The History of My Life 20th
(This text is from a speech she gave in Cape
Town to Bnoth Zion.)
I was the youngest of five children, but the
age gaps were very big between us. Coming from a good middle class
family, I was quite spoilt and never short of anything. My father and uncle
were together in business running a hardware shop in our home. My mother ran
the house and looked after the family. We lived in a double storey
building - our home was upstairs and downstairs was the business. We
lived in a small town called Speyer, which is situated on the River Rhine
near the big city of Mannheim.
At the age of six I started government school
but it was not very long after that when all the Jewish children were asked
to leave. Our Jewish congregation organized a Jewish Male teacher to
come to our town so that he could teach the Jewish junior school pupils who
were being denied an education by the state. He taught us a wide
variety of subjects that included Maths, German, Hebrew, History, Geography
and Jewish Studies. This informal school was set up in one of the
boardrooms of our Shul and recreational activities were held in the yard.
By this time a number of our congregants
started to immigrate to countries like Israel and America. From 60
families, by the end of the wave of emigration, only 30 children were left
to attend the school. The children were of mixed age groups. A
number of these Jewish children came from the nearby villages. Our
teacher soon moved to Speyer from his hometown. I would often spend
time with his family and go for Friday nights.
In order to supplement my education, my
parents organised private extra lessons including English lessons. Most
of the children of Speyer kept Shabbath. Every Shabbos afternoon all the
Jewish youth met for an oneg at the Shul, plus we celebrated all the chaigim
like Tu Bishvat and Lag BaOmer, Purim and Chanukah with special outings and
traditional foods. This is how our Jewish life was spent until
Kristalnacht, 10th November 1938. On that day our Shul was burnt to the
ground and early that morning the Gestapo came and took my father and uncle
Wolf away. My uncle, my father's brother, was unmarried and lived with us. He
was sent home, perhaps because of his old age. My father was sent to
My eldest brother Berthold was also arrested
and taken to Dachau. He also lived in Speyer but had married out of the
Jewish faith many years before. Because of this, my parents did not
allow him to come home. I used to visit him without their knowledge.
Once I was caught visiting Berthold and I was severely punished for it. Berthold
was always very good to me and paid the ice-cream shop monthly so I could go
whenever I pleased to get myself an ice cream.
In Dachau my father and brother were placed
next to one another in the barrack. There they made peace with one
another after a period of five years not having seen or spoken to each
other. My father was released after about six weeks and my brother was
there for longer.
Later in the day of the 10th November, my
mother, sister Berthel and myself were told to leave our home and province
by midnight. The other members of my family, my sister Hilda and
brother Sally had already immigrated to South Africa. November was
wintertime and night came in early.
A non-Jewish friend of the family came after
dark to help us pack. At that time we still had a car and employed a
driver, as my father could not drive. He was willing to take us in the
car across the Rhine to another province called Baden, where my mother had
family and where we could stay. At this stage we had no news of my
father and brother nor did we know if we could return to our home. Whilst
we were away in Baden our business and part of our apartment were taken over
by an Aryan Germans. After about three weeks we were allowed to go back
to our home.
But soon thereafter, we were forced to sell
it as no German business was allowed to be in a Jewish house. We also had to
sell our car and certain commodities, which Jews were no longer allowed to
possess. My father came back to us soon after our return and then my
brother Berthold's wife Helene moved into our home with us. We all made
peace with Helene.
Berthold was still in Dachau, but soon
afterwards, he was also released and came home. Helene, being
non-Jewish, was a great help to all of us.
In the beginning of 1939, my second sister
Berthel left Speyer for South Africa and we all hoped to be able to follow
her shortly thereafter. Because we could not leave my uncle behind, it
was impossible for us to immigrate to South Africa and so we carried on
living under difficult conditions. I did not realize the seriousness of the
situation until the day we were deported to France, on the 22nd October
1940. I was 13 years old.
Early in the morning, the Gestapo came and
told us to pack what we can carry and we would be picked up within one hour. Because
of the many air raids, we had suitcases already packed. My parents,
uncle and brother Berthold were collected by the Gestapo and taken to a
nearby town where all the Jews from the South of Germany were assembled. Helene
managed to get my brother Berthold freed and brought him back to Speyer. During
this time she was hassled at work for being married to a Jew. A year
later my brother went into hiding.
During this time, Helene was not aware of his
whereabouts. Eight Christian families kept him hidden and looked after
his welfare until the liberation.
During that time, train took us to the South
of France to a place called Pau, which is situated in the Pyrennes. Then
lorries transported us to Camp Du Gurs. When we arrived in Gurs, the
men were separated from the women and children and allocated to living
blocks. The blocks contained twenty-five barracks surrounded by barbed
wire and guarded by soldiers with rifles.
My mother and I were sent to a barrack
together. The barrack had no windows, only flaps to let in air. We
slept on a bed of straw and a blanket. This was to be our home for six
We were about fifty people per barrack. This
part of the Pyrennes was very wet and muddy. People often became stuck
in the knee-deep mud and needed help. Our daily rations were coffee in
the morning, watery soup with a few pieces of turnips at lunchtime and the
same soup in the evening. We received a ration of bread daily and three
times a week we had a thimble of meat in our soup. In a short time,
people became sick with dysentery. Every day we saw the lorries leaving
with the dead bodies piled in the back.
The toilets were a distance away from the
barracks. There was also only one barrack with running water where we
could wash ourselves. Whilst at Gurs, I used to get permission from the
office to visit my father and uncle.
Without prior warning, one day, we were told
to get ready as we were being moved to another camp. Within a few days we
were transported in lorries to a camp called Rivesaltes, which too was in
the Pyrennes. My uncle had to stay behind in Gurs where he died a few
months later. We arrived at the brick faced barracks. The sleeping
areas were like shelves and we called them rabbit hutches.
The climate in Rivesaltes was better that
Gurs. It was not so wet and muddy but dry and barren. Once again,
men and women were separated but could meet each other at the assembly
Everyday a few women were assigned kitchen
duty. They would collect the peels of the vegetables for extra food. We
made little stoves from old tins in which we cooked the peels to supplement our
daily nutrition. After a few months most of the children were taken out
of the camps by the American distribution board and O.S.E. They opened
up children’s homes in all the unoccupied parts of France. From there
they often managed to send them to Switzerland and placed them with families
or relatives. At the time that I left camp, only about seven girls
remained. We were taken to a new home, which was an old hotel in the
Cantal District. It was a very lovely little town in the mountains with
lots of farms around. Cantal is very well known for their cheeses.
The place where I stayed was called Vic Sur
Cere. At first we had a Jewish director and his wife. Two
Christian ladies replaced them. I was 1942. We were told that if
ever the police should come to the door;
we must jump over the fence at the back of the home and run up the hill to
the farmhouses and hide. We had a special whistle to tell us when we
could come back. For quite a while things were without incident. We
did our own cooking and became a big close family. During this time, my
parents who were still in Camp Rivesaltes. Despite numerous transports,
with the help of Hashem, they were not on any of the lists and were not
transferred to another camp. My parents were asked if they had any
children here in France and they gave the police my address. Immediately
they came to collect me. Two policemen accompanied me back to camp by
train. I managed to trace my parents the next day. On that day the
inmates were called to go on parade and many people were called out to go on
another transport. Nobody knew what happened to these people or where
they were being taken. After a few days back in the camp, the Joint
Distribution Board called me in plus three more younger children
(two brothers and a sister) and we were schlepped off to a Christian Youth
Hostel high up in the mountains near the Spanish borders. The nearest
town was Prado. The three children were taken to Switzerland and I was left
here for a few more weeks and then I managed to go back to the home in Vic
In all those years I always tried to respect
Shabbat or any other yontovim. I also always had a Siddur hidden with me and
used to doven whenever I had the opportunity.
After having been back at the home in Vic Sur
Cere, the rumor came around that the Razzia was coming to collect us. The
Razzia were the French soldiers under German command. In no time young
kids were brought to the home and us bigger girls were given false I.D.
cards and placed into families to do housework. This was done as the
Razzia were not after small kids, but after older girls. I was 16 at
the time The Jewish Underground was well informed of all the happenings and
had prepared to save as many people as possible. Already a number of
good French people had volunteered to
take us into their homes. Two of my friends, Hannelore and Lore and myself
were placed with some very high-class families in Lyon. My name became
It was necessary for some reason for our real
initials to be the same as our new identity.
According to my cover, I was born in
Muhlhause in Elsass where German is spoken. My French was very poor but
in no time I picked up the language. My rescuing family was the Ogier
family, a wealthy upper class family that
had a huge country house just outside Lyon where they spent the summer as
well as another chalet near Grenoble for the winter months. I was well
I worked for them as a domestic worker so
that nobody would ever find out my true identity. They also had an
extra charwoman to help me. From my weekly rations, I managed to save
some food and send it to my parents who in the meantime had moved to another
camp. Somehow my parents and I managed to receive news from each other.
I always wrote to my parents without a sender's name.
Nobody ever found out about these food
parcels. For the remainder of the war my real Jewish identity was kept
a secret and I worked as a maid for the Family Ogier.
The Americans liberated Lyon in 1945. As the
Germans left, they blew up all the bridges around the town. Lyon is
situated between the Rhone and the Soane Rivers and the town is in the
centre isle. That morning, while I was queuing outside a bakery for
bread, a big red-hot glowing stone, which came from an exploding bridge,
fell in front of my feet. I have kept this stone as a memoir to this
Very soon after the liberation, I was in
contact with the director of the home who had left for Limoges to run a home
for abandoned babies. Hannelore, Lore and myself went from Lyon to
Limoges, received some nursing training and worked with the babies.
I am still in contact with the family in
Lyon, which saved me from deportation. I also visited them some
year’s back with my late husband. Three years ago Yad Vashem honored them
amongst the righteous gentiles.
Following the liberation, the camp where my
parents were was no more under guard and the O.S.E took over the running of
the camp until other accommodation was available. After sometime, I
joined my parents and worked at the sickbay with the doctor-in-charge. Soon
thereafter an old age home was opened near Toulouse and all the people from
the camp were taken there.
I also worked there with the sick until my
parents heard and received their permits to go to South Africa. They
left via Lisbon in 1947 by boat. By that time I had become very
friendly with the Jewish man who was in charge of the O.S.E. He was
transferred to Marseilles to be in charge of all the doctors and nursing
staff of the transit camps for people leaving for Israel on the illegal
Aliya Bet boats. They came from Morroco, Tunis and all African
countries. A lot of them were sick or pregnant and they all were
treated in order to be in good health on arrival in Israel.
My last station was in Marseilles where all
the O.S.E. people worked together and became a close family.
In 1949 I was unable to get a visa to come to
South Africa. Some friends of my family worked out a scheme whereby I
would marry a certain man they knew in order to enter the country, and then
divorce him shortly afterwards. After considering the proposal, this
man turned down the offer.
In the year 1950 I managed to get a visa for
South Africa. I arrived via England by boat in Cape Town on the 1st May
1950 where I then went to my sister Hilda and my parents in Johannesburg.
I later went to visit my other brother Sally
and sister Berthel in Bulawayo. I met the man I was to marry in
September 1950. We were married in January 1951. It turned out that
that man who had refused the marriage of convenience previously was in fact
Sigi Weber, my new husband.
I would like to end by saying that Speyer has
the oldest mikvah in Germany and has been recently restored as a memorial to
the Jews of Speyer.
I thank Hashem every day for having saved my
family and allowing me to have survived this life ordeal. I would like
to thank you all for your attention and for allowing me to tell my life
story for the first time.
Sophie (daughter to Sigi and Lilo) adds
- Lilo was born on the 4th February 1927 in Speyer, Germany and now
lives in Sea Point, Cape Town. My mum has a very good memory of things
that happened, names of people, etc.
My name is Sophie Miriam (nee Weber) and
married to Neville Raoul Codron (who grew up in Macheke!) and I have a
brother David married to Ingrid (nee Kropman) in Johannesburg.