David P. Boder Interviews Fira Monk; September 7, 1946; Paris, France



Fira Monk was born in Russia. Following the Russian Revolution and Civil War (1917-1921), she and her family immigrated first to Vienna, Austria and then, in 1926, to Paris. She eventually found employment with ORT, for whom she worked throughout the German occupation of France. As the Germans advanced on Paris in June 1940, she and her family fled to southern France, residing first in Vichy and then in Marseille. The area in which they lived came to be known as the "Free Zone" administered by the collaborationist Vichy government. Mrs. Monk, her mother and her foster son, a young Spaniard, eventually moved to the Italian zone of occupation in southeastern France near the city of Grenoble. When that zone was abolished, they lived under direct German occupation. All this time, Mrs. Monk worked for ORT, describing her coworkers as her "second family."

Fira Monk's interview details the dedicated and courageous work she and other ORT members were engaged in during the occupation, including issuing false papers, hiding Jewish children, and distributing financial aid to unemployed Jews or those in hiding. This work entailed great risks, to which her narrow escapes from deportation testify. Her endeavors on behalf of Jews in France and those of others in ORT underscore the sometimes-overlooked efforts by Jews to save other Jews during the Holocaust.

The interview also illustrates both positive and negative behavior on the part of the French population towards Jews, ranging from those who sheltered Jews to those who were part of the dreaded Milice (Vichy paramilitary forces) that persecuted them. Some of the French police Fira Monk encountered were helpful to Jews, while others aided in their arrest and deportation. Although she, her mother, grandmother and foster son survived despite the constant threat of arrest and deportation, her elderly aunt and uncle and another paralyzed aunt were deported and murdered in Auschwitz.

Following the August 1944 liberation, she worked in Toulouse in a reception center for returning deportees and prisoners of war. She recounted some of what she learned about their harrowing experiences. Among the most horrifying accounts were from refugees who had been sexually abused or subject to pseudoscientific medical experiments. When Boder interviewed Fira Monk in September 1946, she was in Paris working as an ORT social worker aiding survivors. This work recalls the important efforts ORT and other organizations took for the care and rehabilitation of survivors, including dealing with the plight of orphaned children, securing the return of seized property (especially residential property), and vocational training and placement.

—Elliot Lefkovitz