Naftali and Rose Krauthamer and their children, Jewish refugees who had fled Germany to France during the war, were living in St. Martin Vésubie under Italian protection in the fall of 1943. During their time in St. Martin Vésubie, we believe that Naftali served as the “shamash” (a person who assists in the running of services in some way) in a synagogue .
In September of 1943, as the Italian soldiers and administrators pulled out of the area and returned to Italy, they warned the Jews that the Germans would be arriving soon and it would be extremely dangerous to stay.
Naftali, Rose and their children, Simon, about age 10, Jules, about age 8 and toddler Susanne, along with hundreds of other Jews, began the climb over one of the nearby mountain passes carrying minimal personal belongings.
Naftali tried to carry a Torah (scroll of the Pentateuch) from the shul (synagogue) over the mountains. The climb was difficult and at a certain point the Torah may have been left somewhere for safekeeping. Unfortunately, it was never recovered. We’ll get back to the legacy of that lost Torah scroll later in the story.
According to family lore, when they reached Italy, the Krauthamers chose to stay in a hotel overnight rather than in army barracks where some of the other refugees had taken shelter. The Krauthamers survived and avoided being caught and deported to Auschwitz, which was the very tragic fate of those who had stayed in the barracks.
Largely thanks to Naftali’s courage and strategic skills, and frankly, a lot of luck, the family was able to make its way all the way to Rome, despite the fact that Germans and Italian fascists were hunting down and arresting Jews throughout the country.
In Rome, Jules and Simon were enrolled in a Catholic boys’ school and Susanne and Rose were able to stay in a Catholic convent. Naftali was able to continue living “underground,” and looking for a way to get his family out of Europe.
In 1944 Naftali’s efforts were successful and he was able to arrange for his family to be included among just under 1000 refugees being allowed to enter the U.S. during the war. After being transported across the Atlantic on the S.S. Henry Gibbins, they were required to spend the rest of the war in a displaced persons camp in Oswego, NY, and were supposed to return to Europe after the war. The Krauthamer kids attended school in the town of Oswego and Simon celebrated his bar mitzvah in the camp.
Thankfully, they were able to immigrate to the U.S. after the war (technically from Canada). Naftali was reunited with his brother, Morris in New York. Morris had been able to escape Europe in the 1930s. Another brother, Mottl, survived Auschwitz and settled in Austria after the war. Tragically the rest of their family members were murdered in the Holocaust.
Naftali never forgot that Torah scroll he had tried to save when the Germans were ready to invade St. Martin Vésubie. Unable to locate it, he saved enough money to commission the creation of a new Torah scroll, to be written on parchment by a trained sofer (religious scribe). The Torah was initially housed at a synagogue in Brooklyn, NY. In the 1980s Simon arranged for the scroll to be loaned to a congregation in Shilo, Israel.
Naftali and Rose led a successful life in the United States but remained very committed to Zionism and they instilled that value in their children. One of Susanne’s three children, Jeffrey (Yaakov), made aliyah in the 1980s. Yaakov’s oldest son, Naftali, was able to borrow a Torah scroll from a congregation in Nice and bring it to St. Martin for the March de la Mémoire weekend in 2019. We and several other family members who are descendants of Rose and Naftali Krauthamer were there with him that Shabbat (as well as many other wonderful Marche participants from around the world). This was a very fitting tribute to Naftali’s great grandfather and namesake, and to the community of Jews who called St. Martin Vésubie their home in 1943. Naftali Gurwitz now serves on the board of AME 43.
We are proud to have participated in the Marche in 2019 and hope to return for another, perhaps with our adult children and other family members.
Moti Krauthamer and Debra Alderman
Moti, son of Simon Krauthamer and grandson of Naftali and Rose Krauthamer, and his wife Debra live in Seattle, WA, USA.