Paris (France), Le Vert Galant
Rene Lichtman was born in Paris, France in 1937. He was the son of two Polish Jews from the Lublin area of Poland, who had fled Poland in 1936 in order to come to Paris. Rene’s father quickly took up arms for the French army, hoping to assist the French people in their battle against Nazi takeover. While in France, Rene’s father made an arrangement with a Catholic family, who lived just outside Paris in the village of Le Vert Galant. The arrangement was that, should anything befall Rene’s father during combat, then this family would take his son into their home. Not long afterwards, Rene’s father was killed in battle, and Rene’s mother temporarily gave over guardianship of Rene to the Catholic family living in Le Vert Galant. As Rene states, his mother did not have the means to care for her son at the time, in which she handed him over to the French family.
Growing up as a small child in Le Vert Galant, Rene remembered very little of his real parents. Rene recalls his mother visiting his French guardians occasionally, but not knowing really who she was. Rene’s guardians had him baptized Catholic at a young age, so he was temporarily severed off from the Jewish community during the war years. Rene remembers his French guardians being a very loving couple who raised him as if he was their own son. One day in June 1942, Rene recalls his mother visiting his guardians one day; she informed them that she was to go into hiding in Paris, because she knew that the Nazis would come to take her away if she did not.
As the years passed, Rene became accustomed to living the rural life of his guardians. Since Le Vert Galant was a very isolated farm community at the time, Rene lived in hiding with very little suspicion, although his guardians refused to let him go too far from the house. As his guardians knew, there were still many Anti-Semites living in their village, and, every time someone from their village spotted Rene, they often had to make excuses about who the boy was and to whom he belonged. Rene even remembers seeing Nazi soldiers come into the house once, for they were stationed across the street from him for a short while in a fox hole. However, throughout the war, Rene’s identity remained a secret.
After France was liberated and the war ended in Europe, Rene’s life was turned upside down. It was then that Rene went through an identity crisis. Soon after France was safe again, Rene’s mother, who remained in hiding during the war, came to pick up her son from the French family. Rene remembers his mother being the exact opposite of his guardians. While his guardians were country folk, his mother was a city girl who wore makeup and perfume and was still very young at the time. His mother’s French was very poor, and she spoke mainly Yiddish. For the first time, Rene learned that he was actually Jewish and not Catholic, and, for many years after, Rene struggled to identify where he belonged in the world.
Although Rene eventually became accustomed to his Jewish mother, he was a very hard child to deal with, and he still yearned to be with his guardians. Between 1945 and 1950, Rene visited his guardians during summer breaks from school in Paris. One day, while staying with them in the summer of 1950, Rene received a letter from his mother. The letter informed Rene that his mother had remarried, and he was to move to the United States shortly afterward. Rene remembers being disheartened, but his guardian mother assured him that living in the United States was going to be great. Rene moved to the United States in 1950, and he eventually came to terms with his Jewish identity. Rene says that his experiences during and after the war really opened him up to different cultures and people.
Date: August 2003
Interviewer: New Angle
Format: DVD Recording