Georgette Brinberg (née Tepicht) was born on June 10, 1938 in the mining town of Villerupt in northern France. In the 1940s, when the town was attacked by Germany, her mother, father and older sister fled to Paris. Although she was young, she remembers that her father in 1940 was rounded-up and sent to a working camp, and eventually to Auschwitz. In July 1942, she, her sister and mother were rounded up and sent off to the Vélodrome d’Hiver where she stayed for a week until she was split up from her mother and destined to be sent to Auschwitz. Fortunately, Georgette and her sister were able to flee the Vel d’Hiv and were sent to Morée. She does not remember how she ended up there, but she does know that she was in hiding with her sister, and that there was a constant fear of being captured. She had to learn all the Catholic rites in order to pass off as a Catholic girl.
In 1944, about the time of the liberation of France, she once more fled Morée and returned to Paris after jumping onto an American truck. Once she arrived in Paris with her sister, they sought out their grandmother who was still in hiding. All three stayed in hiding until the end of the war, and eventually moved to Israel in 1948. In Israel, she joined the Kibbutz – a collective community traditionally based on agriculture. She stayed there, learning Yiddish, until the 1950s. She eventually decided to move to Canada where her sister lived with her husband. In 1955, she finally arrived in Montreal where she went to business school and worked in the Quebec Order of Chartered Accountants. She married in 1957 and had three kids. In subsequent years, she researched the whereabouts of her family and tried to find a trace of those that helped her. She even returned to Paris to learn more about her past and her family legacy. She feels that her story should be told for future generations to remember, in her words: “if I can tell my grandchildren, then why not everyone [else]?”
Elie Dawang was born on January 4, 1934 in Paris, France, to Lithuanian parents. Elie has good memories of his early childhood, being raised by loving and well-off parents. In May 1940, the Dawangs left Paris for a small village near the Spanish border. Despite the great danger, they went back to Paris to liquidate the business of Feivish, Elie’s father. The three of them were arrested in September 1941 and while Feivish managed to get Elie out of prison, he couldn’t do anything to save himself or his wife. They were both sentenced and sent to jail for possessing false papers. They both ended up in Auschwitz, but Elie’s mother was gassed upon arrival whereas Feivish survived the war. Meanwhile, Elie was being taken care of by a Jewish woman. Elie and his caretaker almost got arrested during the roundup of Vel d’Hiv but managed to hide. After a few months hiding in the suburbs of Paris, they moved to the country where they stayed until liberation. When Paris was liberated, they moved back there and Elie returned to school. He reunited with his father in May 1945. They moved to Canada in 1951 with Elie’s stepmother. Elie describes the process to immigrate, his first impressions of Montreal and Canada and his involvement in Holocaust education.
Jean Kutscher was born on January 24th, 1926 in Paris to Romanian parents. His parents had fled Romania because of antisemitism. Jean and his siblings attended a laic school and grew up in a secular home. In France, Jean and his relatives didn’t experience antisemitism before 1939. However, they knew what was going on in Germany, thanks to the news shown before movies in theatres. As a French citizen (not as a Jew), Jean was shocked by Germany invading France. At that point, several anti-Jewish laws were enacted. Jean and his siblings started to understand what it was to be Jewish. Although it was compulsory, Jean and his older brother decided not to wear the yellow star. Later on, Jews were frequently rounded up from the street. First, Jean’s father was sent to Drancy in 1941, and then his brother was arrested on the street and sent to Drancy. They were both taken to Germany to a destination unknown to their relatives. Jean’s girlfriend, who was a Gentile, helped the family and provided them with food. On September 23rd, 1942, French policemen arrested Jean, one of his brothers, his sister and his mother. At the police station, adults and children were separated. Jean lied about his age, enabling him to stay with his younger brother and sister. It was the last time they saw their mother. Jean’s sister was housed by the family of a friend while Jean and his brother left Paris. They planned to go to Lyon where one of their aunts lived. They managed to cross the line of demarcation by themselves, without a guide. Unfortunately, they couldn’t stay in their aunt’s apartment, and therefore joined the “Compagnons de France.” Jean couldn’t stand it so he returned to Paris without his brother. Jean worked as a salesman in a Parisian department store. One day, policemen came to the store and told the young men working there that they had to come back the next day with some personal belongings. They were to be sent to Germany to work in exchange for the liberation of French POW’s. This mandatory service was called “Le Service du Travail Obligatoire” (STO). The police specified that if the men did not obey, the store directors and their families would be sent to Germany. Jean was taken to Germany and worked on a barge for one year. He was treated well and people trusted him. When Jean first saw the Allies in March 1945, he was hiding in a bunker near Duisburg. He was liberated by Canadians and served as an interpreter between Canadians and Germans for one month. Upon his arrival in Paris in 1945, Jean discovered the existence of concentration and death camps. As a result, Jean enrolled in the army to go to Germany but his superiors refused to send him there. Instead, Jean was sent to Morocco in April of 1945, and later to Indochina. He returned to Paris in 1947. He married his girlfriend in 1949. Jean and his wife immigrated to Montreal where they discovered a Jewish life like they had never seen before. Since his mother’s arrest, Jean has never stopped feeling traumatized and guilty.