Interviewee: Bertha Goldwasser
Interviewer: David P. Boder
Recordist: David P. Boder
Transcriber: Dagmar Platt
Translator: David P. Boder
Annotator: Elliot Lefkovitz
Writer of added commentary: Elliot Lefkovitz
Editor: Eben E. English
Creation location: Jewish Committee home for adult Jewish refugees
Bertha Goldwasser was born in Poland and came to Paris, France in 1936 at about the age of twenty-four to study engineering. There she met and married her husband, Kuba Goldwasser. The couple was part of the some 200,000 French Jews who lived in Paris on the eve of World War II. The majority of these were eastern European Jews, who like Mrs. Goldwasser had immigrated to France after World War I. They contributed to the vibrant Yiddish cultural and political life of the city. In the wake of France's disastrous defeat by Nazi Germany in June 1940, the collaborationist Vichy government came to power. In October of that year, it passed a series of anti-Jewish measures which impacted Jews in the northern German occupied zone of France, which included Paris, as well as the unoccupied so-called Vichy "free zone" in the southern portion of the country. Bureaucratic machinery was established to impose these anti-Semitic measures on some 330,000 French Jews.
The Goldwassers has an infant daughter at the time of Kuba's arrest in 1941. He was deported in 1942, and eventually became one of the 77,000 French Jews killed by disease, starvation and exhaustion in French internment camps, executed in French prisons or murdered in deportation, mainly to Auschwitz. The Vichy regime was complicit in all these deaths.
Bertha Goldwasser and her baby daughter were arrested in the notorious round-up of the Jews of Paris on July 16-17, 1942. They were ultimately interned in the Drancy detention camp located in a suburb of Paris, and from there deported to Auschitz. By prying loose planks from the floor of the railroad car on the train carrying her and her daughter to Auschwitz, Mrs. Goldwasser managed to escape, but in the fall from the train the baby was killed. She found shelter with a family of French resisters and, following her recuperation, joined the resistance herself. She was involved in some daring exploits, such as smuggling downed Allied fliers to safety in neutral Spain.
Mrs. Goldwasser also fought in the August 1944 battle to liberate Paris and was wounded in this struggle. Following the war, she established contact with two aunts in the United States. They invited both her and her brother, who had survived the war as a soldier in the Red Army and was in a Displaced Persons camp near Munich, to come to America.
At the time of the interview, Mrs. Goldwasser was working for the Neue Freie Presse, a Jewish leftist newspaper. This interview aptly illustrates the remarkable bravery and courage displayed by many Jewish French women during the Holocaust.
André Richard was a talented singer in the renowned Paris Opera as well as an intrepid member of the French resistance during the German occupation. Mr. Richard shows himself to be a sincere and dedicated French patriot as he recounts his exploits as a lieutenant in the resistance movement during those dangerous times. He took part in a number of daring exploits at great personal risk—the risk of arrest, torture and death in a country where the Gestapo, Vichy French collaborators and the threat of denunciation by ordinary citizens put resisters in great peril. As he recounts, "I have never known any assignment that was not a dangerous one during the occupation . . . very often I came back alone when twenty of us had gone."
Mr. Richard has great admiration for the proud, autocratic General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French forces during the war. Like de Gaulle, Mr. Richard was above all a French nationalist. His nationalism is of the liberal variety, rejecting xenophobia, intolerance and racism. He does not reveal sympathy for any particular resistance political organization, whether it be communist, socialist or Catholic. Indeed, he appears to be apolitical and anti-clerical. Mr. Richard's admiration for resistance leaders extends to those under whom he served, Colonel Goise, Major Borde, and Captain Allard, whose bravery and leadership qualities he is at pains to applaud.
Mr. Richard clearly shows sympathy for the plight of the Jews under German occupation, though there is no indication he was involved in Jewish rescue efforts. As might be expected, he scorns those who collaborated with the Germans but does not call for revenge or retribution. Rather he remains dedicated to the ideals of the French Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity.
The interview illustrates the fact that, although they were a small minority, there was a core of active resisters in France who fought against the German occupiers for their own liberation. Though they could not defeat the enemy on their own, they did set a timeless example of courage and selflessness during a dark and hazardous time.