Holocaust survivor reunites with family that hid her in a cellar
“What can I say, Charlotte?” Alain said, as they traded kisses.
Seventy-five years ago, Charlotte was a 9-year-old Jewish girl in Paris, secretly living in the cellar of a razed home next to the home of Alain’s non-Jewish parents, who risked their lives to save hers by hiding her from Nazi German soldiers.
After all those decades of separation, they reunited last month after finding one another on Facebook. Their story was covered by ABC News.
Charlotte – who gave her testimony to USC Shoah Foundation in 1996 – spent nine formative months in the cellar, equipped with little more than a kerosene lamp and a set of sewing needles. In her solitude, she knit stockings for the French family.
Charlotte, born Charlotte Rozencwajg, lived in near-isolation over those nine months after her father dropped her off before leaving to join the resistance. The Quatrevilles agreed to help her even though they barely knew the Adelmans. They often came to her to bring her food, sit with her and update her on the course of the war, fearful of soldiers on the hunt after one near-catch.
“Just being alive and being able to stay with (the Quatrevilles) as a human being was a tremendous change for me,” Charlotte said in testimony given to USC Shoah Foundation in 1996.
Like other residences in the neighborhood, the house next to the Quatrevilles had been bombarded in the war. They could access the nextdoor basement through a passageway from their own basement. The grandmother sometimes came to keep Charlotte company. She taught the girl to knit stockings.
It was a dangerous game: The family was occasionally visited by a German soldier, who suspected they had hidden Charlotte.
The soldier once searched the house on a rare occasion in which she was inside the main house. He swept his bayoneted rifle beneath the bed where the girl was hiding, unaware that he was barely missing her, before he left. She emerged, white as a sheet, and the family gave her a shot of cognac.
In her USC Shoah Foundation testimony, Charlotte said when her father caught wind of the soldier’s determination, he emerged from hiding and killed the tall and stocky SS officer before disappearing back into the underground, where he was helping other Jews.
Meanwhile, in her solitude in the windowless cellar, Charlotte told herself stories to stay hopeful.
“I was making a story that I would get married one day, I will have two children, I will have a nice home,” she said in her testimony with USC Shoah Foundation. “And I was making a life on my own. I was making a life. I was going to do the errands, and I was getting up in the morning, and I had to do that in my mind to keep my going, because there was nothing for me to do.”
She spent six months living as a daughter of the Quatrevilles before her father resurfaced, took her home and reunited her with her brother, Max.
The Adelmans quickly lost touch with the Quatrevilles. Charlotte wound up in suburban Phoenix, not knowing what had become of the family that had so generously taken her in 70 years before.
Alain Quatreville was just a toddler when his parents first brought “Lotte” to stay with them. In 2014, he found her profile on Facebook and sent her a message.
“I called my daughter, I couldn’t believe that I saw Alain on the Facebook!” Charlotte said in a video produced by Facebook in November.
“My mother loved Charlotte,” Alain said in the video. “For my mother, after the war, she was in anguish. She did not know what had happened to Charlotte (after she left). She suffered immensely from the lack of news.”
Alain had initiated the search for Charlotte on behalf of his mother, now deceased. In November, after four years of messaging, Alain reunited with Charlotte at the Wall of Names in Paris, at the Memorial de la Shoah, where Charlotte’s mother – who was murdered at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Poland – is honored.
“This is a dream come true,” Charlotte said in the video, while embracing Alain. “This is wonderful.”
Like this article? Get our e-newsletter.
Be the first to learn about new articles and personal stories like the one you've just read.