Hessy Levinsons Taft
Born: 1934, Berlin, Germany
Describes family's escape from occupied France to the "zone libre" (free zone) in the south of France [Interview: 1990]
We joined up with a group that was going to take us across occupied territory to the Zone Libre [free zone], which Nice was still in the Zone Libre at the time. We met some other people from Paris also, some other friends of ours and...in this group...and we apparently at one point, we went by truck to a certain point, and then we had to go across the woods, walking through a swamp that...and be very, very quiet, because apparently a German encampment was behind the woods. At the end of that road, at the end of those...there would be another truck to meet us. Um...I did not know those details at the time. What I knew is that this very ominous-looking Frenchman, who had this enormous knife around his belt, took it out and told the children that any kid who opened his mouth would have his tongue cut out. Let me tell you, I have never forgotten that moment. I went with my lips sealed like this throughout the entire escapade. Except that, at one point, I couldn't contain myself and I asked my father's friend--who held me by the hand--I said, "What are we doing?" He said, "This is a sport. We're running. This is a sport." And I said, "I hate this sport." And then I saw this guy with a knife, and I contained myself. The babies, the children--including my sister Noemi--were all fed chocolates. They got all the chocolates one could round up during the war to keep these kids quiet. We got to the Zone Libre, and immediately my father applied for American immigration.
As prewar antisemitism intensified, Hessy's family fled from Germany to Paris, France. France fell to the German army in June 1940. Hessy's family was smuggled into the "zone libre" (free zone) in southern France. The family received a U.S. visa in 1941, but was unable to leave before the visa expired and could not obtain an extension. In 1942, the family obtained visas to enter Cuba, where they settled before emigrating to the U.S. in 1949.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum - Collections