August 25, 1937,
Marcel Hodak was born August 25, 1937, in Paris, France. His father, Jules, and mother, Feiga, were Romanian Jews who had emigrated to Constantinople and later to Paris to escape pogroms in their native country. In Paris, they had three sons, of whom Marcel was the youngest, and one daughter. Jules worked as a presser in the women’s garment industry and Feiga was a seamstress.
France Signs an Armistice with Germany
Things began to change for Marcel and his family in June 1940, when France, under the government of Marshal Henri Petain, signed an armistice with Germany that divided France into two zones: Germany occupied northern France, while the south remained unoccupied. Though the Petain government claimed legal authority over all of France, it left Paris in the north for Vichy in the south, from where it would govern until summer 1944.
In 1942, the Vichy government issued an edict revoking the citizenship of émigrés and their children. Marcel’s brothers were born before his parents had been granted official citizenship, so although Marcel was considered a French citizen, his parents and brothers were not and were therefore at risk for deportation.
Marcel and His Family Move to Southern France to Avoid Deportation
To protect his family, Marcel’s father decided the family should move south to a town called Bride-les-Bains, where they had spent summer vacations. Jules found work as a lumberjack and Feiga used her sewing skills to earn income to buy necessities.
Marcel’s older brother, Jean, joined a French resistance group called Les Maquisards, or Les Maquis for short. The group fought against German occupation troops in the Alps and occasionally brought back rations that had been parachuted in from England. On these occasions, Les Maquis were greeted with fanfare and Marcel was allowed to carry his brother’s rifle. It was too heavy for young Marcel to hold, but he dragged it proudly by its shoulder strap.
Marcel’s family tried to blend in as much as possible with the people of Bride-les-Bains, and on Sundays Marcel was sent to the town’s Catholic church. He often forgot to remove his beret, and as he sat in the pews the priest would come down the aisle, remove Marcel’s hat, and place it on his lap. Years later Marcel’s brother told him that the “priest” was actually a Jewish member of Les Maquis.
While Marcel’s immediate family was living in Bride-les-Bains, his extended family also decided to flee Paris, scattering in all directions. His uncle, Usher Perelstein, and his uncle’s wife were the only two who were arrested. They were picked up in a German raid and sent to Auschwitz, where they were both killed.
France Is Liberated
The liberation of France began with the Allied troops landing at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Marcel and his family returned to Paris, and Marcel watched from his father’s shoulders as General Eisenhower and Generals Charles De Gaulle and Philippe Leclerc led a victory parade down the Champs Elysées, accompanied by thousands of freedom fighters. The day of liberation was August 25, 1944, Marcel’s seventh birthday.
After the War
Marcel and his family left France for America shortly after liberation and settled in Brooklyn, New York. Marcel served in the US Air Force from 1956 until 1967 and later became a software specialist. He married in 1958, and he and his wife had three sons and five grandchildren. Today he lives in Silver Spring and volunteers at the Museum.