Miryam Natanson, my Aunt, was born in Paris, on June 21, 1929. Her first names, on the birth certificate, were "Miryam, Yudith", but, in her family, she was called Mireille, the french spelling for Miryam. Her parents are Fanny Neidmann and Aron Natanson, who came from Romania in 1923.
She lived in Paris at number 9, "rue des Feuillantines", very near her father's bookshop, 19 rue Gay-Lussac. But she was at boarding school, before WWII, after her mother's illness, return and death in Romania (1940).
Aron brought up his two children alone. He eventually gave in to the request of a Catholic Brown Owl (den mother), Jeanne E.. Miss E. kept Mireille busy during her spare time and drove her to conversion and baptism. Miryam was baptized on may 30, 1939, in local church, "Saint-Séverin". She was not ten yet.
|Miryam Natanson (Mireille), on the right, next to her cousin, Micheline Gross, within the secondary school of Brive (Southwestern France) where she was a boarder. This picture was taken during the school year 1939-1940. She was 10. She was good at school, very mature, serious.|
| On this other photo, she
can be seen in
fancy dress, in Brive. She is playing with her cousin and two children
of the Boussinesq's familiy , a maths teacher who married a Chapelle
daughter. Her mother, Madame Chapelle, was a customer of the bookshop
and a friend of Aron Natanson. She was the wife of Henri Chapelle,
"Popular Front" (Left-wing) mayor of Brive-la-Gaillarde.
Her brother, Jacques (my father), took refuge in this very town, Brive, in June 1940.
In June 1940, Aron Natanson suggested his son, Jacques (my father) leave Paris for Brive in Central France, and then Toulouse. Miryam, though she was in the South, a boarder in the secondary school of Brive, came back to Paris. She was hidden in Catholic boarding schools, during the school year.
Aron's brothers, Albert and Julien Natanson, took refuge in Grenoble, in the Italian occupation zone. Albert was always urging Aron to join him, with Mireille. Aron said he was going to leave Paris but he couldn't resolve to leave his beloved books behind.
Miryam Natanson was arrested by the Gestapo or the french police of Vichy, on September 23rd, 1942, on the same date as Romanian Jews in 1594from the Paris area. Romanian Jews had escaped the mass capture of Jews of July - 16-17th, 1942 (a tragical episode known as "rafle du Vel'd'hiv") because Romania still was a country allied to Nazi Germany. But, on September 24th, 1942, Romania declared it was uninterested in Romanian Jews and deprived them of their nationality. They became stateless and could then be deported.
It was a few days before the start of the new academic year (then, on October the 1st). Mireille was at home, while waiting for a new hideout, in a Catholic school.
The account of Jeanne E. confirms this :
|| [...] Several times,
I went to see
your grandfather [Aron] - and I asked him to put her in my care, in
these troubled times,
in order to hide her from the occupying forces.
I was supposed to come the next day and take her away, after her father's agreement - and gave her time to prepare some personal belongings - and to drive her to a Dominican nuns place, in the Paris suburbs.
But unfortunately, the Gestapo came first and snatched the dad and the little girl away.
I took steps but it was in vain. [...]
The phone call I had with this lady, in 1984, made me feel extremely ill at ease. Madame E. overemphasized the fact that Mireille was "a good little Christian". This leads me to wonder about the ambiguity of her approach. Indeed, she wanted to save a child (for which she must be thanked), but she also wanted to save a soul, because of her Catholic proselytism. Talking about another child she brought up after WWII, Jeanne E. defines her educational trilogy : « I made a good French, a good Christian, a good father out of him » ...
In his book "Don't forget baby Jesus ! Catholic Church and jewish children (1940-1945)" (Éditions Manya, 1994), Maurice Rajsfus carefully describe this mechanism. Many accounts show that Catholics often took advantage of the situation, without feeling any guilt. Some people call them "soul thieves". However, it must be noticed that thousands of children or teenagers were saved by Catholics or Protestants (in the French village named Le-Chambon-sur-Lignon, for example). My father Jacques thus found shelter in a Dominican's monastery : a monk "lent" him his identity.
Miryam was arrested by thez French Police of Vichy, as the same time as her father, Aron Natanson. They were driven to the Drancy concentration camp (near Paris) to be deported to Auschwitz in convoy n°37, September 25th, 1942.
This train was for its most part composed of Romanian Jews (779 out of 1004 deportees).
« In these goods wagons, now famous, and of which images has been shown, in these goods wagons which had been planned for fourteen horses, if I don't make a mistake, they packed sixty men, sixty persons, men, women, children, old people, sick people, babies, infants, there were infants in my wagon. They made us go up inside, the doors were hasped, the airiness was only made by little high transom windows (it was the airiness for horses, in fact). There was a bucket, a sort of empty barrel for answering the call of nature and they gave a loaf of bread to each of us, a piece of sausage and a piece of margarine. I must say the atmosphere in this wagon, since the morning of 25th ( the train left the station of "Le Bourget-Drancy" at five to nine a.m., I still remember the hour), the atmosphere which reigned untill the 28th, midday, is something very difficult to describe : screams, women screams, sick persons screams and infants screams, the thirst (in the end of september, it was relatively hot), the thirst, the ignorance, the anxiety... Of course, nobody imagined where we were going, nor anybody imagined what we were going to do, nor anybody imagine what they were going to do with us... »Herman Idelovici, survivor, integral script of his account, Automne 42, CRDP de Nice
Two days later, the train reached the station at Auschwitz.
On September 27th, 1942, 91 women and 215 men were selected and women were given numbers (20913 to 21003). Because of her age (she was 13), it is more than probable that she wasn't selected for work and was one of the 873 persons driven to the gas chamber as soon as they arrived, with her father Aron. None of the women were among the survivors when Auschwitz was liberated.
Miryam Natanson was murdered in Auschwitz, on September 27th, 1942, in a gas chamber.
Translation by Dominique Natanson with a great help from Déborah
Text revised by Stan Rosenthal (Australia) Thanks