David P. Boder Interviews David Hirsch; August 26, 1946; Genève, Switzerland

  1. At the time of the Nazi assumption of power, Mannheim had a Jewish population of 6,509. Due to Nazi economic and social anti-Semitic measures, 3,927 Mannheim Jews emigrated from 1933 to 1940, including David Hirsch's parents.
  2. Mannheim is located in Baden. After the fall of France, some 2,000 Jews from Mannheim were deported in late October 1940 to Gurs concentration camp, located in southern France. The camp was administered by the collaborationist French Vichy government. Despite the harsh living conditions endured by the detainees, Jewish cultural and religious life was maintained in the camp.
  3. Gurs was established in April 1939. It was situated some fifty miles from the Spanish border. Its establishment came at the same time as the defeat of the Spanish republicans in the bitter and bloody Spanish Civil War from 1936-39 by Francisco Franco, who became the Fascist dictator of Spain. Many republicans fled across the border, and a number were interned in Gurs.
  4. Like Gurs, Rivesaltes was at first used to imprison Spanish republican loyalists and troops who had fled to France. It was located in southeastern France, not far from the Spanish border and a few miles from the town of Perpignan. At the time of the arrival of David and his grandparents, Rivesaltes had at least 3,000 children and was considered a family camp despite its primitive and unhealthy living and sanitary conditions.
  5. The OSE was especially active in providing medical and social assistance to those interned at the time in Gurs and Rivesaltes.
  6. Southern France was under the control of the Vichy government following the armistice of June 1940, and was not occupied by German troops until November 1942 when the Allies landed in North Africa.
  7. Hirsch's grandparents were deported from Rivesaltes by Vichy French authorities during the large deportations of Jews from France to Nazi extermination camps in the summer and fall of 1942. They most likely were murdered in Auschwitz immediately upon arrival, along with some 42,500 Jews sent eastward from France in 1942—approximately one-third from the Vichy zone of France.
  8. The OSE worked assiduously to save Jewish children in France. David benefited from the efforts of this organization by first being placed in a children's refuge center near the town of Limoges in the Haute Vienne department in central France.
  9. Following the roundups (Fr. raffles) of Jews in 1942 and the occupation of all of France by the Germans in November of that year, the situation for the Jews deteriorated, and the OSE had to move David and others to safer locations. The "circuit Garel," named after its leader Georges Garel, was created to hide children such as David who were being hunted by the Nazis.
  10. The OSE could not have functioned without the help of Christian institutions and individual Christians such as the farmers in the Grenoble area of southwestern France mentioned by David.
  11. False identity papers were absolutely essential to living clandestinely. Skillfully forged papers could make the difference between life and death for those on the run from the Nazis and their Vichy French collaborators.
  12. Robert Gamzon, who became a French partisan commander, founded the Jewish scout movement (Eclaireurs Israelites de France) in France. After the French surrender, Gamzon re-established the movement's network in the cities of unoccupied France where many Jewish refugees were located. He spearheaded the establishment of children's homes, welfare centers, workshops, agricultural training farms and Jewish educational undertakings. David benefited from the efforts of this organization, which worked alongside the OSE. The scouts were especially active in the southwestern area of France where he was located.
  13. The reference is to the EIF (Eclaireurs Israélites de France), the Jewish Boy Scout organization of France, which was engaged in liberating Jewish children and adolescents from labor and concentration camps during World War II.
  14. The sentence in the letter about going to a big school in Lyon, the second largest city in the country at the time, located in southeastern France, was a code for getting prepared to be transferred across the border into Switzerland.
  15. "The Sixth" (La Sixième) was the code name for a clandestine scout rescue network formed by Robert Gamzon in the summer of 1942. It produced false identity papers, found asylum for Jewish children in non-Jewish institutions and private homes, and worked in smuggling Jews of all ages across the border into neutral Spain and Switzerland.
  16. The OSE in France was actually a part of the Union Generale des Israelites de France (UGIF), the French Jewish council established by the Germans on November 29, 1941. Its counterpart in the Vichy zone did not begin to function until May 1942. The UGIF and its components functioned legally while certain UGIF agencies, such as the OSE and the scouts, engaged in illegal work, at times with the knowledge and participation of UGIF officials. Eventually the OSE and the scouts went almost completely underground. The UGIF was eventually disbanded after the liberation of France in August 1944.
  17. The man David is referring was most probably from the OSE. He had accompanied the children from Paris to Annecy to attempt to transfer them across the Swiss border.
  18. Official Swiss policy at the time was that "refugees on racial grounds only, for example Jews" did not fall under the category of political refugees to whom Switzerland had traditionally offered refuge. These "racial refugees" were therefore refused admittance into the country. Consequently, many thousands of Jews were denied entry, and many others who had managed to slip across the border were expelled. This policy was carried out despite full knowledge on the part of the Swiss government that Jews were being murdered by Nazi Germany.
  19. It is unclear if David was actually expelled to France, or if this would have been his fate had the Swiss official, as he subsequently indicates, not relented. It seems that after the official's first refusal to admit him, David tried again while still at the refugee office and was finally admitted.
  20. The so-called OSE Union was headquartered in Geneva and cared for David in the various Swiss locations he describes, including Speicher and the the Pont de la Foret home in Geneva.
  21. David was diligently studying to make up for his lost education and to prepare for his new post-war life.
  22. As in many other instances, Boder offers his help to his interviewee.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Johannes Barthel
  • English Translation : Johannes Barthel
  • Footnotes : Elliot Lefkovitz