The Monastery at Hachy, near Arlon

The Monastery at Hachy, near Arlon

In the spring of 1942, the situation had deteriorated for us Jews. I was still attending school, in the sixth grade at l’Ecole Alfred Mabile in the Brussels school district. Somehow I must have heard that a few of my classmates were going to a colonie scolaire (a summer camp) for the month of July. Because my best friend Gaby was going, I also wanted to go on an adventure. To my surprise, my parents did not mind the cost and allowed me to register. I could tell that they were keen on getting me out of Brussels. I was soon on my way by train to Arlon, lugging a huge suitcase and my “Mistinguette” hat, Mistinguette being the famous female singer of the time who wore this type of wide-brimmed felt hat, (the famous actress Ingrid Bergman wore a similar hat in the film Casablanca) together with my friend Gaby and many more girls. We were leaving on July 1st for the whole month, two weeks before the end of the school year. I only remember a very, very long train ride that took all day. I had no idea that I was going to the far end of Belgium, very close to the Luxembourg border. We didn’t go all the way to Arlon but stopped in Hachy, a very small village with a huge monastery. That’s where our colonie was being held. It was led by lay persons, but we did see the Trappist monks, who were members of a strict order of the Roman Catholic Church, in their brown habits. They had taken a vow of silence when joining the order and lived in their own quarters in the huge monastery.

We were assigned a cubby-hole in the basement to store our belongings, and then we were shown to our huge dormitory with about fifty beds, as well as the way to the bathroom. Gaby and I chose adjoining beds where we arranged the bedding we had brought along. Madame Wolfenstein[1] had sewn two sheets together as my sleeping bag and my mother had given me two blankets as instructed by the colonie.

After the day-long train ride, we arrived famished and threw ourselves on the food served for dinner in a huge dining hall. The dinner consisted mostly of beans and water. During the night Gaby was sick and vomited all over my top blanket. When I got up to look for the bathroom, I was disoriented in the huge pitch black dormitory, and couldn’t make it in time, so I soiled my pajamas. It was a horrible night with many of us girls sick from the unusual food. I remained angry with Gaby for a while because I couldn’t use my soiled, smelly blanket, but we were young and resilient and a lot of fun was in store for us in the Scout- oriented camp. We found everything funny, especially the cow droppings which littered the village road. This was the first country experience for many of us city girls.

When it was time to pack for the trip home, I stood in front of my cubicle, looking at the dark blue “Mistinguette” hat I hated with a passion. For quite a while I stood there wondering: should I or shouldn’t I leave that darn hat there? I knew it had cost a holy fortune, but my mother had never asked me whether I wanted to wear such a sophisticated hat better suited for adults than an unsophisticated twelve year old. In the end, I left the hat in my cubicle telling my mother a lie, that I had forgotten it.

When I returned home, the school year was over. While I was in Hachy, my teacher had taken the trouble to deliver my diploma to my mother together with a big picture album of Belgian folklore, my year end prize, and to praise me. Now my parents wanted to find another hiding place for me as the deportations had started in earnest. I don’t remember whether my father’s Leipzig tailor Mr. Rodoff, who arrived all excited one Sunday morning at our apartment to describe a razzia (round-up) which took place in his street, came before I went to Hachy or after my return. He described how German trucks closed off the street he lived on. Then the Nazi SS, leading big ferocious dogs, went from apartment to apartment shouting to round up all the Jews in his building. Luckily he and his family lived on the top floor. He quickly took his family to the attic, up a ladder which he pulled up behind him, then closed the trap door. He heard all the commotion, the shouting and the cries, but he and his family didn’t move in their attic until the Germans had left with all their victims. His vivid account of such a terrible round-up left us speechless and very upset.

While I was in Hachy, my mother went to talk to my school principal, a spinster, to ask for her help in finding a hiding place for me. The principal, always very rigid, was unable to help her.

1942 - Sixth Grade at l’Ecole Alfred Mabile, a girls’ school. Our teacher is sitting in the center with me at her right. The girls from the local orphanage wear dark skirts with suspenders.

1942 – Sixth Grade at l’Ecole Alfred Mabile, a girls’ school. Our teacher is sitting in the center with me at her right. The girls from the local orphanage wear dark skirts with suspenders.

 


[1] Mrs. Wolfenstein, a white haired refugee like us but from Berlin, supported herself by sewing for people in their homes. This way she shared in all the meals and didn’t have to worry about rationed food or cooking.

Next: Boloeil – Summer 1942