Search This Blog

Showing posts with label French resistance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label French resistance. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Featured Jewish Partisan - Bernard Musmand, born on March 3rd

"I disliked the Germans — as I mentioned many times, I spoke German fluently, I learned it in school and so on, and I knew it fluently. At the end of the war, I have refused to talk it, to speak it, and I have kept my word. I have not spoken German since then. I know it's hateful, I know what the Germans did for Israel, but I can't forget. The famous word, I can forgive but I can't forget."
— Bernard Musmand.

Bernard Musmand was born on March 3, 1926 in Metz, a city in northeastern France. Located on the border with Germany and Luxemburg, Metz shares many historic connections with its neighbors, dating back to its Celtic and Roman roots. In fact, many high-ranking officers of the Third Reich were born there. In a border city like Metz, it was only natural for the German language to be taught in schools - this skill ended up saving Bernard's life on numerous occasions.

When Bernard was 14, the Nazis invaded and his family fled to the south of France, which was outside of German control. In order to attend the local boarding school, Bernard had to pose as a Catholic. One night, the school’s chaplain told Bernard and his classmates that they would participate in communion and confession the next day. Since Bernard didn’t know anything about such things, he spent half the night in the bathroom studying from a Bible. He made such a convincing Catholic boy that the priest asked if he was interested in going into the seminary.

While studying at the boarding school, Bernard became a courier for the Sixieme — a resistance group based in the southern town of Rodez — and transported falsified papers for those escaping Nazi persecution. His confidence and youth were his best defenses during encounters with the Germans or French sympathizers. To ease suspicions, he would initiate conversations by asking for the time or a match in perfect German.

In May 1944, Bernard was sent to deliver a package to the owner of a hotel in a small town in Figeac. But the owner of the hotel refused the package, having been informed that Germans are coming to occupy the town and make arrests. Stranded in the town and frightened, Bernard hid the package behind some bags at the local train station. He spotted a German railroad policeman in his 50s and began a conversation with him. The policeman was pleasantly surprised that a Frenchman could be so friendly and speak such fluent German, and invited Bernard into his office for some chocolate. While safely hidden in the office, he saw hundreds of Frenchmen being forced onto trains to be transported to work camps in Germany. The policeman expressed great sorrow for these men. When the trains and the German soldiers had left, Bernard thanked the policeman for his kindness and went on his way.

When the Gestapo came to the boarding school looking for Bernard, the dean arranged for his escape before the Germans could capture him. Bernard went to Millaut and again joined the Sixieme, which had by then begun to collaborate with the Maquis armed resistance. Fourteen years old and very afraid, Bernard was sent on an ambush. He described the two hours before the battle, lying under cover and waiting for a German convoy to pass, as the longest two hours of his life. But once the convoy arrived and the orders were given to open fire, Bernard’s mind was so focused on the fighting that he had forgotten his fear.

Bernard Musmand's military card

When the French Army reformed, he was made Second Lieutenant. However, the desk job he received was not what Bernard pictured the war to be like — he wanted to be fighting the Germans on the front lines. He applied for transfer, but was rejected three times. Fed up, he finally revealed his true age and Jewish identity. The Army didn’t believe he was fifteen and a half. They demobilized him two days later, however, after having made contact with his parents.

“It was an exciting time, in certain ways,” Bernard remembers. “I wish and hope it will never come back, but everything counted and you felt life was precious.”

Since their textile business was lost during the war, Bernard's family emigrated to the United States, settling in Brooklyn. Bernard met his wife, Milicent, after graduating from Lowell. They had two sons, Jon and Fraser.

Bernard spent his final years in Maine, where he spent much of his time with family, friends, and at the local synagogue. A long battle with a heart condition took his life on January 30, 2010.

Visit www.jewishpartisans.org for more about Bernard Musmand, including seven videos of him reflecting on his time as a partisan.


Edited by Kyle Matthews.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

People who resisted - Sophie Schwartz

When the French police arrested more than 13,000 Parisian Jews at the behest of Germany during a massive raid on July 16, 1942, Sophie Schwartz-Micnic took action to protect as many children as possible. She and her fellow resistors provided hundreds of children with fake identities and hid them with host families, saving their lives.

René Goldman and
Sophie Schwartz in 1959

René Goldman, himself a rescued child currently living in Canada, is the author of a book on Sophie’s fascinating life story. In Une femme juive dans les tourmentes du siècle dernier: Sophie Schwartz-Micnic, 1905-1999, he tells the story of a woman who he considers to be his adoptive mother.

Sophie Schwartz was born in 1905, in an area of Poland belonging to the Russian Empire at the time. She grew up in a well-off, Orthodox Jewish family with her seven siblings. Horrified by the Great War, she became interested in politics at age 13 and joined the youth section of the Bund, a secular Jewish socialist party. When she turned 15, her parents could not afford to send her to school anymore, so Sophie started working in a curtain factory, where she joined a union. These were the beginnings of her involvement in activism, which would continue for most of her life.

At age 19, her father banned her from political activism after she was briefly arrested. She defied him and left the family house for an autonomous life, emigrating to western Europe, far away from her parents’ worries.

Sophie would never see her parents again; they perished with three of her siblings in 1942 after they were deported.

In 1927, after spending some time in Holland, Sophie emigrated to Belgium. At once, she got involved in both Jewish and communist organizations, including the Kultur-Liga, where she met the like-minded Leizer Micnik, her future husband. Leizer’s involvement in a trade union would later force them to leave Belgium and immigrate to France. He was arrested and handed off to the Germans by the French police in 1942, never to be seen again.

During her lifetime, Sophie was very devoted to the Jewish community, and to all deprived families in general. When World War II broke out, she immediately took part in the underground: she headed a committee to aid women whose husbands were taken by the police and ran an illegal printing shop producing Yiddish pamphlets and false identity cards. The soul of her work, however, became saving Jewish children, and she created several homes for those who had lost their families. After the aforementioned July raid – known as the infamous Vel' d'Hiv Roundup – she worked tirelessly to smuggle hundreds of children into hiding among the peasantry. The following year, she organized a daring operation to rescue children from the asylums set up by the UGIF1, escorting 63 of them out of the facilities by female underground members posing as relatives. She eventually became the head of the CCE (Central Commission for Children) that reportedly supported several hundreds of children – 450 of them in 1949 alone.


Children of deported Jews, in a UGIF facility

In several passages of the book, she argues that being Jewish pushed her into believing in communism; she actually saw this as a hope for equal rights and a better life, not only for the Jews, but for all mankind. Though she would become ideologically disillusioned following her awareness of Stalin’s crimes and her subsequent expulsion from Poland in 1968, it is obvious that the various organizations she took part in gave her an effective network and resources that she could rely on to assist the many operations she organized to save lives and, after the war, make this world a better place to live.

After being expelled from Poland, she spent the rest of her life back in France, surrounded by her old friends and fellow underground members. Because of her past with the resistance, she obtained a residence permit, and then French nationality. René Goldman, the author of her biography, kept in touch with her as she became older, up until her death in 1999 at age 93. He was called upon to read an eulogy at her funeral.

According to René Goldman, Sophie never gave up her optimism and her generosity, even after the many disillusions she went through. He states, “Throughout her life, she had not only the courage of her ideas, but the courage and intellectual probity to recognize that it was wrong to believe in an ideology that was a serious and sad mistake.” He adds: “Sophie was an example of unity of thought and action, which, according to the teaching of Judaism, is the essence of integrity.”

*“Tout au long de sa vie, elle avait eu non seulement le courage de ses idées, mais aussi ce même courage et la probité intellectuelle de reconnaître qu'elle avait eu tort de croire en une idéologie qui fut une grave et triste erreur.” L’auteur ajoute:“Sophie avait été un exemple d'unité de la pensée et de l'action, unité qui, au regard de l'enseignement du judaïsme, est l'essence même de l'intégrité.”


Sophie Schwartz-Micnic accompanying a group of children on a train in 1947.

Reference: “Une femme juive dans les tourmentes du siècle dernier: Sophie Schwartz-Micnic, 1905-1999”, AGP : Paris, 2006.

— Written By Isaline Jaccard


1. The UGIF – or L'Union générale des israélites de France – was an organization created by French law in 1941 at the behest of occupying Germany. Its main purpose was to take control of all other Jewish organizations, social agencies, philanthropies – including their assets – and to oversee the administration of Jewish affairs while taking their cues from the Vichy regime and the Nazis. In effect, they were France’s nationwide equivalent to the Judenrat councils set up in the ghettoes of eastern Europe.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Partisans In The Arts: Marcel Marceau (1923-2007)

“It’s good to shut up sometimes.”

— Marcel Marceau

Marcel Marceau, a French-born performance artist, championed the art of pantomime for his generation. Before his prominence as a mime, however, Marceau took part in the French resistance during World War II. He used his talents to help Jewish children escape German-occupied France and his art to provide moments of humor.

Born Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg on March 12, 1923, Marceau’s interest in performing pantomime had early roots: as a boy he enjoyed imitating gestures and behaviors. In March 1944, Marceau’s father was deported to Auschwitz, but a teenaged Marcel and his elder brother, Alain, were able to evade capture. Together they adopted the last name Marceau, in reference to a French Revolutionary general, and decided to help the French Resistance. Marcel used his drawing skills to forge identity cards for Jewish children and the brothers Marceau, dressed as boy scouts, led many to the Swiss frontier.

During this time, Marcel began mime acting in order to keep children quiet while they escaped. Later, his talent with body language and illusion came in handy: Marceau claimed that while fighting with the French Resistance he accidentally ran into a unit of German soldiers and, startled, he imitated an advance guard of a much larger French force, successfully persuading the German soldiers to surrender. At the end of the occupation, Marcel used his art to entertain Jewish children who were living under false names in La Maison de Sevres near Paris.

One of Marceau’s performances was seen by a theatrical historian who persuaded him to enroll in the drama school of Charles Dullin and study with Étienne Decroux. As a mime artist, Marceau was acknowledged without peer. His original exercises all became classics: e.g., The Cage and Walking Against the Wind. His oft-used onstage persona, Bip the Clown, became as intertwined with Marceau’s name as The Little Tramp is with Charlie Chaplin’s. Marceau toured all over the world, won countless awards, became a favorite of Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin, and appeared in films like Barbarella and Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie. In 1999, New York City even declared March 18 to be “Marcel Marceau Day”.

For Marceau, however, his name’s synonymy with pantomime was bittersweet, as he feared that l’art du silence would be buried along with him. Truthfully, enthusiasm for pantomime has long since lost momentum, although Marceau’s talent went on to inspire many popular performing artists, including Rowan Atkinson and Michael Jackson whose moonwalk was based on Marceau’s “Walking Against the Wind”. Marcel Marceau’s inimitable talent was his ability to express the human condition through his art; and he explains the implication of such a performance: “As we go on in life, torn between light and shadow, encountering injustice, violence, misery, we still have one weapon against despair – to make people laugh through their tears.”