne’s grandmother Céline grew up on the border of France and Belgium at the turn of the century. After her first husband died in WWI, Céline, a Catholic, married René M., a prisoner of war in Germany during WWI who came from a large Jewish family. René was set up in an army surplus business with his younger brother Gaston. When he married Céline, they renamed the business ROMO and made it into a hardware store.
Céline gave birth to Marie-Anne’s mother Simone in 1923. Simone was 17 at the start of WWII. During the war, her mother had her baptized as a Catholic to help obscure her half-Jewish heritage. They lived in a working class community on the southeast corner of Paris. Simone’s father René went into hiding during the war. He moved to their family’s summer cottage in a small town south of Paris. He had been a soldier in his youth and knew how to behave without fear. Every day he liked to play cards, smoke cigars, and drink at the local café. He never wore his yellow Star of David and was able to hide by not hiding.
Céline, Simone, and Simone’s younger brother Louis remained in Paris, living above the hardware store. Céline formed a "reseau" of the Resistance with a neighbor and colleague, Alfred Fuhrmann. The hardware store basement became the last stop on the secret journey of 300 refugees into free France. Refugees were led into the courtyard (porte cochère) of the ROMO Hardware Store, where they would enter the store and go directly into the basement or upstairs to the living quarters. They would stay hidden for a few days, and then were smuggled out of the store and loaded into a utility truck and transported through the border station at Chalon-Sur-Saône near the French Alps, where they went into hiding in free France. Céline, suspected by the Gestapo Nazi police, was picked up twice for questioning. René was wanted by the Gestapo but she said she didn’t know where he was, so they were forced to let her go.
Simone was a member of a youth branch of the Resistance movement, relaying messages and maintaining secret correspondence when she was 20 years old in 1943. She was also a member of the FFI, as were her mother and brother. Though they were all part of the Resistance, they kept this information secret from one another. After the Germans were routed from Paris, each family member pulled out their FFI arm bands, shocked to learn each was involved. After D-Day and the liberation of Paris, Simone met Marie-Anne’s father Hy K., a GI.
Marie-Anne shares this story of courage and resistance as a member of the Holocaust Center’s Speakers Bureau.
Why did Grandmother put her life and her children’s’ lives at risk? Harboring "criminals of the 3rd Reich" was punishable by imprisonment and deportation. My Grandfather was a Jew, her first husband was killed by the Germans, she had an intense hatred of the invaders of her country, and if you asked her, she would tell you that she did what she felt any good French citizen would do.
Check out Marie-Anne's website which includes more information on her grandmother Celine Morali, schools at which Marie-Anne has spoken, and resources for rescue and resistance in France during the Holocaust.