War Memories by Myriam Butler

This story is taken almost word for word from a handwritten notebook in which my mother, Myriam Butler, wrote down all her memories of the war.

Then aged 10, she was in St Martin from March to September to March 1943 with her parents, Simon and Hélène Butler, and her aunt and uncle Israël (Jacques) and Ernestine Butler.

As it happens, my father, Maurice Kern, was also in St Martin with his father, brothers and sister (his mother had just died of illness in Nice).

Michel Kern

In St Martin, life quickly took over. We rented a lovely house. A committee of some 10 to 12 Jews planned a small synagogue with a rabbi. As we didn’t go to the village school, every morning we had a Talmud Torah class. In the afternoon, the EIF organized activities. I was in the “Petites AIles” (Little Wings) group.

The Petites Ailes EEIF group, Saint Martin Vésubie 1943

Every morning and evening, people assigned residence, like Papa, Uncle Jacques and the Kerns, had to report to the “Commandatura” to answer the call.

[Après l’armistice du 9 septembre 1943…]

The Italians had to leave the south of France, as the Germans invaded all the south in their place.
The Italian soldiers told us we’d better follow them into the mountains rather than wait for the Germans. As a result, most of the 1,000 or so people living in St Martin went off into the mountains in a veritable exodus. Dad had managed to hire two muleteers and their mules, so we were able to put the bags on the animals and I stood astride a mule. But most people went on foot.

We went deep into the mountains, along narrow paths. On the first evening we slept in a sheepfold in Le Boréon. The next day, as we passed the Notre Dame des Fenêtres pass, we slept in a sort of forest.

[…] We arrived at San Giacomo, where the muleteers left us. My parents let me sleep with some nuns, in a convent, in a real bed! which seemed like a luxury to me after two nights on the straw. The next day we walked to the village of Entraque, where the five of us found a room to sleep in with some farmers.

[…] After a week, a German patrol arrived. What was left of the group (the Kerns had continued to walk) was taken to the barracks at Borgo San Dalmazzo, where the German commander asked: “Jews to the right, non-Jews to the left”. My Dad and Uncle had false baptismal certificates issued by a Russian priest, so they went over to the left. […] In the evening, the Germans said that non-Jews could sleep in town, that we had to come back the next morning, and that they would keep the papers.

[…] Needless to say, we set off before dawn the next morning, and caught the first train out, a freight train to Cuneo.

Myriam Butler

[Later, the Butler family passed through Genoa, then Florence, where they were even able to go to synagogue for the first night of Rosh-Hashana! They finally made their way down to Rome, where they remained in hiding until the end of the war. My father’s family also reached Rome by another route].

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