Pierrette, Maxime, and Nadia Szonek Identified
April 26, 2012
Born in 1934, Pierrette Szonek was ten years old when this photo was taken in 1944. She had three siblings: Annette (Nénette), born in 1924; Maxime, born in 1937; and Nadia, born in 1941. All four of them survived the Holocaust.
During the war, Pierrette lived at rue des Vinaigriers near the Canal St. Martin, in the 10th arrondissement. She also lived for a time with her grandparents at rue Basfroi, in the 11th arrondissement, a street where many Jews lived. Her grandparents were deported in July 1943, a few months before she left for Normandy. Serge Klarsfeld, an expert on the fate of French Jewry during the Holocaust, found evidence that they were deported to Sobibor.
Mature for her age, Pierrette knew what was happening to Jews during the war. She overheard people talking and understood. She remembers specific times when she had to wear the Jewish star, including on one particular Sunday morning when she was wearing a red dress, and she told her mother that it looked pretty, the yellow on red. She was not allowed to go to the park during the week at school. Pierrette remembers that her principal once removed the Jewish star from her jacket so that she could go to the park with the other children.
Though Pierrette’s parents, both born in 1907, were originally from Poland, they were naturalized French citizens. They were just 37 years old when they were deported in 1943 to Auschwitz. Pierrette’s father was operated on twice in the infirmary there for a boil on his right leg. Then his name disappeared from prisoner lists. Pierrette’s mother was murdered immediately upon arrival. The Gestapo said that she was placed in a rest home.
Pierrette and her younger brother and sister were placed in a small village, Passais La Conception, in Normandy. Pierrette remembers leaving for Normandy with her brother in early 1943. They lived with the Richard family there. Of everyone in the town, only the Catholic priest and a doctor knew that Pierrette was Jewish. Madeleine Richard, the daughter of the family who saved Pierrette, has been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.
Pierrette stayed with the Richard family until the liberation of Paris in 1944. When she returned to Paris, she was declared a ward of the state. She and her siblings were orphans and placed in several Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE) homes. When they went for walks, she recognized other OSE children because all of them were given coats made of rabbit skin. She received clothes from America and had an American “godmother,” a doctor. Her big sister also bought clothes for her. OSE wanted her to be adopted, but that did not happen and she made Aliyah in 1949.
Pierrette met her husband in Israel in a camp for new immigrants. His name was Israel, and he had arrived from Morocco via Cyprus in 1947. They were married in 1950 when she was 16 years old. Israel was a teacher, and Pierrette had a varied career. They had five sons. They now have 16 grandchildren and 5 great-granddaughters. Israel died 10 years ago after 52 years of marriage.
Last year, Pierrette and her family had a reunion in France. Her grandson, Eldad Edery, has travelled to Auschwitz with a group from Israel and done research on the fate of his great-grandparents.