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Eclaireurs Israélites de France shirt and kerchief worn by former hidden Jewish boy

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Steven W. Simon was born on January 22, 1932, to Arthur L., born 1896, and Irma R. Sostmann Simon in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. His family immigrated to Paris, France, in March 1934. Arthur established two businesses: a faux leather and crystal import business and a specialty confectioner packaging company that featured folkloric and holiday designs created by Arthur. Steven’s maternal uncle, Kurt Sostmann, born June 22, 1904, in Mannheim, and his wife, Erna, arrived from Germany and settled nearby. Arthur applied for United States visas in 1938. His parents, Sigmund, born 1853, and Recha, born 1872, and his sister, Irma, a fashion designer and seamstress, arrived in Paris in March 1939 and lived with Arthur and his family. When World War II began in September 1939, the Simons were on vacation in La Bourboule. French officials requisitioned their car for the French army and interned Arthur Simon as an enemy alien. Steven and his mother were stranded because they did not have the special permits that non-citizens now needed to travel. They finally received permission to return home to Paris in December. The following month, January 1940, Irma sent Steven to a Quaker boarding home, Moulin de la Ferriere, in Noce, Normandy, to escape the German bombing of Paris. In early May, she retrieved him because she had to present him to the police to avoid being interned herself. On June 14, 1940, the Germans occupied Paris. Arthur was in the Les Milles camp and he volunteered for the French Foreign Legion. Since he was now in poor health, he failed his physical exam, but the French released him from the camp on August 30, 1940. He returned to his family in Paris and tried to continue his business, though his partners and staff had been arrested or disappeared and he was not permitted to travel to visit clients or to obtain stock. On August 6, 1941, the business was confiscated and its assets transferred to the Germans. In September 1941, the family hired a guide to take them to Vichy France which was unoccupied by the Germans. Their first guide was arrested but they found another one and left for Le Puy in the Haute-Loire. They were required to register with the French authorities and after a few months, their living status was defined as kept in forced residence and they were relocated to Allegre, a small mountain village. Their dwelling was very rundown, but the villagers were anti-German and life was peaceful. Steven attended the local school. When Steven and his family fled to southern France, his Aunt Irma had stayed behind in Paris with his elderly grandparents. On July 17, 1942, she was arrested in the mass roundups in Paris and sent to the Drancy internment camp, then deported to Auschwitz on July 27. When she did not return to her parents, the concierge and a Russian émigré, Count Besobrasow, in their building took care of them with money sent by Steven’s parents. Steven’s maternal uncle, Kurt, was arrested on August 8, 1942, sent to Drancy, and then, on August 31, deported to Auschwitz. That November, when Steven’s parents learned of their relatives arrests, they decided to flee to Lyon. They obtained false papers in the name Siebert from friends in Paris. Because schools required that students provide their former school and vaccination records, Steven had to keep his real identity at school, but use his false identity when he was with his parents. The family told people that Steven’s birth father had passed away, and that his mother had remarried a man called Siebert. Their preparations made, they fled Allegre for Le Puy where they planned to stay the night, and then catch the morning train in Lyon. That night, a French detective came to the hotel and demanded to see their papers and searched their luggage. He discovered Arthur’s address book with the names of several Jewish contacts which Arthur claimed were former business contacts. While the detective was interrogating his father, Steven’s mother gave him the family’s real identity papers and he managed to hide them under the mattress. Though the family’s false papers were all in order, the detective said he still believed they were Jewish and promised to return. The Simons left the hotel for the station at dawn. Steven was enrolled under his real name in a Catholic boarding school. After one school year, he passed the state entrance exam to enter the lycee and lived at home from then on, using his real name in school and his false identity at home. The family remained in Lyon for the rest of the war. Lyon was liberated by the Americans in late 1944. The family returned to Paris in December. His grandmother had died on August 11, 1944, during the liberation of Paris. His Aunt Irma never returned and was presumed dead; it was not until 1991 that they learned that she had died at Auschwitz on August 23, 1942; his Uncle Kurt also perished in Auschwitz. His uncle’s wife, Erna, survived the war living in hiding. Arthur restarted his candy box business. Steven resumed his schooling, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, and joined Les Eclaireurs Israelites de France [the Jewish Scouts of France]. Scouting was very important for Steven as it eased his reintegration with postwar life after so many years spent living in hiding. On November 24, 1945, his grandfather passed away. The Simons emigrated to the United States, arriving in New York on April 4, 1947. They settled in New York City where Steven completed his education and served in the US Army. He married in 1961 and had three children. His father died on January 1, 1983, age 87. His mother passed away on January 20, 1991. The Eclaireurs Israelites de France (EIF), is the Jewish division of the Boy Scouts in France (Scoutisme Français). It was founded by Robert Gamzon (1905-1961) in 1923. The EIF was a pluralist movement under the patronage of community leaders who sought to attract native born and immigrant youth to Judaism and to steer them away from the more radical political movements of the time. Tensions soon arose between the EIF's patrons and the movement's leaders, many of whom were increasingly attracted to Zionism. By the late 1930s, the EIF was co-sponsoring programs with the Zionist scouting group, Chomerim. They opened an agricultural training school in Saumur near Tours in the Loire region. These programs had several purposes, including vocational training, raising Jewish consciousness, and preparing youth for immigration to Palestine. After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in September 1939, leading to the outbreak of World War II, the EIF set up children's homes in southwestern France. In May 1940, Germany invaded France. The June armistice split France into a northern region occupied by Germany and a southern region under the French collaborationist government headquartered in Vichy. The EIF as a Jewish organization was banned by German authorities. They maintained a clandestine operation in Paris, but moved most of their activity to the unoccupied zone. The children's homes became increasingly crowded as non-native Jew from all over France and other German occupied regions were sent to Vichy internment camps. The EIF also organized a number of youth communities in rural areas of the south. At the end of 1941, the EIF was forced to join the southern branch of the Union Generale des israelites de France (UGIF, Union of French Jews), a compulsory French Jewish council, later constituting its Fourth Section, which dealt with issues related to Jewish youth. Gamzon was appointed to UGIF council and the EIF hen handled issues related to the young. In March 1942, the Germans began large scale deportations of the Jewish population. In response, the EIF created a special underground unit called La Sixieme (The Sixth), which developed a rescue network for children and youth, placing them in hiding in safe homes or smuggling them out of France. They also forged identity papers for at risk Jews. In fall 1943, Germany occupied the south. EIF formed a resistance fighting unit called Compagnie Marc Haguenau, after the leader of La Sixieme who committed suicide when captured by the Gestapo. It participated in the liberation of southwestern France as part of the Organisation Juive de Combat (Jewish Fighting Organization). In the Tarn region, members of Companie Marc-Haguenau, under EIF founder Robert Gamzon, and members of Eclaireuses et Eclaireurs Unionistes de France, a Protestant division of the Scouts, under Robert Cook, formed the core of Maquis de Vabre. Also known as Corps franc de la liberation 10, they joined the French forces of the interior and American commandos to liberate Castres on August 20, 1944, capturing 4500 German soldiers. The war ended with Germany’s surrender in May 1945. During the war over 150 members of the EIF lost their lives, chiefly those involved in La Sixieme. The organization is credited with the rescue of several thousand Jews in France.
1 januari 1945
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