Celine Jelen Identified
July 20, 2011
Celine Jelen, who now goes by Zvia Nizard, heard about the Remember Me? project from her sister, Rachelle Salomon, who lives in Belgium. She was totally surprised to see her photograph on the Museum’s Web site and thinks it was taken by the Joint Distribution Committee after the war.
Celine was born in Belgium on July 7, 1939. Her parents, Mendel Jelen and Hendla Szykier, met and married in Lodz and immigrated to Belgium in the mid-1920s. Her brother, Léon, was nine years older than she. Early in the war, the family was incarcerated in Rivesaltes, where a doctor advised Celine’s mother that, if she had another child, her family would not be deported. Celine’s sister was born during the war and her mother secured a job at the Lamy family’s vineyard in the village of Boujan-sur-Libron, near Béziers. The Lamys helped Celine’s mother take care of the baby and became so attached to her that after the war they convinced Celine’s mother to leave her with them until she re-established herself with Celine and her brother, back in Belgium. It took four years for Celine’s mother to finally get her sister from them.
Celine was hidden by the Michel family in a village in southern France, and she thinks the arrangements for her hiding place were made by the Salvation Army. She spent three and a half years with them and knew all the time that she had to be very quiet. When her mother came to visit occasionally, Celine could only say “Hello Madame” to her when she met her on the street. Mrs. Michel was wonderful to Celine. She taught her Catholic prayers and took her to church on Sundays. Celine remained in touch with Mrs. Michel after the war. Mr. Michel worked in the city and was seldom at home.
Celine’s brother spent the war years hidden in a convent in southern France. After the war, her mother took her two older children back to Brussels where they had lived and owned a clothing store before the war. Celine’s mother had managed to hide suitcases full of clothing and was able to retrieve and sell some of it at markets after the war. She worked as a seamstress and received assistance from the Joint and other organizations. From survivors who came back after the war, they learned that Celine’s father was taken from Montpelier to Gurs and then to Drancy and Auschwitz, where he perished. More recent information from the International Tracing Service (ITS) indicates that he was deported to Majdanek, near Lublin, and most probably died there. Before leaving, Celine’s father managed to send some of his belongings to her mother along with a much-treasured letter in Yiddish that Celine has to this day.
Celine’s sister, Rachelle, remained in Belgium. She has two children and four grandchildren. Her late brother, Léon, who was born in 1930 and died in 1999, also remained in Brussels, where he was a designer of handbags. He is survived by a son, Mark Jelen, who lives in Miami and is married with three children.
After the war, both Celine and her sister suffered from a lung illness. Celine attended school in Brussels and participated in Noar Zioni youth movement activities. She made aliyah in 1959 because, she says, she did not want her children to ever experience antisemitism. She joined Kibbutz Hasolelim where she stayed until 1972. Since then she has lived in Bat Yam. She and her husband, Meir Nizard, have three children and five grandchildren. Her mother used to come to Israel to visit her frequently, at least every other year. In 1975, her mother finally decied to stay in Israel, and she died in 1984.
Both of Celine’s parents came from large families but very few of their relatives survived. In addition to her sister, she has two cousins in Belgium, Leon and Madeleine Polokowski. Celine’s first cousin, Yehudah (Léon) Sad lives in Israel and is also featured on the Remember Me? site. They do not meet very often but recently Celine went to visit her cousin’s family at Kibbutz Ruhama. Their mothers were sisters and Celine has some prewar family photographs of Yehudah’s family.
The Remember Me? project brought back many memories for Celine, and her children have asked her to speak more and to document both her life during the war and the fate of her family. As a result, Celine has recently given Yad Vashem an oral history about her life during and after the Holocaust.