Bernard Rotmil Identified
October 25, 2011
Charles Rotmil identified the child in this photograph as his older brother, Bernard, who passed away at the age of 84 on June 19, 2010. Bernard and Charles were hidden during the war by the now-famous Father Bruno Reynders, who hid nearly 400 children. Charles was struck by the anonymity of the nameless photograph and the loss of memory. He remarked that time is running out to tell these stories. Charles recently shared details about the brothers’ intertwined wartime stories.
Bernard and Charles were born to Adolphe and Dora (née Gottlieb) Rotmil. Adolphe was an art broker born in Warsaw, Poland. Dora was a homemaker who was born in Hanover, Germany. They raised their three children—Henrietta, born in 1922, Bernard, born in 1926, and Charles, born in 1932—in Strasbourg, Metz, and Paris, France. In 1938 they moved to Vienna, Austria, where they got caught up in the violent pogrom now known as Kristallnacht. Bernard and Charles watched as several Nazi troopers beat and arrested their father. Adolphe was released a month later and the family was able to secure exit visas. They made their way to the refugee center in Marneffe, Belgium, where they stayed until the Germans invaded in May 1940. The Rotmils fled on foot with the other refugees. In the chaos of the bombings and procession of refugees, Adolphe got separated from the rest of the family.
Dora and the three children continued on and boarded a train in Arras, France, which crashed tragically near Rouen. Henrietta died at the scene. Bernard dislocated his hip, and Charles sustained internal injuries resulting in a curvature of the spine that he suffers from to this day. He was not treated at the time, though, because he could walk. The brothers were separated from their mother and taken to the hospital in Rouen; from there they were assumed to be orphans. The hospital staff later evacuated the children to Brittany, where they stayed in a large estate on the island of Berder, then run by nuns.
Charles recounted that after France fell, a Red Cross volunteer, Madame Gutt, the wife of the finance minister of Belgium, escorted the boys back to Belgium. On their way they stopped in Rouen and were informed that their mother had died of her wounds from the train crash. Bernard and Charles were reunited with their father in Brussels. They were able to return to school for a time, but after May 1942 they were forced to move constantly to evade the Gestapo. Charles remembers his father bringing the Jewish stars home and promptly burning them in an ashtray. In 1943 Adolphe was arrested on the street and taken to Malines. Bernard and Charles would later find out he was deported from Malines to Auschwitz on July 31, 1943, aboard Convoy 21.
Once the boys were alone, Bernard sought help at a local church. The priest directed him to a Catholic monastery in Louvain known as the Abbé Mont César. Bernard traveled there alone to meet a Benedictine monk, Father Dom Bruno Reynders, who agreed to shelter the brothers in hiding. Father Bruno has since been honored by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations. He gave the brothers the false surname Roumieux but decided that it would be best to hide them separately. Bernard was placed in a camp for young boys. Father Bruno eventually found him work on farms, where he was able to hide for the remainder of the war. Charles was placed in hiding with several families and moved three different times. He was finally sheltered with the Luyckx family, who has also been honored by Yad Vashem. Charles’ nom de guerre was changed to Von Romsdonck after moving in with the Luyckx family.
Bernard and Charles were reunited after the war and lived with other Jewish child survivors in a group home funded by the United Jewish Appeal. In a copy of the German language newspaper Aufbau, they found an ad placed by their mother’s sister, Regina Gottlieb Vever; she was looking for surviving Rotmils and arranged for the brothers to come to Peekskill, New York. Bernard went first in 1946 and Charles followed later that year.
Bernard continued his studies in New York. He attended high school in Peekskill and received a B.S. degree in corporate finance from New York University in 1952. He was drafted during the Korean War and served in the US Army Corps of Engineers in Intelligence near Heidelberg, Germany. He was honorably discharged in 1954. He joined IBM in 1957 and became a witness to the computer and communications revolution. Bernard married his wife, Ana, in 1964 and they had a daughter, Debbi. Bernard retired in 1987 and spent his free time pursuing his passion for the arts. Charles went to Temple University and then Goddard much later. He became a teacher and a professional photographer. He now lives in Portland, Maine.
Charles explained that his brother was at first very reluctant to talk about the war. He opened up after attending conferences for hidden children and recorded his story for future generations. Charles conveyed that Bernard would have thought the Remember Me? project was great and important work.