|WWII As Seen by a Child Refugee
It is often said that war is senseless. In maiming, killing, and otherwise disrupting lives, it makes no distinction between the parties of war and the innocent who are, just as often, "collateral" victims.
Just ask Simon Jeruchim, who was a bright lad of 10 with a promising future when World War II broke out. Jeruchim, like his younger brother and older sister, had been born to Polish-Jewish immigrant parents in Paris, where they still lived, blameless and unaware of the catastrophe that was marching toward them from across the Rhine. Fortunately, their parents did know of Hitler's advance, and had heard rumors of Kristallnacht and Nazi persecution, and the young family fled with only what they could carry in their arms.
After France's defeat, when things seemed to have settled down to a grim but bearable state, the family returned to Paris. But it was not long before anti-Semitic propaganda and civil rights restrictions began to spread, and things slid from grim to threatening. Then, in the summer of 1942, Jews throughout France were rounded up and deported to concentration camps, and the Jeruchim family again fled. They managed to avoid the French police, who were assisting the Nazis in the roundup, but the parents realized it was too risky to remain together as a family.
Simon and his sister, Alice, and brother, Michel, were separated and placed in foster homes around Normandy, where they passed the war years. The parents continued their flight, which led inexorably to their arrest and deportation to Auschwitz. It would be fifty long years before the Jeruchim children learned of their parents' fate.
Young Simon Jeruchim spent the war years sheltered by gentile families in and around the village of Savigny-le-Vieux. It was harsh compared to life in Paris--there was no electricity or plumbing, and Simon was sometimes tolerated only grudgingly.
Still, he was alive and relatively safe. He pretended to be Catholic, and even went to Mass on Sundays, and did a young man's share of farm work, which he found heavy and difficult; but he did what was required without complaint or resentment. His real burden was separation from his family and the loneliness, isolation, uncertainty, and fear that hung over him constantly. He had but little news of his sister, who was living nearby, and could only wonder what had become of his brother and parents, of whom he heard nothing at all.
Finally, in 1944, France was liberated. Simon, still hiding in Normandy at the time, was at the cross-road of the Allied invasion where he witnessed that dramatic event. After the liberation, Simon and his siblings returned to Paris. But still the family was not together. An uncle placed the children in a series of Jewish children's homes, and in 1949 they were sent to begin new lives in America. It was not until many years later--in fact, during final preparation of Hidden in France--that Jeruchim finally learned the fate of his parents, which tragic tale is told in special postscript to the book.
Simon Jeruchim is a noted package designer specializing in the creation of new lines of fragrance and cosmetics. He also enjoys other artistic endeavors such as graphic design, book illustration, and painting. He lives and writes in Pomona, New York.