Jacques Braitberg

Jacques Braitberg
Nationality: Polish
Location: France • Paris
Experience During Holocaust: Family Died During the Holocaust • Family Died in Concentration Camp • Family or Person in Hiding • Family Survived • Helped by the Red Cross • Joined the French Foreign Legion • Resisted the Nazi Party • Was a Soldier

Mapping Jacques' Life

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“They killed kids, they killed whole families, especially in the farms. They went to the farms and killed everybody because they are worried that they are resistance in Poland. It was terrible. They burned them alive.” - Jacques Braitberg

Read Jacques' Oral History Transcripts

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Tape 1 - Side 1

BERNSTEIN: This is Richard Bernstein interviewing Jacques Braitberg at his home.
BRAITBERG: I was born in Poland in 1916 into a Jewish family.
BERNSTEIN: What was the name of the city where you were born?
BRAITBERG: The city was Piotrkow. There were two cities with similar sounding names. I used to live in Piotrkow-Trybunalski. It is south of the big city named Lodz.
BERNSTEIN: Were both of your parents Jewish?
BRAITBERG: Yes, my father and my mother, they were Jewish. They came from farmers. My grandparents on my mother’s side were farmers, and my grandparents on my father’s side were also farmers. But it was very unusual in a Jewish family in Poland. Most of the Jewish people in Poland were living in the half of the city which a long time ago they called “ghetto.” But this was a voluntary ghetto where they were not obliged to live, but the Jewish people liked to live together for religious needs, for commercial needs, but they were not obliged to live there. I didn’t live in this ghetto. I used to live because my parents, it was the first time they came to the city because they spent all their life in the country, on the farm. We had an apartment, almost out of the city, very close to the meadows, to the farmers, to the woods. We were not living in the city where most of the Jewish people lived. Most of the people where we lived were non-Jewish. My father was a tailor. My mother didn’t have any special qualifications. She was raised on the farm. She knew how to raise chickens and ducks (LAUGHTER) and plant potatoes – this kind of work. She looked not very much like Jewish, but nevertheless, she had very dark hair and blue eyes. And my father was more blond. My father looked more like a Jew, especially in Poland. They recognized the Jew when he had a nose –
BERNSTEIN: A broken nose?
BRAITBERG: Yes, a broken nose. When I was younger, I thought that those signs were characteristic of Jewish people, but I found out later, when I traveled all over the world, that this was a characteristic only for Jewish people in Poland. All the Jewish people I saw in Israel, they didn’t look at all like – when I was young, I was thinking this was characteristic of the Jewish race. This is an error, I think. My parents were very poor, like most of Jewish people in Poland.
First of all, when they came the first time from the farm to the city, he was a tailor, he didn’t know how to organize, and they had a lot of children – we were eight children, four brothers and four sisters.
BERNSTEIN: At what age did your father come to the city?
BRAITBERG: I don’t know exactly, but –
BERNSTEIN: Before he was married?
BRAITBERG: I am the last child. I was the youngest, so I saw my father…And also, when I was born, my father was in the war. It was in 1915 and he was taken by the Russians as a soldier because at that time, Poland was occupied by Russia. So then the World War I started, he was young, and they took him immediately to the Russian army. I was born and my father came back four or five years after – I was already five years when I saw my father for the first time. I was a big boy, and we were twins.
BERNSTEIN: You are a twin?
BRAITBERG: I am a twin, yes. And the life was very difficult because my mother had eight children and no help. It was not like farms in America where, when the father was a soldier, the government paid something to the family. They didn’t pay nothing! They took the father, and the family had no help. My mother had to find a job. I think she was selling fruits, things like this, in the market and nourished eight kids. But, I was the youngest, so my older sisters and brothers, I think, they get some help from the Jewish community. They gave them food. I think it came from the United States at that time, and this was our help to allow us to survive that period.
BERNSTEIN: When your father came back after the war –
BRAITBERG: When my father came back after the war, he was very sick. He was – he had all the time to do this – I don’t know – not lungs, he was coughing very much. He had asthma, and he was not very strong, he never could start a normal life. He was always handicapped. He worked a little, from time to time he had a little job, but he never had a steady job, and if we survived, it was because of my oldest brother. He was 18 years old and he got a job in a big factory. He was a kind of accounting.
BERNSTEIN: An accountant?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. He was in school; he was very well doing, and he learned very quick in the school. This was my oldest brother and at 18 years he got a job and the money what he get from this accounting job went to the whole family to make us survive.
BERNSTEIN: Now, how old were you when you first went to school?
BRAITBERG: I was five years. At five years, I started to go in a Jewish school.
BERNSTEIN: It was a Jewish school?
BRAITBERG: Yes, a Jewish school, and we spoke Yiddish. It was a Jewish kindergarten where we – it was a private school. It was financed by a Socialist Jewish organization, Bund. The name was Bund. And we spoke Yiddish. I learned how to calculate, how to sing, how to write and read in history – Polish history. Everything in Yiddish.
BERNSTEIN: How many children were in your school?
BRAITBERG: Oh, I guess it was maybe about 100 children.
BERNSTEIN: And how many Jewish people were there?
BRAITBERG: All Jewish, all Jewish.
BERNSTEIN: How many Jewish people lived in the city?
BRAITBERG: Oh, in the city? We had 15,000 Jewish people.
BERNSTEIN: Out of how many?
BRAITBERG: Out of 75,000. So we had 15,000. The high percentage of Jewish people lived in the city. In the city, we had a high activity of Jewish life. We had two schools, public schools – only for girls. For boys we didn’t have a school. When I became (INAUDIBLE) – so I have to go back. So, I was in this school about four or five years, this Jewish school. And I spoke only – I knew everything in Yiddish. But, Polish I knew because of my friends – my neighborhood, the city – so I could speak very well Polish too. But, concerning the studies, I only knew it in Yiddish. And until today, this was my first language I speak still and write and read, very well Yiddish – I know Yiddish literature and everything because this was the beginning of my life – it was in Yiddish. Then, when I got older – I was about eight years, I had to go – maybe earlier – maybe seven years, I had to go normally – the requirement was you had to go to the public school. The public school – there was not Jewish – there was a Jewish public school but it was not for boys, so I had to go in a Catholic – not in a Catholic, but in a Polish public school.
BERNSTEIN: When you became eight years old, all boys had to go in the public schools –
BRAITBERG: – In the public school system.
BERNSTEIN: And Jewish girls had private schools that they could –
BRAITBERG: No, it’s also public schools from the government, but it was much more Jewish girls than boys, and the government has to build special two schools to receive all these Jewish girls. But we had two public schools, but only for Jewish. I don’t know how to explain it. They didn’t mix the – the Jewish community lived separated from the non-Jewish community. So, the Jewish community was an auto-governing community. It means that we had a president, a Jewish president in the city, we had everything – a Jewish hospital, everything in this community was handling with official Polish authorities. But, Jewish people paid the taxes to this Jewish community. They handled all the problems, like synagogues and cemetery and schools and everything, like one country in another country. So, we paid taxes to this Jewish community. They handled the schools, and we had two schools for girls, but this was in Polish. And at that time, it was almost no Jewish in Poland – they didn’t allow Jewish teachers. There was no – because in the city, I remember, I think there was one Jewish teacher for all the 15,000 Jewish people – they allowed only one Jewish teacher.
BERNSTEIN: So, in the schools for Jewish children, there were non-Jewish teachers?
BRAITBERG: Yes, non-Jewish teachers. At that time, it was very difficult in Poland to – for a Jewish citizen, or a Jewish man to get an official job. No, the army, not the police, nothing but this government, and the Jewish people couldn’t get it. Jewish people could only get a job – be a grocery, be a tailor, be a shoemaker, be a barber – nothing official, not in the administration – it was not in the constitution. They didn’t say it – we were citizens, like everybody, but in everyday life, we were second citizens. For example, we went to the army. In the army, a Jewish man could become only a corporal, maxim. He couldn’t – and they never had in the police a Jewish man – they didn’t take. Nothing, everything was closed for Jewish people. The life was very difficult, impossible! Because of discrimination – not in the constitution, not officially – but in practice, in everyday life, Jewish people were very much discriminated.
BERNSTEIN: Okay. So, what school did you go to when you were eight years old?
BRAITBERG: Okay. I went to a school, it was a – a school – first of all, in a Jewish school, but from the government, meaning Polish teachers, no Jewish teachers. Everything – in this school didn’t have all the classes. Let’s say, we had to go seven years in this school in order to go to the college. So, they had only for four years. For the girls, they had seven years, because I don’t know why – two schools for girls, but for boys, we could go only four years – it was only Jewish kids with non-Jewish teachers.
BERNSTEIN: Now, when you were…you had Jewish friends as well as non-Jewish friends?
BRAITBERG: Yes.
BERNSTEIN: When you left school and you went home, did you socialize with your Jewish friends?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, when I came home, I lived in a house – there was maybe 15 tenants. Of the 15 tenants, was four Jewish and 10 non-Jewish families. So I had Jewish – but the neighborhood, my house was the last house in the city where Jewish people lived in this (part of the) city. After this house, no Jews anymore.
BERNSTEIN: So you were on the fringe of the Jewish community?
BRAITBERG: Yes, on the –
BERNSTEIN: On the outskirts of where the Jews lived.
BRAITBERG: I had mostly of my friends when I was younger, not Jewish. They were non-Jewish people, and I get along with them very well, I don’t know – because they didn’t like Jewish people but, I don’t know, because I didn’t look like a Jew, my brother either – also, it’s better way to explain it is that times they were discriminating and even the kids, they were beaten by the non-Jews. The non-Jewish people, they didn’t like the Jews. Their kids, they couldn’t go very far out of the ghetto because they throw them stones, they treat them like animals, and they couldn’t go very far. Sometimes they killed them and they got killed, and it was very dangerous. But, because I was a twin with my brother, we were very, very strong and very young, so they had to do this too, and we were, maybe, more fortunate than others because we could fight, both of us. So we defended ourselves, (LAUGHTER) we used to, and very often we had to fight.
BERNSTEIN: So there were occasions where you had to fight non-Jews?
BRAITBERG: Very often. Very often I fight because, I don’t know, I had a temperment and I couldn’t admit, I couldn’t accept that they would discriminate and they insulted me or they wanted to beat me. I give them back twice that I received, and I had my brother. We were two. So very often, we fight and we were very strong, and we could support it. And also, later, we had a lot of friends, non-Jewish, and they were good friends and they protected us. They were very good friends.
BERNSTEIN: So there were some Polish friends?
BRAITBERG: Yes, some Polish friends and they were good friends. And I’ll tell you a joke because in Poland at that time was about 32 million people, in the whole Poland. And there was more than three million Jewish people. It represent a small percentage. And mostly, almost 99% of the Pollacks, Polish people, didn’t like Jews. The talk implied it. This Pollack, he always said, “I have a friend, the best friend mine is a Jew, and if all the Jews, they would be like him, it would be perfect, we wouldn’t have anti-Semitism.” And he said, “I can go anytime to my friend Jew and I will help him always. He is the best friend.” And it was 32 millions like this. You could interview any of them, and they would say they have a good – their best friend is a Jew. Means they should have 30 million good Jews. But, in general, all the Jews, they weren’t worth nothing. So, this was when I was young, I couldn’t understand, because very often the problem of anti-Semitism was to me a big problem because I was always thinking, “Why they hate us so much?” I have to find out. Maybe we are – maybe we did something. Maybe we are not like other people. I cannot understand them. I play like I understand, I don’t have problems. I look like they look. We eat the same thing. We go to the school. And suddenly then the holidays – Catholic holidays come and they hate me. They’re telling me that I am a mean Jew and they’re beating me. So, I said, “Why?” I wanted to know what is the cause? And I started to study and I started to look. “Maybe we are not like other people, maybe we merit it.” And I find out it was not true because I say this story because every Pollack had a Jew that he liked him very much and they say that this is the best man that he knows. All anti-Semitism was not justified, didn’t have basis. It was only a kind of religious hate and this is it. There is no other reasons why anti-Semitism was so much developed in Poland. Only the religion developed the anti-Semitism.
Okay, let’s go back to the school. When I was about four years, I was in this school. It was a very poor school in a private house in the city I had to go. And we were sitting 60, 80 kids in one class, in a small class. And sometimes you didn’t even hear the professor what he was talking because it was so far, if you were not in the class – um, um –
BERNSTEIN: Room.
BRAITBERG: Yeah. So, after I had four years, there was not anymore a Jewish school. I had to go in a Polish school.
BERNSTEIN: And how old were you at that time?
BRAITBERG: I was maybe nine years old – eight, nine years, yeah. So I went to where there were no Jewish people. I had to go in a school to continue my studies where I had only non-Jewish kids. Let’s say we had in a class of 60 students. So, we were about eight Jewish boys.
BERNSTEIN: Excuse me, did most of the Jewish boys at age nine stop going to school? What did most of the Jewish boys do?
BRAITBERG: They stopped going to school. They didn’t go to school.
BERNSTEIN: Did they continue a religious education?
BRAITBERG: At the same time there was a cheder. I don’t know if you know what’s a cheder.
BERNSTEIN: A cheder.
BRAITBERG: In the same time, you had to go to the cheder. In the “Yiddin,” when you came back from the school – and some Jewish kids, they didn’t go at all to school. They went only to cheder. In the cheder, they learned only Jewish –
BERNSTEIN: The Talmud.
BRAITBERG: The Talmud and Torah and only religious things, but they were not educated. They didn’t learn how to write and read in history and mathematics, no. So, a lot of the Jewish kids, they were in the cheder, were not educated. They studied a lot. I don’t know – they were educated in one direction – in religion, but not basic education, not basic mathematics or chemistry or history – they didn’t know at all.
BERNSTEIN: Did you go to cheder?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, I went to cheder also – not very long. But, I went to cheder after the school. I had to find several hours, and I went to cheder also. So, when I was in the school where there was no Jewish people, so we were about 60 boys non-Jewish and about eight Jewish boys. So we were treated very badly because they felt not strong enough to fight back. But I could never accept. I always fight back. So, very often, not only I had to fight for myself, I had to protect the others. Because if they attacked a Jewish boy, I came immediately, and I don’t often fight. I was strong. I’d fight with five, six, I fight in the class. It was a terrible war.
BERNSTEIN: Was your brother with you all along?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, oh yeah. All the time we were together. I was strong, and he was strong also. So, every morning we were in this class and in Poland was dominant religion was Catholic. In the school, we had to practice the Catholic religion. And it was very difficult for us. Every morning, before we start to discuss, there was a Catholic prayer. Even if I die, I will be dead, you will come in my tomb, I will be able to tell you the prayer what we said everyday. I didn’t say it, they said it.
BERNSTEIN: What did they say?
BRAITBERG: (BEGINS TO RECITE IN POLISH) Wimie ojca I Syna ducha s’wietego Amen. Ducha s’wiety Ktory oswieca serca I wruysly doday nam ochoty aby ta navka ayla dea nas pozytkam, etc. etc.
BERNSTEIN: What does it mean?
BRAITBERG: Every morning. It means, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit that enlightens our heart and spirit. Give us the courage that this education becomes useful for us.” – like they do in church. And we didn’t like this, but we had to stay and listen every morning during four years. Every morning I had it – and when they looked at us, we didn’t say nothing because we were Jewish, and they hated us, the whole class. They started to beat us up when there was recreation. “You are a mean Jew. You don’t, you are not…” And they find out, we are not the same because we didn’t practice this religion.
BERNSTEIN: Was there any other religious education in the school?
BRAITBERG: No, only one – just the prayer, and only Catholic. So we were discriminated, we were discriminated all the time. Wherever we went, we were discriminated against. It was a miserable life.
BERNSTEIN: Did the teachers treat the Jewish children as well as the Catholic children? Did they spend as much time with the Jewish children?
BRAITBERG: Well, it’s difficult. They were anti-Semites also, and they always were telling jokes about Jews.
BERNSTEIN: In front of you?
BRAITBERG: In front of us. And they were always making jokes and making fun, making fun of the Jewish kids – everywhere. But they didn’t give special time for Jewish kids. They learned in general, I think for everybody it was difficult even though they weren’t Jewish – 60 kids in a class was not very easy. They get to school, they get the course, and that was it. Who could take something out? Who was able to learn something, learned, and who was not able, didn’t learn. You know, we went to school for half a day only – from eight o’clock to noon or to one o’clock and that’s it.
BERNSTEIN: And what subjects were you taught in school?
BRAITBERG: In the school we learned mathematics, chemistry, writing and reading – and everything in Polish – Polish history – only Polish.
BERNSTEIN: Did you have an idea at this time what you wanted to do as a profession?
BRAITBERG: No, I did not know. I was young and everything was so difficult. My family was very poor and so I did not know what I’m going to do. But, finally, my brother find out that we are very well doing. I was the youngest – he was my twin brother – that there was a Jewish gymnasium, a Jewish school, a higher school – college in the city. So, all the four years, to go to the bac – to make a bachelor, to become bachelor, was a private school my brother paid for us, and we went to the Jewish school.
BERNSTEIN: And how old were you when you began the gymnasium?
BRAITBERG: I was about – I must have been 12 years old.
BERNSTEIN: 12?
BRAITBERG: Yes, about 12 years old. So, we went to the gymnasium and then we start to learn. Also, everything was in Polish, but plus Polish, we had everyday two hours of learning religion and one hour of Hebrew. So I speak and read and write Hebrew too, and I know the bible like – (LAUGHTER)
BERNSTEIN: Are you talking about the gymnasium?
BRAITBERG: Yes, the Jewish gymnasium.
BERNSTEIN: And this was strictly a Jewish school?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. There was about 100 kids, was mixed – girls and boys. And this was for us very good because we were in a Jewish environment and we learned Hebrew, we learned religion and we learned, and this school – we learned, we had Polish. Polish was the main language, the official language. Then I learned German, I learned Latin, I learned Hebrew – in Polish. We didn’t speak Yiddish which I knew well enough because I learned when I was very young. But in this school, so this gave me a good opportunity to learn languages. Because I knew already Yiddish very well. I knew Polish very well and I knew already Hebrew and German. German I learned for four years. We spoke German like Germans. For four years we had in the classroom the lesson and we spoke only German.
BERNSTEIN: Did you learn French?
BRAITBERG: No, French later when I come to France. Okay, so –
BERNSTEIN: You said it cost money to go to the gymnasium. Was it a lot of money?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, it was a lot of money.
BERNSTEIN: How did you –
BRAITBERG: It was very difficult. Sometimes the director sent us home because we couldn’t pay.
BERNSTEIN: Did you belong to any organizations?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. I belong very often – I became a Zionist. But, I was maybe 12 years old. I belonged to a Hashomer Hatzair, a youth organization that – a Jewish organization that we find out that we have to go out from the ghetto to go in the camp to prepare us for a day when we go to Israel and live – be like any nation in the world and be independent because we felt very much the oppression, the discrimination and everything that was unsupportable in Poland and that’s why very young, we start to think about to go and live in our own country.
BERNSTEIN: It was a Zionist organization.
BRAITBERG: It was a Zionist organization, the name was Hashomer Hatzair. And I was in this organization until about 19 years, from 19 to 20 years. So every year, we went that often, and we learned Jewish song, Hebrew song, Jewish history, and we went out in the woods. We were camping. It was very, very, very interesting for me to find this Jewish environment and to live a little of Jewish life.
BERNSTEIN: At home did you practice any Jewish – ?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. We practice. Mostly we spoke Yiddish. My father went to the synagogue very often, at least once a week, on Friday. On the High Holidays, we went to the – but I – when I was young, I did not like very much to practice the Jewish religion. I find out it was too much, too long to the prayers. (LAUGHTER) It was too much big books, like this, and I was afraid. In the synagogue, I don’t know, I was not like the other Jewish kids because I had a different life because I was not living in this ghetto. So, I couldn’t support this. For example, when my father went to the synagogue, I run away and liked better to go to the meadow, put a fire and burn branches and like very much the nature, always. I liked to go in the woods. For example, I built myself a small boat, a kayak, to go on the river in the summertime. On vacations, sometimes I left for one month without money, was living with the farmers because I didn’t look like a Jew. With very little money I could eat and have a good life and spend it often on the farms during the vacation. Okay, there are so many things that we go –
BERNSTEIN: I know, I know. Okay, you’re in the gymnasium.
BRAITBERG: I am in the gymnasium – oh, so this was very interesting because we learned a lot of things concerning Jewish life. It was a very high level of education. All the students there were Jews. But the level of education was much higher than the non-Jewish schools because there was not a school where the kids had to learn three languages.
BERNSTEIN: Were these Jewish teachers or non-Jewish teachers?
BRAITBERG: Jewish teachers. It was a Jewish school – Jewish teachers, Jewish professors, everything Jewish. But we spoke Polish. The official language was Polish. Mostly were from rich families. I was the poorest, because, I don’t know, if my brother wouldn’t make a sacrifice, wouldn’t do this, we would have been very miserable. I wouldn’t have the education that I have. So, finally in about 18 years or 19 years, I have a bachelor’s degree and then I find out – it was already 1936 or ’37 – there was nothing to do. I couldn’t do nothing. I couldn’t find a job. I wanted to work. I was strong, young.
BERNSTEIN: There was a depression.
BRAITBERG: No, no, nothing to do, especially for Jewish people. You could become a grocer or a shoemaker and I didn’t want these jobs. But, I was educated, I had a bachelor’s degree, I could do a job in the administration, but all of the doors were locked for Jewish people. So I start to think how to go out from this country and go to France and study. I wanted to study (to be an) engineer. So, it was very difficult and with my brother we started to make all sorts of combinations so we don’t separate, to go to France. To obtain a visa you have to show that you have enough, make enough money to support me – to support the students to go. And we didn’t have enough money. So, my brother – I don’t know, it was so complicated – he finds some Jewish friends and they hired my father. He gets a very high salary. We paid the percentage only for a short time in order to get the visa. You see, it was very complicated. They didn’t give him really the job, only work to obtain the visa, to show that he has income, enough income that I can go to France. We finally obtained the visa and I left for France in 1939.
BERNSTEIN: So you went to France in 1939?
BRAITBERG: Yes. As a student.
BERNSTEIN: Okay. Now, all during this time, from 1933 to 1939, Hitler was in Germany and –
BRAITBERG: You’re talking which period?
BERNSTEIN: Well, Hitler came to power in 1933.
BRAITBERG: In 1933, yes, and the situation for Jews in Poland became worse and worse because Poland – it’s very difficult to understand for generations today, but at that time Poland was very happy that Hitler came to the power. The government was flirting with Germany, because they wanted to get rid of the Jewish people. And they find that Germany was going to help Poland how to get rid of these Jewish people, immigrant people. They didn’t want us.
BERNSTEIN: Did most of the people in Poland seem to be happy that Hitler came to power?
BRAITBERG: Very happy, very happy. Mostly I remember, when Hitler made the speeches and not every Pollack had a radio. And they put it, their radios, outside. When Hitler makes the speeches, they were so happy and everybody can hear that the end of the Jews is close, because there is a man that is going to get rid of them in the whole world. They were very anti-Semitic – religious anti-Semitic. The government in Poland was very Catholic. The Catholic religion was the dominant religion. They governed the country.
BERNSTEIN: Did this also have something to do with your decision to go to Paris?
BRAITBERG: Sure! Because I didn’t see a future for me and for the Jewish people, and I wanted to go out of this country even if I couldn’t study in France. I wanted to go out from this country because I felt the danger coming. So, I succeeded and I said, “Maybe I’ll be able to take out my parents.” But when I went to France, I was poor. I couldn’t speak French. I did learn, just myself a little bit before I left.
BERNSTEIN: Did you go to Paris by yourself?
BRAITBERG: Yes.
BERNSTEIN: Your brother wasn’t with you? Your twin brother?
BRAITBERG: No, no. My brother was in Poland.
BERNSTEIN: Your entire family was –
BRAITBERG: I left the whole family was in Poland. I left myself in the end of 1938. I was in France in 1939. I went to the Sorbonne University. I just registered, but I couldn’t pay. I didn’t have money. I looked for a job. (LAUGHTER) I had to work and I went a little to the university. But most of the time, I had to work to find a way to survive because I had no money. Nobody gave me money. I had to start to work, to start to eat, to start to find a hotel where to live. I had a very difficult life. Nobody helped me. So, despite this, I studied a little. Also, I forget to tell you that we very young – me and my twin brother, we played violin. We learned music. And this helped us a lot because we were very, very good in the music, violin. Very often we give lessons. Very young, we started to give music lessons in order to make money. So, when I came to France, I went to a school of music also, École Normale de Musique, one of the highest music schools, because I couldn’t understand at the university. My French was just the beginning, but in music I could better understand. I pushed more the music than the university. But I went to the university also and slowly I learned my French.
BERNSTEIN: Could you just go over – the visa that you obtained to go to France. It was very difficult to get it to go to France. You had to prove that –
BRAITBERG: I had to prove that I am able to support myself.
BERNSTEIN: And somehow your father had a way of showing that he had enough income so that –
BRAITBERG: So we find a Jewish company, that they hired him, but fictitious, and he had a pension and we paid all the expenses that the company had to – because there was social security they have to pay. Let’s say he had a pension of $300.00, he paid maybe $10.00 to social security every month. This we had to pay. And, once I was in France, two or three months after, he was fired, but he never had really a job. It was only for courts to be able to go to France. Also, in France, I had difficulties because I had to prove that I get money. So my brother had to send me some money and I send it back. (LAUGHTER) Otherwise, they would send me back to Poland if I couldn’t prove. I didn’t have the right to work in France. I was a student. I had the right to study and at that time a lot of people from Poland came to France because everybody looked like me – to run away. There were so many illegals. Like now, they come from Mexico – here in the United States – the same thing we had in Poland, as I understand the situation here with the Mexicans. Because many, many in France start to organize the police and they were very rough to these people and most of them, before the war, they would start to send them back to Poland, and they all perished in the camps. I, I was lucky.
BERNSTEIN: How did you – a lot of Jews in Poland tried illegally to get out of Poland.
BRAITBERG: Yeah, illegally.
BERNSTEIN: This was before the war?
BRAITBERG: Before – in 1938, ’37, ’39. And when I came over there to Paris, I had almost half of my friends from my city was in Paris. They were tailors, they were shoemakers – they did illegal. Only I was legal because I paid some money. And they were hiding, and life for them was impossible. And finally, before the war started, they put them in concentration camps and most of them, they send them back to Poland and Hitler killed them, or they got killed in the concentration camps the day they came back.
BERNSTEIN: Okay. When you first came to Paris, where did you live?
BRAITBERG: I have addresses. I went to some friends from my city. They were already there, so I went to live with them and we were looking – will you excuse me one second? (ANSWERS PHONE) It was very hard for me because I did so many jobs at that time. Do you want me to enumerate all the jobs that I did?
BERNSTEIN: What kinds of things did you do to make money in Paris?
BRAITBERG: First of all, I find some lessons – violin – for Jewish kids in Paris. I give lessons for violin. I work – I find a German Jewish family. They produced pencils. He had a small factory, and he gave me a job, illegal job. I had to take home the pencils and assemble them. He gave me, I remember, something like a penny for each pencil – one penny. So, I had to go so fast, and I had to do this in my hotel. And, in my hotel, if they find me, they would send me immediately back to Poland.
BERNSTEIN: Why?
BRAITBERG: Because I didn’t have the right to work.
BERNSTEIN: You only had the right to study, you did not have the right to work?
BRAITBERG: To study, yes. And they call the police. Very often they come in my hotel and look and check. If they find the pencils, they would send me home, to Poland where there was nothing to do about that. They came – I don’t know – I was lucky and I was playing violin and they asked me what I do. They asked me what’s the name of my professor, and I told them, and it worked out fine. I don’t know. I was lucky.

Tape 1 - Side 2

BERNSTEIN: Were you going to school part time?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. I went to the Sorbonne a certain time. It didn’t cost so much money because in France fees are not very expensive because universities are supported by the government. But I had to pay the minimum enscription and all kinds of courses, for books, you know. There is always some expenses for a student even when the education is free. But, I had to work in order to be able to eat everyday. Once, I don’t know, I had so many jobs. I can mention some of them. Once I told you already, that I find a German Jewish family and they produced pencils and they wanted me to assemble the pencils. Small pieces – there were maybe five or six pieces and I had to assemble them. So, for each pencil, they gave me a penny. But I find this job very interesting because I get experience and I make them so fast that it was a very interesting the amount of money that I could make with this. But I had to be very careful on the way to go to my hotel with this box of the pencils and working them in my hotel and bring them back to them when they were finished. If somebody would catch me with this, I would be finished and they would send me back to Poland.
BERNSTEIN: Did you receive any money at all from home?
BRAITBERG: No, no. No money. My parents – nobody could send me money. They were poor, very poor. I would like to send them money, but –
BERNSTEIN: So, you were able to make enough money to –
BRAITBERG: Oh, I make enough money. I had music lessons. I work from time to time. Once I worked with old metal. They gave me a hammer, about 12 pounds, and I have to cut cables. But I liked it because I was very strong, so it was not a big deal for me to cut those cables and I did it. All kinds of jobs and all kinds of work. Another time I worked in a restaurant. I was washing dishes and they gave me just food to eat for this. And all kind of jobs, I can’t remember all the jobs that I did in France. But, the life was very difficult, but I was young. I was about – at that time, I don’t know – about 20, uh – I was young, so I could support it and was enthusiastic. I was always thinking that this is only a way. I would find probably much better once I would know the language and I would study. So, I had a lot of hope and this hope make me very enthusiastic. So, I didn’t suffer very much. First of all, I was very happy that I was in France despite all my difficulties, because I discovered a different world that I couldn’t even imagine that out of Poland, there is different people, thinking differently, more human. And this was to me a discovery.
BERNSTEIN: You found the French to be more tolerant of Jews?
BRAITBERG: I find the French people more educated, more human and more – smarter. I find such a difference, I said, Poland was maybe 2,000 years behind French people. I start to look that Poland was so much country comparatively with what I saw in France. Once I was looking at a man, a worker, not educated, a French worker. He was reading a paper. I never saw a man work in Poland and read a paper. And when I talked together with him about the articles in the paper, and I find that this man was not educated. He didn’t go to school, but he was smarter than a Polish professor of education. It’s a kind of quality of humanity – quality of human beings. The human beings in Poland, even educated, were very far from even the not educated French. There was such a big difference. So, I was very happy to be in France that I would prefer to get killed if I would have to go back to Poland. Nobody wants to go – everybody in the life wants to go ahead, to improve, but nobody wants to go back to a worse situation.
BERNSTEIN: Now, were you writing back and forth to your family in Poland?
BRAITBERG: No, I never went back.
BERNSTEIN: No, were you writing?
BRAITBERG: Oh, yeah, we write letters. In my family they understood that my economic situation was very difficult and they asked me to come back, and I didn’t want to tell them, but in my mind I said that I would prefer to die in France from hunger than to go back to Poland because, knowing the situation, the discrimination, this handling and this terrible life in Poland – terrible for Jewish people.
BERNSTEIN: Being Polish and being Jewish, did you feel Polish or did you feel Jewish? Did you feel any loyalty at all?
BRAITBERG: No, once I left Poland, I was Poland’s enemy. I would go and fight Poland because of the suffering, of the discrimination, of the handling. I hate Poland! I hate it! Now, I don’t hate Poland – I change, I don’t know why. Because, at that time, I hated. Okay. So let’s go farther. Finally, in 1939, on the end, the war start. Poland was invaded.
BERNSTEIN: In 1939.
BRAITBERG: In ’39. And all the Polish citizens in France, they had to go to the police to register because was a Polish government had a representative in France and they wanted to organize the Polish army all over the world, to have Pollacks to be able to go fight with the Germans. So, I was also obliged to register as a Pollack. And I went over there and I said, “I can do whatever you want. Put me in the French army. I like to fight for France. I will give my life, but I will not fight for Poland.”
BERNSTEIN: Did you have to register as a Jew also?
BRAITBERG: No.
BERNSTEIN: Just as being Polish?
BRAITBERG: As Polish, yes. In France we didn’t talk about. In Poland, you had to register as a Jew, but in France was the question of religion was not existing at all. Nobody officially asked, “Are you a Jew or not a Jew?” Nationality was all.
BERNSTEIN: So what did they do with the Polish people that registered?
BRAITBERG: So what did they do? A lot of them, they organized, they trained them. They organized an army, and they were with the French army because France was in the war with Germany also. There were units, special Pollack units in the French army.
BERNSTEIN: Were you a member of one of those?
BRAITBERG: No, I did not want, because I said I don’t want to have nothing to do – if you find an army that’s going to fight Poland, I will go, but to go and to defend Poland, I’m not. Because, I came just from this country and I was so discriminated and I hate Poland and you can put me in prison if you want, but I do not want to be a soldier in the Polish army. I was not alone because a lot of my friends, Jews, they say the same thing. So, the French people did not understand what’s going on. But, after they saw so many thousands of us from Poland, from Rumania, from Austria, Europe, they say the same thing, “Put us in the French army. We’ll go with the French, we will defend France, but don’t talk to us about Poland.” And finally they understood and they didn’t push us to do this. But, the first time they put us in prison as deserters. I was two days in a prison in Paris. I said, “I am young. I know that France is in war. I am so glad to live in France and I’m ready to defend France. But, don’t tell me to go to defend Poland.”
BERNSTEIN: And they put you in prison?
BRAITBERG: They put me in prison.
BERNSTEIN: For how long?
BRAITBERG: Two days, two days, and I like it very much because I was never in a prison. (LAUGHTER) I wanted to experience how looks a prison. So, I liked it very much because two days we were prowling from one police to the other in special police cars. (LAUGHTER) And for me, it was, the whole thing, romantic. (LAUGHTER) I didn’t take it very serious because I was thinking, “I didn’t kill, I didn’t steal, what can they do, what can they do? I’m not a deserter either. I want to help France to fight, but I don’t want to go – it’s my opinion that I don’t want to fight for Poland. I am a Polish citizen, but I will never return to Poland.”
BERNSTEIN: So what happened after they let you out of prison?
BRAITBERG: So, when they let us out from prison, I said, “I’m going to in order that I am not going to camp,” I engaged, I signed – how do you say it? – “engaged” in English means being married, but I went to the French army and I said, “I want to fight for you.”
BERNSTEIN: Rather than going to a camp?
BRAITBERG: Yeah.
BERNSTEIN: What kind of camp?
BRAITBERG: A camp like during the war, like in the United States they put the Japanese in a camp or the Germans, I don’t know. The same thing was in France. Whoever didn’t want to go and fight for France, they put them in camp.
BERNSTEIN: It was an internment camp?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, and camps, you know, were like prisons and we were prisoners.
BERNSTEIN: It had nothing to do with being Jewish, once again?
BRAITBERG: No, it had nothing to do. Everything was just mixed up. There was Jewish, not Jewish, but everybody – a Pollack – they did not want to serve in the Polish army, in France, they put them in a camp. So, I went to the administration of the army, and I said, “I understand I am young.” I was, I don’t remember, whatever, 22 years or 21 years. “I am in an age to go to fight, but I cannot go fight for Poland so I want to fight for you because I like to live in France. I like your people. Everything is justice,” I said, “And I enjoy very much. And I am ready to give my life for such a country.” So, they appreciate very much and they took my name and they let me out free and I signed a paper that I am ready to be a volunteer for the French army. So, finally, as a foreigner, because I was a foreigner and the French did not accept foreigners in the French army, but they had the Foreign Legion, so they put me in the Foreign Legion.
BERNSTEIN: So you joined the Foreign Legion?
BRAITBERG: So, on the end of ’39 or in 1940, I was in the Foreign Legion, as a volunteer to fight for France. In May in 1940 I went in the first lines when the Germans attacked France, and I was there in the French army – Foreign Legion – until France lost the war in, I think, September of 1940. In 1940, France was occupied by the Germans and I said my role was finished. I’m not going to serve Germany because the Germans are in France. I want to defend France, but I don’t want to fight for the Germans because the Foreign Legion still existed and at that time, I went immediately to the headquarters and told them, “Look, I am a volunteer for the time of the war.” And they told me that I don’t have the right to go out from the army because the war is not finished. They said it was only a battle that was finished, so they told me that I have to stay in the Foreign Legion and if the war would be 10 hundred years, I would be still a soldier in the Foreign Legion. (LAUGHTER)
BERNSTEIN: This was after France was not really offering any resistance?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. And I had to read between the lines. I had to make my own judgment and I find out that it’s crazy. I’m not going to stay in France. They lost the war. And I would have to go out. I have to find how to save my life myself because it’s a little late, probably the Germans would take care of me, and I have to act before it’s too late. So, I went to the headquarters. It was a law at that time, whoever was in France, because all the French people were prisoners – two million prisoners. I was not a prisoner because I was lucky because I was always in the first line because the Foreign Legion were always in the worst places, the first line, or you got killed. You couldn’t become a prisoner because you fight until the last minute. And a lot of French, it’s sad to say, a lot of French soldiers, they had the choice. They could become prisoners, and a lot of them, they started out to be a German prisoner, instead a French death. Oh, they had two million prisoners. I was not a prisoner. So, when I went to the headquarters –
BERNSTEIN: I’m, sorry – there were two million French soldiers who were prisoners?
BRAITBERG: They were in the German camps, yeah.
BERNSTEIN: And how did you avoid that?
BRAITBERG: I was running away.
BERNSTEIN: Okay.
BERNSTEIN: I was running and running. I’ll give you an example. We were in the city of Soissons. In the city of Soissons, the city there was maybe 60,000 French soldiers. I was also. The city was already occupied by the Germans, but how, can you imagine, take 60,000 soldiers? And the Germans they were in war. They didn’t have the organization, they didn’t have the people to take the 60,000 soldiers. There was a time that you were free. You could still go wherever you want, go out in the city and come in. Nobody was bothering you. But, most of the French soldiers, they said, “Why you want to go? We are prisoners, we are prisoners.” And they stayed there. I looked there is a way to go out, I went out (LAUGHTER) and I went to another place where it was not occupied yet by the Germans. Because they didn’t occupy all of France at one time.
BERNSTEIN: Where did you go first?
BRAITBERG: South, south, south – always south.
BERNSTEIN: This was after the Vichy government was set up?
BRAITBERG: Yes – no, no, it was still before. We were fighting and slowly they occupied France, one city after the other. When Paris was occupied, I went out from Paris, I went to Versailles, I went to Orleans, I went to Marseilles. Wherever they didn’t occupy yet, I was there. So, and a lot of soldiers, they didn’t want to go. They said, “Anyway, all France is occupied.” I said, “Who knows what can happen?” I had a place. Each time when I have an opportunity to not become a prisoner, I take advantage of this. This saved my life and that’s why I was not a prisoner. But, maybe my explanation is not so good because there were cases where people could get killed or be a prisoner.
BERNSTEIN: And weren’t you also afraid because you were Jewish?
BRAITBERG: Sure, I was afraid because I was a Pollack. They killed Pollacks. They did not like the Germans. They didn’t like Jews. I was double-doubly afraid, (LAUGHTER) and I had to run away. Finally I get very quick oriented in the south of France, in Marseilles. There was a law. The government of Vichy made a law that whoever is a farmer – because there was not people to work, to put the crops, to pick up the crops.
BERNSTEIN: And you were in Marseilles in 1939?
BRAITBERG: No, no, 1940, in September.
BERNSTEIN: In September, 1940, you were in Marseilles.
BRAITBERG: Yes. So I am in Marseilles and I am here as a soldier with uniform still, and I don’t know what to do. I could find food, still as a soldier at that time, by the French government. I could go to Africa in the colonies as a French soldier. I had the opportunity to do a lot of things. They gave me where to sleep still. I was considered like a French soldier. So, I find out there was a law that if I could prove that I am a farmer, I know how to farm, they let me go out from the army immediately, because they needed people because most of the French people were in the camps or in the prisons. They didn’t have enough men. So (LAUGHTER) what I did, I went to a farmer and I said, “Look, I am not a Frenchman, I am a foreigner, but I love France. I’d give my life for it. What else can I do for France?”
BERNSTEIN: Now, by this time, you were speaking French very well?
BRAITBERG: Well, not very well, but I could speak a little worse than I speak English. But I learned already. So, I said, “Look, I want to work for you. Do you need a worker? Even if you don’t want me, don’t worry. I will not stay with you, but this gives me an opportunity because I do not want to fight for the Germans. You know, we’re occupied by the Germans, but I want you to go with me to the mayor, the administration, and say you take me as a worker.” And the next day, I was not a soldier anymore. I get my papers. He said, “With pleasure.” (LAUGHTER) So, he went with me, a farmer, a French farmer, and they are nice people. I say to him, they are very smart. So, he went with me. He said, “This man is a patriot. He likes France. He doesn’t like the Germans,” and maybe he didn’t like either. A lot of French people, they didn’t like to see themselves occupied. So he went with me to the mayor and he signed the paper and we get the paper notarized and they give me some money. I finish the army.
BERNSTEIN: In 1940?
BRAITBERG: In 1940, September. Then, what to do now? I don’t know. If I had a family, I don’t have a family, but I say, “I am alone, I can go anywhere in the world. I am alone. If I die, I will die myself, but I have to study the situation and see what I can do.” When I went to Paris, when I went everywhere, I find out that it didn’t smell very well. I said, “Now it’s terrible.”
BERNSTEIN: You mean you went back to occupied – ?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, I went back to France and I looked everything that was going on. When I came back, I had still my little apartment in Paris. And I was with a friend, a student who had just finished as an engineer in electricity. He’d just finished his diploma. And I told him – I was with him a few days in Paris unoccupied, I said, “What we are going to do now?” He said, “Jacques, I stay here.” I said, “How can you stay here? Because you have signed as a Jew, they have your name. They will come here and take you and kill you.” He said, “No, they will not do this.” I couldn’t persuade him.
BERNSTEIN: But he –
BRAITBERG: Yeah, already the Jewish people they had to have –
BERNSTEIN: They had to wear stars?
BRAITBERG: Star, yeah.
BERNSTEIN: In 1940?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. And he was registered already as a Jew in the municipality. They had to go, when the Germans come to Paris, all the Jews they had to come and write down that they are Jew. Most of the Jewish people, they did it. I didn’t do it because I said, “This is crazy.” If they want to find me, they have to find me. They are going to write down every Jew and they can go straight to it and get my address and they wouldn’t have difficulty to find me. (LAUGHTER) I wouldn’t do this. So, he was there and I was with him a few days and then I left. I went to south France, back to Marseilles because I find out that the Germans didn’t occupy this area, just the French.
BERNSTEIN: Was it difficult going from occupied to –
BRAITBERG: Of course, difficult. In the beginning it was not so difficult. Later, it became very difficult.
BERNSTEIN: Were you traveling with papers of any kind?
BRAITBERG: No, my papers said “Jaakov Aharon Braitberg.” Everybody would know that I am a Jew by my name. “Jaakov Aharon Braitberg.” And I had those papers from the army, only those things that I had when I was a soldier. Most French people, some of them, would sympathize with me and a lot of them sympathized, but there was a lot of French people, they start to work for the Germans, and they would arrest me immediately.
BERNSTEIN: If they saw your papers?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, if they saw my papers. So, I had big problems and I had to be very careful. But, from the beginning, I didn’t show my papers – only that I was a soldier, so they sympathized with me and I could travel a little. So, my friend what I knew after – one week after, the Germans with the French collaborates, they took him. He never came back. They killed him in my apartment. They killed him and I was lucky that I was not there. They would have killed me also. And they killed like this a hundred thousand Jewish people in Paris. That they, the Jewish people, they went to them and gave them the others, and said, “I am a Jew.” A few days after took them and killed them or send them in a camp or kill them in Paris. Not only the French did it, because there was a lot of French who cooperated. The French police was cooperating with the Germans. They received an order to catch all the Jews, and bring them to give to them, to the German authorities, and they did it. They did it very well.
BERNSTEIN: And when you were traveling, say when you left Paris, when you left your apartment and were going back to Marseilles, did you take a train? How did you travel?
BRAITBERG: All kinds. I could take the train because I was a soldier. I didn’t need a ticket.
BERNSTEIN: So you could take the train.
BRAITBERG: Yes, in the beginning. Let’s say from September to October.
BERNSTEIN: So the Germans looked at your army papers.
BRAITBERG: The Germans at that time did not – they would look but they were not organized yet, especially out of Paris. Once you get out of Paris, it was still a French zone, so they didn’t look so much. It was an anarchy – nobody knew what to do but you could speculate still, a short time. So, I took advantage of the situation and went back to Marseilles. I find people and talk with people and finally I find a place I can beg for Marseilles. Because Marseilles I could live and eat and drink and sleep for nothing for how long I needed, because I was a soldier. So it was easy for me to travel.
BERNSTEIN: You were actually out of the French army but you still had the papers that said you were a soldier.
BRAITBERG: Yeah, I demobilized because there were thousands like me – hundreds of thousands who didn’t know where to go or what to do because they didn’t want to go to the occupied area. There was a lot like them, so the government took care. They help us – there was special places where you could go and eat, special places where you could go sleep, not very decent, but you could survive. So, I took advantage of this and finally I met a family and they told me that they have a farm in the south of France with grapes and it was the time for the crop, to pick up the grapes. So, they asked me – they didn’t have people – they asked me if I wanted to work with them. I said, “Yes.” So, I went to work for them.
BERNSTEIN: Now, when was this? What year?
BRAITBERG: This was in September, 1940, the beginning of October. So I went with this family. They nourished me. They give me a room and I was working cutting the grapes for them. In one month time, I find another family that needed me after the month was finished. A farmer with origin Czechoslovak and I was working for him several months as a farmer. I really did it. I remember I picked up the crop. All my skin came off.
BERNSTEIN: What kind of crops?
BRAITBERG: Wheat, yeah. They put it in – how you say?
BERNSTEIN: In bushels?
BRAITBERG: In bushels, yes. And then I had to lift it. I was strong, though, and I like to live on the farm because maybe because of my ancestors. But I felt very good because I start working and my ancestors worked as farmers. I felt I never learned, but I had the facilities. I learned it very quick and everybody thought that I was all my life a farmer. And I did a very good job and if they liked me, I played violin and I had friends and I get in contact with gendarmes with the police, and they sympathize with me. They know that I am a patriot, a French patriot.
BERNSTEIN: Did they know you were Jewish?
BRAITBERG: No, I never tell to nobody because I knew a lot of people – if somebody would ask me, officially – but nobody asked me. I didn’t look like a Jew. Nobody asked me.
BERNSTEIN: If anyone asked you, would you tell them?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, I would tell them. I would tell you a story that I said it. It depended, of course, on the situation, but always I was inclined – it was not a shame for me to say I was a Jew. I was proud at that time. I don’t know why. I was proud. I would say, “I am a Jew.” Before, they liked me. Everybody liked me very much. They wanted to help me, everybody because I had some qualities why they liked me. So, I can feel proud that I am a Jew. Maybe they liked me because I am a Jew, but if they didn’t ask me if I am a Jew, I didn’t say. But, okay. So finally I find another family in this place where I was. His name was ______ de Garonne. And they said they can take me a whole year if I want to work.
BERNSTEIN: Near Marseilles? Or outside of Marseilles?
BRAITBERG: No, it was – like this was sud est – southeast, southeast. And I went with this family and I started to work with them as a family. I had food. I didn’t make much money, but I had the clothes from the army. I made myself, from one shirt, I made several and it was very miserable. But, I had a room, I had food, good food, and I was working in good air and I like it. And I had the time to look what’s going on in the world. I had the time to listen to the radio and I contact a lot of people from the underground army and I start to work for them.
BERNSTEIN: You started to work with the underground army?
BRAITBERG: The underground army. I was on a farm and also I find lessons in different schools to give music. So nobody knew exactly what I am doing. A lot of people thought I am a music professor. And a lot of people thought I am a farmer. And a lot of people, they didn’t know exactly what I am doing, but that I am a poor man, a poor Polish refugee. So, I work on the farm during 1941, 1942, 1943.
BERNSTEIN: The same farm?
BRAITBERG: Not on the same farm, in the same neighborhood – in the same area.
BERNSTEIN: Different farms.
BRAITBERG: Because when I find out the situation becomes dangerous, the police start to look too much for me, I change the place and find another place. Also, I was in contact with the underground army, and I had the opportunity to make identities. I made it for Jewish people, for myself. I change my name.
BERNSTEIN: You changed your name.
BRAITBERG: I change my name and I never went to the authorities to say I am a Jew, because also in the barracks room in 1942, we had all the Jews north France where it was not occupied, they had to go to the authorities and say, “I am a Jew.” And they get a sign.
BERNSTEIN: A star?
BRAITBERG: A star, and they are listed. I never did it. When I saw the papers, I say, “This is an advertisement for me to be careful to not say I am a Jew.”
BERNSTEIN: Now, at this time, these farmers still did not know you were Jewish?
BRAITBERG: No, nobody knew I was Jewish.
BERNSTEIN: There were different types of undergrounds. Were you working with the Jewish underground or…
BRAITBERG: No. I never was in contact with Jewish underground. I was just –
BERNSTEIN: Partisans?
BRAITBERG: No, they were liberal. Not communist, not socialist. Farmers.
BERNSTEIN: They were all farmers.
BRAITBERG: Yeah, mostly they were farmers – liberal. Their work was to take information. They had armed groups. They lived in the woods. They changed very often from place to place. I didn’t go as an active soldier. I was more information. I was traveling a lot, circulate free. I understood very well German. I could get very good information. I could take information about people who cooperated with the Germans, they’re denouncing patriots, all kinds of information necessary, but I wasn’t active with a gun to go and shoot people. I did not do this. But, I did a very good job. For example, I could make identities out. I was in relations with different mayors, like Schoemehl. And they gave me all kind of facilities to make identities. So I make one for me. I make for some Jewish people.
BERNSTEIN: Were the identities mainly for Jewish people? Or for people who wanted to change their identity for one reason or another?
BRAITBERG: No, I didn’t really deal with any Jewish problems. I didn’t know what was the reaction.
BERNSTEIN: So what was the reason that people would want to change their identities?
BRAITBERG: Because even French people were in danger. They had to change the identities and run away from them. They would force them to go to Germany. A lot of young French people they want because Germany, most of their people became soldiers. They send them to Russia. They send them all over the fronts in Europe and they didn’t have people. So, they cooperated with France and the French cooperated and they wanted to send all the young people, beginning 15 years, 16 years, to send them to Germany to help them, to become workers, to work in the factories, and they run away, they didn’t want it. So a lot of them they needed to change identity, change the state, change this – so this is what we did. We give them possibilities to change identity. And also I find Jewish people who wanted to have another name and they spoke very well French, they were from France. But they had the names and they didn’t know how to get them. I get them. I can tell you a specific case. Okay, one case I’ll tell you about that was Jewish. I was on a farm and very nice people, Protestants. In the area where I used to live, mostly there were Protestants. They were very good for Jewish people the Protestants; they were very good friends and they try to help Jewish people, especially the French Protestants. It’s a minority. In France they had about 7 – 800,000. But this people was completely different from the Catholics. They were sympathizing with the Jewish people because they had big fights between Catholic and Protestants in France. So they were sympathizers with the Jewish. They couldn’t understand why everybody is persecuting. First of all, they didn’t know Jews. They never saw Jews. They didn’t see. In the area where I was were no Jews. They didn’t know even of a Jew. Once I was in a town and they were Protestants, and they liked me very much. And it was wintertime and we didn’t have electricity. We didn’t have naptha (gas) to light. So, we went to sleep almost when the sun went down, and we get up early in the morning. But sometimes we were sitting in a big room and there was a fireplace. We were burning wood in winter, and the whole family – the kids and the grandfathers and the whole family was assembled and they were talking, “Why are they persecuting so much the Jews?” They were talking like this, and I find out that they don’t know what is a Jew. They never saw a Jew. So, I couldn’t take it anymore. I stand up and I said, “Here you have a Jew.” (LAUGHTER)
BERNSTEIN: You told them?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. The whole family was so surprised – maybe 15 people – and the oldest man jump up – he was maybe 75 years – he stand up and said, “Jacques, we are proud to have a Jew in our house.” This was a thing that I would give – I don’t know – everything I would give because I never have such a welcome from a non-Jewish people and I like these people very much but I didn’t sleep the whole night and I said, “I have to be very careful because this is – they were so happy to have a Jew that they will tell everybody they were enchanted and would say they have a Jew in their house.” This is my – I am finished. (LAUGHTER) So, the next day I looked to go away. I left.
BERNSTEIN: So you did leave?
BRAITBERG: I left and not very far I didn’t give them the address. They were crying and I didn’t give the reason but I said, “I have to, I cannot stay here anymore.” And the lady was crying and they said, “We never had such a good worker like you.” (LAUGHTER) They had difficulties to find a worker. They were happy, they would like me to help for many years. I said, “I cannot stay. I have my reasons, personal reasons. I have to leave.” And I left to another place, not far, maybe 10 miles. I had a lot of friends at that time. I went in an isolated castle, an old castle, maybe, I don’t know, 800 years old.
BERNSTEIN: So what year is this?
BRAITBERG: This was in 1942. It was the worse time because at that time all France was occupied. The Germans, they took adminstration was everywhere. There was not one place – this was the time when the Americans debarked in Italy and start a big fight with the Germans, and the Germans they went to reinforce the German army and Mussolini’s army in Italy. And in all of the south of France, they were walking on the highways – plenty, plenty soldiers with tanks and this and it was the biggest job for the underground army because we shoot on them, we make barricades on the road that don’t allow them to go fast, we cut the trees. There was trees all over the land. They had to dynamite, and this was deterring them all the time. We were shooting from the hills on them. Thousands of them got killed on the way, was terrible for the Germans. This was the –
BERNSTEIN: The resistance was successful in…?
BRAITBERG: In 1942. They wanted to go to help the Italians. On the highways, through the roads, they were walking and each time they walked, they had an opportunity. They install a machine gun on one side and another one on the other side. Go find them. (LAUGHTER) If one man start to shoot, in five minutes he could kill a thousand soldiers, Germans. It was anarchy complete. And then they start to look, “Where is the man? He’s gone, nobody’s there.” They killed the French people, you know, some people what they find, but they didn’t find the man who gunned down.
BERNSTEIN: Did you have any contact at all with any – I think you’ve answered me – you said you didn’t have any contact with any Jewish underground?
BRAITBERG: No.
BERNSTEIN: Or any Jewish organizations at all. Inside or outside?
BRAITBERG: Once, I find once a friend from Paris and he was from Poland. And he was a communist. And I find him in a city not far from where I used to live. He was living with a preacher (LAUGHTER) in a church and as a Catholic. He said, “Don’t say I’m not a Jew.” And the preacher took care of him and liked him so much, and he was a captain in the underground army. And he – I don’t know what happened. I never find him again, and he was in the FDP, it was a communist underground party. He told me he is a captain.
BERNSTEIN: He was identifying himself as a Catholic, though?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, as a Catholic, because the preacher – he was living with the preacher in the church. So, now I have a funny story to tell you. When I run away from this place where I said, “I’m a Jew.” They liked me so much. I said, “It’s too dangerous now to stay here.” I went in another place that was far from the road, far from everywhere and far from the train, you see – a deserted place.
BERNSTEIN: Deserted place?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. And I find people in an old castle. They live in an old castle. This castle was so romantic. They give me a room on the attic – a big room and the windows were broken, and the birds, they came in and made a mess. (LAUGHTER)
BERNSTEIN: Who was living in the castle?
BRAITBERG: A farmer, a farmer bought this castle cheap.
BERNSTEIN: Another farmer?
BRAITBERG: Another farmer. Yeah, I went to him and I said, “I want to help you and you will nourish me and give me a room.” They said, “Yes, yes.” I was young and everybody liked me and they accepted – they didn’t. So, finally I said, “I will not work because I started a lot of music lessons and I got enough money so I could go out and be free.” So, I paid them every month and they gave me good food and I was living there and I had a big room. And, sure there was not water, there was not a shower. To go, you have to go on a pump down in the meadows. We had water. So, the birds, they came and I had plenty of nests on the ceiling and if I couldn’t get attention (LAUGHTER) – I don’t know how they spell it in French, they’re fertilizing, natural fertilizer, imagine natural fertilizer in my bed. But I like it so much (IMITATES SOUND OF THE MOCKING BIRD “TWEET, TWEET, TWEET”) and they come in and go out and play, the birds. They were free. They were free like me! They like it!
BERNSTEIN: You liked it.
BRAITBERG: They were very happy and I liked it. So at that time, I met my wife and she’s here. She’s French and her father was also in the underground. And I had a good life because she helped me very much. I went to see her.
BERNSTEIN: This is still 1942, about?
BRAITBERG: Yes, about 1942.
BERNSTEIN: That’s when you met your future wife?
BRAITBERG: Yes. She was about 18 years old and I married her in 1944, in August. And I start my family in France. My kids were born in France. She is not Jewish. Now, I’ll tell you something in this castle. This is very important. In this castle, the owners they had a nephew and he was a – how do you spell it? A young man who go to become a preacher?
BERNSTEIN: They become a priest, or – ?
BRAITBERG: Not a priest, but before.
BERNSTEIN: A seminary student?
BRAITBERG: Seminary student, yes. But there is another name. Okay. They were studying to become – the nephew was – I can’t tell the name. But he was a student preacher. But what’s the name? I can’t think.
BERNSTEIN: You can’t think?
BRAITBERG: Okay. So, he was a student in a seminary and they were very Catholic and would never think that I’m a Jew. So, I was living over there, and every Sunday this man was invited by his parents – his uncle, and he came and brought 12, 20 preachers from the seminary here.

Tape 2 - Side 1

BERNSTEIN: This is Richard Bernstein interviewing Jacques Braitberg on June 21, 1984, at his home. Jacques, last time when we ended, you were telling me the year was 1942 and you were living outside of Bordeaux and you were telling me about your experiences then. So, go ahead now.
BRAITBERG: Okay. In 1942, the situation became more dangerous in this area because from 1942, the Americans, the Allies, debark in Italy for the first time. And this big army, they started big fighting, and the Germans started to gather all their forces in Europe to direct them to Italy to help to fight with the Americans and the Allies. So, a lot of troops, they were walking on the – they didn’t have communications, the Germans, because mostly they were in the north of France. So, they walked to Italy and going to south. Our area was in the southwest. So, they went to our area, walking night and day, troops and troops and cannons coming on the highways. And then it became very dangerous because they were always there and we have to be careful. And, also, the activities of the underground army became more important because they tried to slow down the advance of the Germans to go help Italy. And so there was a very high activity. They shoot on them sometimes and they gunned them down to slow down the advance of the Germans. They cut in the night, the trees on the roadway. There were plenty of trees. The cannons couldn’t advance. They have to dynamite the trees, big trees. In France, on the road, there were plenty of big, old trees. And they have to dynamite and clean up the street, and this slowed them down, to help the Americans to embark in Italy so they couldn’t get so quick over there.
BERNSTEIN: How many people were involved in the underground in your local area?
BRAITBERG: I don’t know this. You cannot know because the organization was a clandestine organization. So small groups advanced – three or four people in one place. They came to dynamite, or not dynamite, but they had the saw. They cut the trees and put them on the middle of the road. In another place, a little farther on, another group did this. And all the way, they did it. And myself, I saw once where I lived, where I wasn’t, this place was small hills on both sides. There was a valley, and the soldiers, they were walking on the valley, thousands of Germans, and suddenly – they didn’t know from where – a machine gun, auto-mitrailleuse, they start to surprise them, and they killed many, many, many before the Germans get oriented to know where the fire came from. These two or three people and the machine gun, they were far away. So, very often the Germans, they attacked the population. They start to bombard the buildings, the houses, they arrested people. They killed them on the way. So, a lot of people were their innocent victims. So, at that time, I had to be very careful and I went to this old castle, an abandoned castle – over 800 years old. And, a farmer was living there, not very rich, and I thought that in this place I would be more in security. And they were nice people. They did not know that I am a Jew. When they asked me, I didn’t say, and I paid them a little money and I was very well nourished. I had a big room with open windows. The birds they come in. They nest on the ceiling. And I was not alone. Really, I like it very much. I was at that time young and romantic. So, I didn’t think about what can happen to me and I enjoyed it very much, this place. It was to me like a wild place. There was a lot of snakes, plenty of snakes, because nobody was living over there. So, when it was hot, there was snakes on the roof, snakes on the terrace. I find once a snake on the doorway and I caught him in a bucket this snake, a little snake. And once we were eating in the kitchen and we saw (heard) a noise on the wall next to the kitchen and a big snake came out (LAUGHTER) on the wall.
BERNSTEIN: Okay. Now, were you working for the farmer? Was there any labor for you to do there?
BRAITBERG: Oh, a little bit, but not very much because at that time I gave lessons – music lessons, private music lessons to different people. So, they didn’t pay me very much, but I had so many that I had enough money to pay a pension to these people. I pay them and this was not very high priced – a low price. So they kept me and I paid them and sometimes with their crops, I helped them a little, but I was not really obliged to do physical work in that place.
BERNSTEIN: Were you in hiding? Did you feel like you really had to stay out of – ?
BRAITBERG: I was hiding, but I couldn’t give the impression to these people that I was hiding. To them, I was free, I was a Pollack, and fortunately, because my country, Poland, was occupied by the Germans, I was there and they sympathized with me just because I was like a refugee. I didn’t speak very well French at that time yet because I was not there very long – about three years already. Oh, I spoke, but with an accent, and they did not know that I am a Jew. So very often these people, they received especially on Sunday or a holiday, they had a nephew who was a seminary student and he lived about 15 or 20 miles from there in a small city. The name is Bergerac, because we have in the United States some restaurants, Cyrano de Bergerac. So, it’s just Bergerac. Over there, it was a seminary and a lot of young students, and when the nephew came, was invited, on the Sunday or Saturday and Sunday, he brought sometimes 10, 9, 15 seminary students and we had a big room and all around the table they came. And they took off their soutane because they were dressed like in long robes not like here and they take it off and start to smoke and drink white wine. And they start to talk about what’s going on in politics. And they expressed their happiness that Hitler finally will destroy the Jewish people. They were talking like the Nazis, exactly the same. They had an education, a Nazi education at the school. The Catholic Church was completely dominated by the Nazis and they cooperate very well with them. That doesn’t mean that all Catholics in France agreed with the politics of Hitler, but the Church, as a whole, yes. They cooperated fully with the Germans.
BERNSTEIN: Now, why do you say that? Why do you say that the church was – ?
BRAITBERG: Because officially, officially the Catholic Church was cooperating. All the Catholics. They were always in favor of this Nazi politic. They were anti-Semitic because most of the Catholics, I have to recognize, are anti-Semitic. Maybe there was different anti-Semitism in France than in Poland. Poland was more rough, but the anti-Semitism was as big in France but different.
BERNSTEIN: More subtle?
BRAITBERG: Yes, more subtle. They didn’t show it, but they had the same mind that the Jewish people killed their God and God punished them forever. There was no way the Jewish people should have some happiness in their lives because God punished them forever. They should suffer. And it’s not a wonder that Hitler kills them because this was their merit. This was the theory of the Catholics in France. Now, some Catholics – the Jewish people, for example, the Germans, the Nazis, even the French Nazis – they were helping the Jewish people and sometimes kids were lost, like little kids – one year, two years, five years – some Catholics, they took them and hide them, but they hide them because to raise them as Catholics, to make preachers, because they believed – the Catholics believed that if they can convert a Jew, they go to paradise. So, only on that condition, they saved many, many Jews – we don’t know until today – they are preachers in the church, they are Catholics. They don’t know even. Some kids they knew after. Mostly they don’t know. So this is what they did. But, and also they have to recognize I know cases – I had my brother-in-law in Paris. He didn’t accept the Jewish star and he was on the street and once a policeman came to him and told him, “You are a Jew, but I will not arrest you. You better be careful.” In most cases, they didn’t – they sympathized.
BERNSTEIN: Were there many Jews in Bordeaux, or around Bordeaux?
BRAITBERG: In Bordeaux, I think at that time, there were generally between 10 and 15 thousand Jewish people, but they were all hiding. They didn’t lived in Bordeaux. They run away. They were all hiding and a lot of them were caught and destroyed. We had a problem. The police in France, was a big problem, because at that time, mostly the police came from the farms. They became the police because, for example, farmers with four or five kids, he has a small farm, not like United States. In the United States the farm is very big. In France, for example, at that time, we had at least five million farmers. It’s very much for 50 million people, five million farmers. In the United States there are 30 million there, but here were two million farmers, so you see the proportions. It was a lot, and they couldn’t survive the whole family. On a small farm, two kids stayed on the farm and five kids they went to the city. What could they do? They became the gendarmes and police. And those people, they were very much raised with the church believing that the Jewish people is condemned by God.
BERNSTEIN: Were these mainly Catholics or some Protestants?
BRAITBERG: No, they were mostly Catholics because in France we had between five and eight hundred thousand Protestants. They were grew up in this area where I used to live, mostly. They were grouped southeast, southwest and also in south France. So, the Protestants, they had a different attitude to the Jews. They were not educated with hate against the Jews like the Catholics. So, they didn’t go – they were not on the police force, they were different people. Okay, so, very often those gendarmes, this police, they were very, very bad for the Jewish people because they believed that they have to give them to the Germans, they have to be rid of them. This is what God wanted. And they did it. So, I was in one place, for example, in a small city, Lot-et-Goronne. And I was helping walking – a Czechoslovak – he was living in France. He had a son. And once he told me, “Be careful,” because – I always – they didn’t know that I am a Jew – so, the police didn’t bother me, but there were refugees from Germany, Jewish people, especially a young couple. He was a dentist, and his wife, like you. And they were good looking, young age. And the gendarmes came, and they wanted to arrest him. And this Czechoslovak – his name I remember still – was Hetfleiss. And he said, “Why do you want to take this man? He’s a human being?” And he hid them in his barn under the straw, and nobody could find them. The gendarmes say, “We want him.” They were walking a whole day, went in the barn, pulled aside the straw and they find him and they took him and he never came back. They were destroyed, he and his wife. No, they left his wife. At that time the French people were different. They, mostly they took the men and the wife was left.
BERNSTEIN: Had the French police been really collaborating with the Germans?
BRAITBERG: Very collaborative, very much. And I knew a lot of cases like this. It was very interesting on the liberation of France, and DeGaulle came from London. And the first thing what he did, he gave them all medals, the police, all the police. And I was wondering, I say, “He gave them all medals because they did a good job destroying the Jews?” DeGaulle was an anti-Semite, a big anti-Semite, and he said they did a good job. I don’t know what – fighting against the Germans or fighting to destroy the Jews. So, this is something “entre parenthesis” – when you say “parenthesis” when you say something that is not related.
BERNSTEIN: Parenthesis?
BRAITBERG: Parenthesis, yeah. It’s a little history about the police in France. But there was rare cases that the Catholics, I know a place, the mayor was a Catholic and there were Jewish refugees, and he didn’t bother them at all.
BERNSTEIN: What city was this?
BRAITBERG: This was – the name was St. Antoine de Vray. It was a little village of about 500 people, not far from where I used to live in this castle. This man did not bother the Jews because I went to these people and I talked with them. I give them tickets for bread because we have rations – how do you say?
BERNSTEIN: Rations?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. So I could get easily tickets for bread and for meat. So I give them. I didn’t eat so much. And I always ask them, “Are you in danger?” “No, they don’t bother us. They don’t want to profit.” They were French people. It means this man was a Catholic and was a good man. And there is a story about this man because in this region there was a lot of Protestants in this village. And the Protestants and the Catholics did not get along. And the head of the underground army in this area was a Protestant. The name was Hillaret. And this Hillaret, he didn’t like this man because he was a Catholic. So, once he arrested him. On the liberation he put him in jail and they would kill him. It was very easy at that time because they would say that he cooperated with the Germans, and they kill a lot of people like this – innocent. But I knew this man very well and I didn’t want this man got killed because only he’s a Catholic. So I went to the headquarters of the underground army and I told them that this was the time of the liberation and he was free. The Germans run away. This was in ’44. So I tell them, “Listen, I want to save a man, he’s innocent. I know that they put him in jail because only he’s a Catholic.” So, they asked me to write. I wrote a letter and I sign it, and I say, “I work for the underground army, I’m a Jew, I know that in this village was a lot of Jews, and I was in contact with them and never had troubles. This man was a good man. The only wrong with him was because he was a Catholic.” They liberated him three days after. He came to me and he say all this, “Jacques, you saved my life. I would be dead.” His name was Rey. He was reelected mayor of the village after, when France was free, because people liked him. He was a good man. And each time, when I pass over there, he always remembers me. I don’t know if he’s still alive, but he must be very old. “Jacques, you saved my life.” (LAUGHTER) I have to go back to the seminary. So, they were always talking –
BERNSTEIN: The Catholic seminary students?
BRAITBERG: Yes. They were always talking. They couldn’t talk better than the Nazis, exactly like them. They said, talking about themselves, “We should help them. We have a unique opportunity to dispose of the Jewish people, and God wants this. We should do this. We are Catholics. They killed our God, etc., etc.” And like this they talk. And there was an old preacher from the village and he was so angry. He was maybe 60 years old. And he was so angry, he say, “This is want they are teaching you in the seminary now?” And they said, “Yes.” Then they made a comment. They said that he was not there. “He’s old, he does not know what he’s saying – he’s an old man, he does not know what he’s talking. He does not understand the problem of the Jews.” And also, one told a story, a terrible story. He said that about 60 miles from there was a big city. The name was Limoges. It’s about 300 miles from Paris. And he was walking and he knew a case at the hospital where was a Jewish doctor, a French Jewish doctor, and he was very – people liked him over there and nurses liked him very much. There was one nurse especially – I don’t know, maybe his girlfriend, and he said that once the French Nazis arrested him and probably they killed him and he said they couldn’t understand a non-Jewish girl crying and crying and crying for a Jew. And I was so mad, I didn’t know what to say. So, after the dinner, they had a little alcohol in their stomach, so I said, “They were bigger than I am, taller,” and we start to wrestle, arm wrestle. And I had opportunity. I beat them all, all of them. I pushed them. All the anti-Semites, I pushed them, and I had personal satisfaction because it was all I could do. I could not do much more.
BERNSTEIN: You couldn’t let them know that you were a Jew?
BRAITBERG: No, they did not know. If they would know that I was, they would call police and they would arrest me.
BERNSTEIN: Can I ask you a question? In an area like that, was it mostly at the instigation of the gendarmes or the local people that the Jews were turned in? Or were there a lot of Germans, Gestapo, in the area looking for Jews themselves?
BRAITBERG: No. This is a good question. Because I can witness that all the deportations in France were done by the police, the French police. Germans didn’t interfere at all. They sometimes arrested, I don’t know – on denunciation. But the work to go in the houses and take whole families, I know. I will describe you in Paris what happened. It was only French police. French police and members from the French Gestapo – French. They did the job and they did so well the job that the High Commander of Paris during the occupation said, (his name was Stulfnagel) and this is historic. The history, everybody can know this. He said that the French police worked so well with the liquidation of the Jews in France that they did not have even to interfere. There was in Paris – I was not there, but people described it – was a place 5 Rue Corbeau, Métro Goncourt, 19th area where 95% of them living were Jewish people, and a lot of them, young people with kids, and older people also, but young people with kids mostly, of the men, they were volunteers in the French army, they were on the first line. They went to the formulation and to fight for France against the Germans. Once, the French police came over there, it was 1942. They blocked the whole area and took all these people, the kids, the old people, if they were sick, they put them on a chair and they put them down, put them in police cars and, and nobody came back. Kids – I know a whole family from my city from Poland, and I knew the man who was in the army and they took his wife and his kids. And he came back after the liberation, after the war. He went straight to his apartment and he finds the door is locked, demolished the door – no furniture, nothing, no kids, no – and there were a thousand like this in France. Was terrible. This man became sick after and he died from heartbreak a few years after. Oh, it was cases like this – many, many cases.
BERNSTEIN: Okay, Jacques. How long did you stay – ?
BRAITBERG: No, I have to go back. So, I was still over there and one day I was lucky – I was always – I had a bicycle. And this castle was on a hill, and I went about three, four miles. It was 10 o’clock in the evening and I saw an old farmer. He knew me and he called to me, “Don’t go over there because the Germans are here in your castle, plenty of Germans.” So what happened that day, they came in the afternoon. I did not know, about 500 with machines, with ammunition, with tanks, and because somebody told them that the underground army was there.
BERNSTEIN: Was in the castle?
BRAITBERG: The castle and all around, all around in this village. They came in the afternoon, and they came in this castle and drank all that was there and eat all was there. In the whole village, all over there they were. So, I stopped because I would go in the castle – I don’t know, with my bicycle. And I don’t know what would happen. Maybe they would ask my papers, maybe – I don’t know what could happen. So, I did not go. I stopped, and not far from there was a chief from the F.T.P. – means underground army, Communist Division, not far. So, the first thing that I did, I went to him and I know his name was Jean Marie. And I went in his house and I told him. And when I came in, he had about 12 soldiers from the underground army with machine guns. And they were dressed in leather coats and they had a conference in his house. And I told him, “Do you know the Germans are here?” He said, “No.” He don’t know. So I said, “They are here, they are here. We have 500 here,” and I said, “Go ask your neighbor.” He knew that I was not from the same group – he was from the communist. I was from the liberal. So he immediately gave me a place up there to stay because I couldn’t go sleep on the castle. He told me how to go and not be caught. And I went over there and I told them that – and the next day, this whole army, they went to a different village, a little farther – maybe two, three miles. They arrested all the men.
BERNSTEIN: All the men?
BRAITBERG: Males, all the males and put them in jail. Some of them, they never come back. It was the jail in Bordeaux. So, I was lucky that I was not there.
BERNSTEIN: During any of this time, were you ever stopped by Germans or by gendarmes and asked to see your papers or questioned where you were from or…?
BRAITBERG: I, uh –
BERNSTEIN: What kind of papers did you have at the time to show?
BRAITBERG: Okay. I will tell you about this. I don’t know. I was lucky because very often I find on the way the Germans walking, the army, and I did not run away. Because I said, “If I run away” – so I was keeping my cold blood. I was on a bicycle. Very often I had my violin behind.
BERNSTEIN: You just rode by –
BRAITBERG: And I rode and smiled. They smiled to me and they didn’t make a case. I don’t know. I looked almost like a German. I told you, I was young, long hair, blue eyes. They would smile to me. They said, “This must be a young German.” So, they didn’t bother me. And the police also, I never had a real bad case. I will tell you a case that I had that really was very tragic. Okay, I forget to tell you that you talk about other Jewish people at that time in Bordeaux. They were all in danger and they did whatever they could to save. They went also south. They went also not far from where I was in this castle. A family from Bordeaux was hiding two kids, young kids, just in front on the other side of the castle. And the parents thought this was a wild area. This was the best place they could put them. But, one day, the farmer took the two kids and his kids on a wagon with horses, and they went someplace a little farther in the woods and cut wood, to have wood for winter. And a car with a group of German gendarmes passed. They stopped them and they arrested them all because as soon as they saw people in the woods, even if they were young, they thought that they are –
BERNSTEIN: Underground?
BRAITBERG: Underground. So they arrested them, and the farmer was about six months in prison in Bordeaux and he came back, but they killed the two boys, the Jewish boys they killed.
BERNSTEIN: How did they know they were Jewish?
BRAITBERG: I don’t know.
BERNSTEIN: Circumcision? Did they check for that?
BRAITBERG: Sure. So they know, and they killed them, beat them up and things like this and maybe the man with the group, he said, “Don’t.” I don’t know. We know that they were arrested and that they got killed and never came back. Okay, so a lot of French Jews got killed, a lot of them. They tried to run away to Spain, to Italy, but very often on the way, they got caught by the French police, by the Germans and they got killed.
BERNSTEIN: Did you ever give any thought to going over the border to Spain or leaving France?
BRAITBERG: No, I did not because I thought it too dangerous. I felt that being like I am on the farms, I can have more security, that I am free. I know the language and I can handle it much better than going in a country where I cannot talk and I know nobody. I know a certain area, this area, that I knew what’s going on. I gave music lessons. I had a lot of people. I’m getting music lessons at schools and I knew always what’s going on. I was listening to the radio. I was in contact with the underground army. I had information. So, I had to be very careful. Okay, now talking about myself, if I was in danger. Once in 1942, I had a friend in Clermont-Ferrand, a Jewish girl. She became after a doctor in Paris. She was working all her life in the Pasteur Institute for Cancer in Paris. I find a contact with her. I don’t know how. And she invited me to come in Clermont-Ferrand because she was at the university. I learned she was adopted by a Catholic family. Probably they didn’t know that she’s Jewish. Maybe she said she didn’t want to be Jewish. They paid for her – they didn’t pay, but they nourished her because it cost nothing in France for education, to go to university. It was free. So, she was there, and she invited me, and I had also wanted to go to see what’s going on in the underground army. I had some contacts. So, I decided to go with the train. I took the train in 1942, and believe me, it was very dangerous because Clermont-Ferrand was close to Vichy where the government, Pétain’s government was installed. It was plenty all around, the Gestapo and the French police. And when I was about two o’clock on the train, I heard the French police, the Gestapo. They were going from one compartment to the other on the train, knocking on the doors and asking for “papiren?” (papers?), “papiren?” (papers?). I could not think what I am going to do. (LAUGHTER) But I took some precautions. I told them that I became a member in the Gestapo organization – not the Gestapo organization, but this was the French – they name it “French Legion.” “Legion” means that they cooperated with the Germans.
BERNSTEIN: You told them that you were a member of that?
BRAITBERG: Yes. So, I had a card and I tell you how I get the card. Once, because a lot of people, they knew me where I used to live – and once I met the head of the – the president of the whole area of this kind of collaborators. His name was Prudhomme. And he said to me, “Why don’t you want to become a member?” And I said, “I’m not French.” He say, “It don’t matter. You work for Europe.” “Okay,” I said. So, I got a I.D. It was not my name. I changed my name. My name was Jacques Breber (B-R-E-B-E-R). I didn’t want to change very much. I thought I would not remember my name. (LAUGHTER)
BERNSTEIN: Was that your identity during the whole time?
BRAITBERG: Yes, I made it myself. I had the possibilities to make papers for other people also. So, I made it for me, “Jacques Breber.” There’s a picture like a farmer. My hair was not shaved. I looked – well – like a farmer. And I had this picture. So when they came to my compartment and knocked, I say, “I cannot talk. If I talk, they will find my accent, arrest me who I am, and it is finished with me.” So I took out only this paper and kept it in my hand and simulate sleeping. And when they came in, they took a look and they start to scream at me, “As soon as you come home, you have to make I.D., a normal I.D. This is not I.D.” And they continued to go, and this was my worst –
BERNSTEIN: It was the closest –
BRAITBERG: The closest that I was close to dying. And I – terrible, I don’t know what they would do with me. They would kill me because they would say, “This man, he has this card, he is dangerous.” They would kill me. So I went to Clermont-Ferrand, found my friend and I didn’t say about this. We spend a good time, a few days. But on the way back, I said, (LAUGHTER) “Nothing happened on the way back.” I was prepared to do the same thing, not talk. So, this is the most dangerous that I have had with the Germans, really with the French police.
BERNSTEIN: How long did you stay in the castle with that family?
BRAITBERG: In the castle, I was there until end of the war, 1944.
BERNSTEIN: So, that’s really where you spent most –
BRAITBERG: Yeah, most of the time. Because in this area, I met also my wife. She was young at the time. She was maybe 17 years old. And she helped me a lot, my wife, my actual wife. She did not know I am Jew either, and her father was in the underground army. He was the mayor of the village.
BERNSTEIN: What village was this?
BRAITBERG: The next village. It was Les Bories, where my wife lived about five miles from the other village. Because I was working a lot with the bicycle, I never stay in the same place. (LAUGHTER) I had to know what’s going on in the neighborhood. So, her father was in jail – they kept a Jewish boy. I told you already that they did this. He is still alive. There was two brothers. The police, the Germans, the French, they kill two brothers. They wanted to run away to Spain, and on the frontier, they caught them and they killed them.
BERNSTEIN: They hid them in their home?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. They gave him a name, a French name – Andre. His name was Melamed, and they gave him another name. He took a risk, the father, a very nice man. They know that he’s a Jew and my wife took care of him. He was a little boy. He was about 12 years old at that time. My father-in-law, his name was Roland. He was the – I don’t know how to say this – Secretary of the Justice. He had a lot of functions. He was the head of the – he was a preacher, not official, but he was a Protestant. And he and the Protestants in that area were very good for Jews. Whatever they could do, they did. They risked their life to save the Jew. This boy’s parents, he put them in a house with his cousin in a different village. They kept them also until almost ’44. Without money, nothing, they asked him nothing. There were – possibly were some Catholics, I do not know. But the Catholics individually – there were a lot of good Catholics because, I forgot to tell you, that there was a lot of preachers, Catholics, that were in the underground army. So, I cannot say that all were like this. They got killed. I know a place where preachers got killed as the same way as any member of the underground got killed. They got killed, preachers too. They were in the underground too. But, what I want to say, that, as a whole, the church in France was cooperating with Germany, as a whole. Doesn’t mean that all the 40-45 million Catholics cooperated, but a lot of them cooperated. Oh, okay, where we are now?

Tape 2 - Side 2

BERNSTEIN: – underground around the area where you were living?
BRAITBERG: There is a very difficult answer to give. This was not spontaneous, it was slow. I had to find out – talk with people and see who is against, who is in work with the Nazis, slowly, slowly you get involved with young people. They – slowly, for example, I had a teacher and he was teaching me – a very good man, a Protestant. He was head of the school, the public school, a small school on the farm. Not on the farm, but in the –
BERNSTEIN: Area?
BRAITBERG: In the area. He did not know that I am a Jew, but he liked Jews. Protestants always liked Jews. So, I was with him and we always were talking – instead to take the lesson. He was teaching me French for free. And I gave lessons, music lessons to his son. So very often, we talk about politics and this. And slowly, slowly, I find out that he is in underground because he has contact, because he asked people for information about young people, what they do, because I knew them. And finally, I find out that he took information to see if they can accept them in the underground army and give them a machine gun, because this was very important. They couldn’t give “anybody” a machine gun. So, I had several that I gave information, and finally I find out he was in the underground. He didn’t tell me that, but this was enough for me. And I ask him, very often, information about other people, and he put me in contact with the mayor of the village where I used to live in the castle. What’s his name? I think a lot about him every time I go to France. Big, big, an old man. He was maybe 70 years old. He was against the system. He was a Catholic, very Catholic, but he was against the Nazis and he was talking everywhere – in the street. He said, “Jacques, what if they arrest me? I am 70. They kill me? I will not die young,” he said. So I told him very often, “You don’t talk so much, but you’re gonna do good things.” And he told me that for years, he worked for the underground army, he makes papers, whatever they need. So, once when I became very friendly, he invited me to his house and we became very friendly. We were talking about the organization and he was real involved. And he said to me, “Jacques, I give you all my office. You do what you want.” So he gave me the –
BERNSTEIN: Stamp?
BRAITBERG: Stamp.
BERNSTEIN: And he gave you all the supplies you needed to make identity.
BRAITBERG: To make identities – his office.
BERNSTEIN: And he showed you how to do it?
BRAITBERG: Right, he showed me.
BERNSTEIN: Now, what kind of identities?
BRAITBERG: I make identity. It was a kind of – you put a picture, the name – you put the name, where you born, how old you are, the date – you copy the picture and this is it. It’s all the French identity.
BERNSTEIN: So you made one for –
BRAITBERG: So first, I take one for me – I had several. I made – I give this boy, Alambic. His father got killed.
BERNSTEIN: Who was Alambic?
BRAITBERG: Alambic, I will tell you. And I gave whoever asked me.
BERNSTEIN: Jews and non-Jews needed identity?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, Jews and non-Jews, I did that. Because, it was a lot of French people, young people, who didn’t want to go. They send them to Germany, so they were hiding also. They didn’t want to go. They forced them to go to work for Germany but they were hiding and they needed also identities, so I give them. So this (NAME OF MAYOR), he helped me a lot and he gave me – I have his office and I have the papers what I needed to make identities. And this was the (NAME OF MAYOR). So, talking about Alambic, was a family not far, about where I used to go. Farther on was a bigger city, about 5,000 people. The name was Ste. Foy la Grande. It was on the crossroads between two departments, la Gironde and la Dordogne. It was separated by a beautiful river. In this city, there were living maybe about 10 Jewish families, coming from during the war because before the war, was only one Jew, from Algeria. He was French, but all the people that were origin from Poland, and they were hiding, living in the city. They were registered in the mairie as Jews.
BERNSTEIN: Registered as Jews?
BRAITBERG: Registered, they registered. And I – very often, I went to them and I said, “You shouldn’t do this because if the German comes here and the collaborators want to arrest you, they know who are, they know where you live, and it would be very easy for them to come take you.” This man, Alambic, was a tailor. He make –
BERNSTEIN: Pants?
BRAITBERG: Pants. And I went to him often. And he was not very old, a very good man, and I told him, “Don’t do this, don’t do this. Go away.” He said, “What can I do to work, to make a living? I have kids, I have my wife.” So once, was almost in the end – this was 19 – no, this was in about 1943. I don’t know. I think I give him his son, I give him before the identity. I told him to hide. So this was in 1944 and it was a group of French – not Germans at all. Nazis, they went from one village to the other and they looked for Jews, and killed them immediately or tortured them and hang them on the trees and cut them their hands, their nose, their this, terrible. So, Alambic was there. They come in his city and they took eight Jews. Some of them, they were 80 years old, old French people, and some of them younger, and they put them in a school, closed them, tortured them and finally one day, they took them in a meadow and hanged them on the trees alive and tortured them until they died. So, this was Alambic. And the son, I saved him. I gave him the identity. So I didn’t know what to do, so I went to the man that I know. I was in contact with him and he was the president of the collaborators in the whole area, Prudhomme. He said, “If you have a young man who doesn’t have any papers.” So, I didn’t say who is the man. I didn’t say to Alambic. I just told him where is a good place to work. “Don’t talk, be kind, you are smart, and they will good take care of you.”
BERNSTEIN: Did he look Jewish?
BRAITBERG: No. He was a blond, tall boy. If he looked like a Jew, I would have troubles with this. So, I give him the I.D. and I went often over there to ask how he is. He told me he can not be better in there and he said, “Jacques, you give me the best advice. It’s the best work I have, the best work.”
BERNSTEIN: How did you become friends with the head of the Nazi collaborators?
BRAITBERG: How I become friends? Because everybody knew that I am a Pollack and that I was in the French army. This was very good for me, so they respected me more in this little neighborhood, not everybody. If I wasn’t a friend, I was in the French army because I was in the Foreign Legion they knew that I was not a Jew. This is the most important. I didn’t say. They didn’t ask me, but they didn’t –
BERNSTEIN: Suspect?
BRAITBERG: Suspect me at all. So, they were friendly and I was playing music. Very often, with my wife, she was singing and I was playing for public. A lot of people knew me in this neighborhood and I contact this man because I was playing for free for prisoners and for people who they send to Germany, the front. So, they were impressed with me. I contact him – I had so many invitations everywhere, I was invited to the president, to the judge, to everybody, and I knew everybody. So, this man suggested to me once to become a member and I said, “Yes” – why not? I had an I.D., a special I.D., and he gave me a card that saved my life and saved the life of this Alambic. So this Alambic, I lost him. It was the end of 1944, it was a big battle, an underground battle, very active because it was the end of the war. It was – they were hunting for collaborators, the Nazis. Hundreds of thousands of underground army came out, a big army, to chase the Germans out of France. So he became a chief. He was at that time – I don’t know, maybe 18 years old, and he had about 40,000 people under his command in Limoges. And I knew it because after the war, I met somebody, a Jewish corpsman – he was a corpsman in the underground army. And we were talking. We were good friends. We were talking and he tell me what he did, and I tell what we did. And suddenly I talk about Alambic. I told the story like I tell you. “Alambic, Alambic was under my orders!” He said, “He had maybe 40,000 people sent to me to form the armies in Limoges.” So, I find him. And he said, “Yeah, he’s here in Paris.” And I met him in Paris.
BERNSTEIN: He was? And you met him again?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, and this was 1950 – I don’t know. He was a lunk…he was a big boy. We didn’t talk about this, but he knew what I did for him.
BERNSTEIN: I’m sure he did.
BRAITBERG: Yeah. So, I find the mother. The mother was alive, and the sister also. They didn’t kill the mother and the sister. They kill only the father. So now, talking about this reminds me of something. When they killed the eight Jews in this city, Ste. Foy la Grande, so I always was thinking that this was – I wanted to put a monument in the place where they were killed, as a historical monument about what happened in this place. So I, as a former combatant, when France was free already – as a former combatant, I belonged to a group of French combatants. And we had meetings and we had this and this and all kinds of problems. So, once I told them, but I didn’t mention that they were Jews – see, I said, “There is a place here, it’s a shame, that a kind of holocaust,” I said, “eight people were killed – they killed them, the underground army, the Nazis, they killed them.” And everybody applauds. The president and everybody said, “Jacques, you are right, we are going to – how do you say it? – take care of this. We will give the money for this place, and this place will allow us to put a big monument, and we’ll invite the officials of the government.” Okay, and they give me one who was a member also and who cooperate with me. They did not know even that I’m a Jew. They don’t ask me.
BERNSTEIN: You didn’t tell them that these were Jews that were killed, you just said that they were Frenchmen?
BRAITBERG: No, no, I didn’t say. I say that civilian people were killed. The Nazis killed so many people, and this should go into history of this area, because I knew in other places, they had other Jews also, and they put the monuments. Perigord and Bergerac – all the way where we passed until almost into Paris. In the last minute, they killed all the Jews they find on the way. So, I thought maybe they know. I thought they’d ask. If they ask, I would say, but they didn’t ask me. And I thought maybe they know this was for Jewish people. So, I said, “French people.” Why I have to say – they were French. French people, civilian people, they got killed. So they gave me a man to cooperate with me. He was the head of the socialist party in the whole area. And he was a man, educated, he was retired and he was willing to achieve the goal to put this monument, to prepare everything. Instead, one day when we talked, and they find out that all of them were Jews, and I say slowly everybody start to lose interest. They lost interest and they told me, officially, “You can continue, but nobody want to help you, nobody was interested.” I was so mad that I abandoned the project. I said, “Why do we need a monument for Jewish people in such an anti-Semitic area?” This is what I was thinking. I abandoned it, and I went out from this. And then I decided to go to the United States because I couldn’t support this.
BERNSTEIN: When was this?
BRAITBERG: This happened – oh, I tried a long time in – this happened – I came to ’70. I tried to do this in ’60. In ’65 I abandoned and I could never forget all these people, former combatants, and they were so happy to do this. Once they knew that they were Jews, everybody was – there was no money anymore, there was no this. They told me, “You can do this if you like,” but nobody want to help me. So, I tell you that French people were anti-Semitic. I don’t know, maybe not some Protestants, but this I had as the best example that as soon as they knew – because we talk, we start to describe each of them because when we were ready to make the monument, we had the names. I said, “We are going to invite the rabbi, from Bordeaux.” They are Jews. And when they find out they were Jews, everybody run away. It happens a lot. I was so mad…It was a shame that I – then I decided, “I cannot live in this country. As long as they don’t know I’m a Jew, it’s okay. But as soon as they know I’m a Jew, I am nothing.” So then I decided to come to the United States ‘cause I couldn’t support it.
BERNSTEIN: This friend that was head of the resistance underground, that showed you how to make the identities – you mentioned that he gathered information. What kind of information did he supply to the underground?
BRAITBERG: What I supplied information – I was specially designed for – to gather information about members they wanted to accept in the underground army. So I went and asked all kind of information because we can give a gun to somebody and he can kill, he can rob. What he’s doing, how his behavior, this was mostly – not for some information about the movement of Germans on the roads and contacted the underground army. Because I was more free – I circulate more often than other people. So I knew how to ask in certain places I knew in underground army. “They’re here, they’re here, they must be in other places over there.”
BERNSTEIN: In German? Did you understand German?
BRAITBERG: German I understand, yeah, always. Also, I didn’t have a contact with the Germans, but I could, when they were on the way and they were walking, I heard what they are talking.
BERNSTEIN: You could understand what they were talking about?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. I knew where they go, and once I went, for example, when they had to come to St. ______. Oh, once they came – because in the city where the Jewish people were living, where they killed Alambic, the underground army revolted. They said this city was in 1944, not on the end, but not far from the liberation. They decided to put the flag, French flag and finish there. In the camp, they put machine guns in the street and they went to the mayor, occupied the mayor’s place and throw out Pétain, a picture of Pétain, through the window and put DeGaulle, the symbol of the liberation, and they arrested the collaborators who ran away. You know, for a few days. Then the Germans, they knew. They came about 30 miles, about a thousand people. And I saw them. I was walking with them. They came and there was a bridge they had to go. And the underground army, they destroyed the bridge. They came with boats and put on the other side machine guns and they went to the city and start to fight against the underground army. They killed about – 10 Germans got killed. They occupied – they went to the hospital, through the river. They put the headquarters in the hospital and start to shoot on the streets to the underground army. They were fighting, maybe 10 or 15 underground people got killed in the streets. And this was after the revenge. They came and killed all the Jewish people remaining there after the camp. So, I was, the same day that they were walking to Ste. Foie, they walked maybe eight miles, and I was on the road and I was pretty fast with my bicycle to give them the message that they are coming. To the underground army, and I told them, “Be careful, the Germans are coming – maybe five, six miles they’ve got yet.” I thought maybe they knew already, but I did it. And I was with my bicycle, I was riding maybe one mile and they were walking, singing. I see they go to St. _____. They knew already, not that they knew exactly what they are going to do, but we knew that it’s not very good. So, sometimes I get such information and I took a risk. I don’t know if it’s useful for them, but I told them, “They are coming.” I described the ammunition, I told them how many people. That was the information. But the French people, they run away. Nobody was on the road but the Germans. I was alone with my bicycle and always I had my violin.
BERNSTEIN: Were you able to follow the progress of the war, what was going on in Russia, in Italy?
BRAITBERG: Sure! Sure! We were listening and we had the radio.
BERNSTEIN: What kind of broadcasts were you listening to? Were they German broadcasts?
BRAITBERG: No, we had London all the time.
BERNSTEIN: You could hear – ?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, all the time London. All the underground army, we had London.
BERNSTEIN: Did you understand English?
BRAITBERG: They talk in French. We had the emission all the time in French from London – DeGaulle and the liberation army – they are talking. We had all the information. I forget to tell you once what happened. It was, I think, also in 1942. I was mobilized because very often they send us with planes – documents, ammunitions, money – to the parachutists. And I was mobilized and I organized a group and we knew at what time and at what place that plane will come, and we had to take the parachutists and organized places where to go. With bicycles or with horses or with cows – very quick.
BERNSTEIN: The plane was going to drop parachutes?
BRAITBERG: Yes – no – for the underground army. This was organized and our chief, over there was – I see him. I forgot to tell you he was my chief and he told me, “Jacques,” he told me, “the risk could be torture and the risk could be killed.” So, he told us that day we have to start about 10 o’clock and be out ‘til two o’clock in the night, make the camp, and we have to put – there was a special place where there was no wires, no too much trees, close to the big place that the plane come. (INAUDIBLE) So, I overcome at that time. It was a mistake. And the plane came and parachuted just on the middle of the road in front of the mayor. This mayor was a doctor and he was a collaborator.
BERNSTEIN: And the parachutes dropped on the street?
BRAITBERG: On the street, on the road.
BERNSTEIN: On the road.
BRAITBERG: And they made a mistake. They caught everything, and he called the police. And the police the German police, and they came. They took everything. The place where we were, not the camp. The camp was over there maybe two, three miles from the place. And the man who was the head of our group, he got caught the next day. They came to his house and another one. Two. One was a former officer and they arrested him, the collaborators. He was arrested the next day, and they sent him to Auschwitz. And he survived and I was there when he came back after the liberation in 1945, something like this. Beausoleil, his name was Beausoleil. And we were so happy because he initiated me in the underground, he told me how we would work and everything; very soon I lost him because a few days after, he got caught. And the other was origin from Corsica. He never came back. He was outspoken. He probably got killed because he was very proud. Beausoleil was no diplomat. They put him in Auschwitz, and he said many times he wanted to put all the Jewish people – he was lucky. He came back. He was only once – he must have weighed maybe 60 pounds, maybe more – 80 pounds, and he survived. After he became a normal person, he described, how he was in Auschwitz camp. I cannot go in details now. The same thing with Jewish people. In Auschwitz, they didn’t have only Jewish people. They had all kinds, the resistance, the Russians, Pollacks, all kind of nationalities. We talk always about the destruction of six million Jewish people. Don’t forget Hitler destroyed 30 million people, not six million people. He destroyed 30 million people and 80 ____ 80 million people are injured, without leg, for all the life. He, in his war, six million Germans got killed, destroyed. They got killed by the Russians. The war killed six million Germans, as many as Jewish people. He killed three million Pollacks, non-Jewish people. He killed 15 million Russian people, between 15 and 20 million. So, it’s more than 30 million people in it. I think that we always talked of the war that Hitler killed only Jewish people. It’s not true. The Jewish people that he killed, Hitler, was 1/5 of the – and they got killed in the same conditions as Jewish people in the camps everywhere, the same thing. He was, maybe with the Jewish people was more kids and ladies, females – not as much as other people. But, he killed the same thing. There is books now they describe. There is American – look in the documents – describe a book about how they treated the Pollacks, the Germans. They killed kids, they killed whole families, especially in the farms. They went to the farms and killed everybody because they are worried that they are resistance in Poland. It was terrible. They burned them alive, they – I would like when we talk about history – the impression of the world is that Hitler killed only Jews – I do not like this impression because he killed other nationalities.
BERNSTEIN: 30 million people were killed, but the Jews were killed just because they were Jews. I think that’s the difference.
BRAITBERG: Yeah, this is true.
BERNSTEIN: So the collaborators were killed because they were underground. A lot of soldiers were killed. (OVERTALK)
BRAITBERG: They were only killed because they were in the resistance – yeah, only because they were Jews. (OVERTALK) So a lot of people were killed because they didn’t like Pollacks, they didn’t like Russians, they didn’t like them. The same way as the Jews, they killed them because they didn’t like. They killed all of them because they don’t like Pollacks, they killed all the Russians. Okay.
BERNSTEIN: Did you anticipate the Allies landing? Did everybody know that there would be D-Day invasion forces?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. We knew because – because we always were listening to London, I told you. We knew a lot of things because we had clandestine radio that came straight from London, and from the resistance in France. We have communications so we knew a lot what’s going on before the Germans did. There always was a contact. We had all kinds of messages. Her father, my father-in-law, he had special post in his bed, and he could have communications direct with London. I didn’t have this, but I knew a lot he heard. Hillaret, my chief in the underground.
Oh, I didn’t tell you another story, a very funny story (LAUGHTER) – I forget. This was in 19 – I married in 1945. I married my wife, and when the war was just finished, I find out I was not French, I asked to be freed from the underground army because I say, now, especially in my neighborhood , was so many groups – the general resistance, the Catholic resistance, the Protestant resistance, and they start to fight between them. (LAUGHTER) So, I said, “I don’t know. I will not fight against the French. I was fighting against the Germans. Let me go.” When I married my wife, we went for a honeymoon. We couldn’t go very far because there was shooting sometimes in the underground army when they find Germans and the Germans were resisting. So we went about five, six miles in the woods, a big woods with tent. And we put the tent in and we were circulating all around to find food. And when I came in the villages, for example, to buy chicken, they thought that I am a German. I was dressed like you, with hair and muscles and suntan. I wanted to pay them. They didn’t want money. They were afraid. They give me the chicken and they thought I was a German. (LAUGHTER) So, once I came out from the woods and what I see is an underground army with a machine gun on the road. And I was just in small pants and had no papers – nothing. And he asked me who I am, and he was listening to my accent and he thought that I am a German. And he put his machine gun into my shoulder and pushed me and said, “You have to go on the hill where the headquarters is from the resistance.” I told him, “I myself am from the underground army. Now I am a Pollack.” I said, “I am not going to fight against you.” But he was tired and he was in soft shoes and exhausted and he was worrying and ready to shoot because he was sure I am a German. So I came over on the hill. My wife was following. She was explaining it also and he didn’t want to listen. And we came up there. There was a group, maybe 10. They were in uniform, the French, and they were always looking all the time, so they could kill anybody by mistake. And there were some old cars and machine guns in each car. And I went over there and he presented me to the chief. And I told him the same thing, that I am a member from the underground army and only now I married my wife and I am going to organize my life since the war finished. So, he asked me who was my chief and I told him it was the famous Hillaret who arrested the Catholic. He said, “Hillaret, he is my best friend.” (LAUGHTER) So he shake hands with me and he said, “You are lucky.” Because they would have killed me. This was also the second most dangerous place that I would be killed by the French underground army because it was very easy to kill at that time. They kill very quick. A lot of people they perish like this – innocent. And he told me, this lieutenant, he said, “I have to go and see your compatriot, your Polish people is fighting like hell,” he said, “And you have to go and join them.” (LAUGHTER) And what could I say? I said, “Okay.” I didn’t want to. And I came back and they run away because they – because they thought the Germans came back. Anarchy at that time. And this was also a time when I could get killed by the French. I was arrested by the French. (LAUGHTER) I was never arrested by the Germans. (MORE LAUGHTER) This time I was arrested by the French underground army.
BERNSTEIN: How were the collaborators treated after the liberation? – The gendarmes, the police that were gathering up Jews?
BRAITBERG: The gendarmes, after the war, they all – some of them, they get medals. I know a lot of them because they thought they were working for the underground army. They protect the Jews. It was the circumstances, and DeGaulle give them all medals. How could you say, how could I go and say it’s not true? I was in the place where the (INAUDIBLE). Who knows where he was, the man? I could go and assist but they would arrest me. I would say, “This man didn’t.” The police, the same police, you know, they – when the Germans went away, they became the police for the French government, the same police who – how can you change the whole police? They were police for the government. And they did not accept them very well the collaborators. They were hanged and killed and shot, a lot of them. The first thing, mostly, for example the men who organized who killed this Alambic, and they killed maybe 200 Jews. He was – they find him and put him on trial and he got – they hanged him and shoot the chief. And others, they did find him after one year because he was young. He did not know what he does. I know a lot of these young partisans. But the chief, they killed. So, a lot of collaborators, they went in prison. You know, like Laval – he got killed also. He was a collaborator. Many, many, especially the first day, because the first day the underground army, they had the machine guns and they could kill. After, it was very difficult – justice, trial.
BERNSTEIN: The war ends. You are married.
BRAITBERG: The war ends. I am married. I don’t know what to do. I didn’t have a job. I had nothing. My wife has not a job. The father has a farm. I’m not a farmer. I don’t know what to do – go to Paris, go to…So, I went to Paris and I tried maybe to find a job. I don’t know what. I didn’t finish my studies. I didn’t finish my music. I didn’t finish my agronomy. I was in the middle, and to start again, I didn’t have money. It was not a good time. My wife was pregnant. I find an old friend from the university, he’s now doctor in chemistry, from Hanover. And he say, “Jacques, how are you? I am a diplomat.” I don’t know how he made it. He made it mostly in the underground army. He come through, and he was in Paris all the time. He got the diploma. He had a doctorate in chemistry – not a doctor, but a chemist. And he organized a small factory, not very far from where I used to live and he said, “I have a job for you. You’ll become my chemist.” (LAUGHTER) And I said, “I am not a chemist. How can I?” And he said, “Don’t worry. I’ll give you books and you can study a little. You can read. It’s not difficult,” he said. “I have eight people over there. Everything is good now. We need soap, we need washing machine – does nothing. We have to make it from nothing.” So (LAUGHTER) I start to work and become a chemist. I was the chief. I had to work with people. We make paint from grease, from fish. (LAUGHTER) All ersatzes, ersatzes, like the Germans. We made things. We didn’t have the raw materials. We have to make it – find out how to make oil, to make good paint. We got oil from fish. It was stinking like hell, but we could make a kind of paint. We make glue, all kinds of glue, anything with fat. And so I worked with these people and I learned. One year he gave me a lot of books and gave me a small pension and I could survive. And then I had my daughter, the oldest was born.
BERNSTEIN: Where were you living? In what city?
BRAITBERG: I was living in my wife’s house on the farm, and I was working in Perrier. It was about 20 miles. So, I went with a train. I had a bicycle, went about three, four miles with the bicycle and I had a train. It took me to Perrier. It was a city of about 70,000 people and I was working in this small company about one year. And then I decided to do myself a small company where I used to live. So, I went over there. I came and built a small company and I produced Chlorox.
BERNSTEIN: Chlorox?
BRAITBERG: Chlorox, yeah. Chlorox in big quantities. I had to work very quick. I had four trucks, big trucks. And I had about six, seven people there working. And I start in my garage, in my wife’s garage. Then I rented in the city, a small city. And then I rented a big factory in Bordeaux where we made about 50,000 pounds a day, products to wash in wash machine and about 50,000 buckets of Chlorox. And I had five big trucks, chauffeurs, in a big factory. The train come in. It was very big. And I had to stop working. My wife was sick, and I had two kids already at that time.
BERNSTEIN: Your kids were born in what year?
BRAITBERG: My kids – one was born in ’45, the other in ’46. And I didn’t like. We lived in a place where it was stinking very much. The air was polluted from chemistry. So finally, I sold – no – finally I sold it. It was very difficult to sell it at that time because the business did not work. In the beginning we had lots of work, but afterwards, it was very difficult. And I start to make research and I find a product, another product for buildings. And I went to Paris and I made a small business with a man.
BERNSTEIN: What kind of business?
BRAITBERG: He made a product for buildings.
BERNSTEIN: For buildings?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, self-leveling for floors. He put ceramics on all floors.
BERNSTEIN: Helped level floors?
BRAITBERG: Helped level floors, yeah. And we sold about 500,000 pounds a month of this powders, and I get all this until I come to the United States.
BERNSTEIN: Were you –
BRAITBERG: And I sold it, and I sold it.
BERNSTEIN: When was this?
BRAITBERG: Well, it was in the beginning of ’58 until ’71, and I came to France and I sold it. And with the money I came here. We bought a house and –
BERNSTEIN: You came here in ’71?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. Came here with this money. We were here for three years without working and spent all my money and start working again. (LAUGHTER) Okay. But, in the meantime, immediately after the war, I find a contact with some members of my family.
BERNSTEIN: Yes.
BRAITBERG: And they were in the camps. We start to correspond and I send them money and everything. First of all, I find my oldest brother. He was in Auschwitz and he, it took him about one year to come to France. And he was in my house for about eight years. And I was not organized yet, and my father-in-law, the father of my wife, he came in this house where I used to live. The house was not very big, but he has his room. He helped in the business, but he was very sick – his heart.
BERNSTEIN: Is this your older brother?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. He died already. He passed away three years ago. He was walking and rushing to university; he was a technician. He was eight years with me and then he came to the United States. And I find another brother who was in Auschwitz with two kids. And he came also. He still live with me. He’s living here in this city. He came straight to the United States. And then I find my sister. My sister with her daughter. She lost her husband. She lost her son in the camps, and I brought her also to France. I brought her to France and came also to my house. I had all – my father-in-law was such a good man and she came. She was in a camp in Bordeaux. We didn’t have a car yet. He find a car and went with me to go and get her. He offered her a house and everything and nourished her to health. I had my brother, I had my sister and her daughter. I was smashed immediately because I didn’t start myself. I had to help all this family and I have my brother we found in Russia. And he worked very – he would like to go out, but he cannot go out and it was difficult to live over there. For example, how did I know that he’s not very good, very well over there? He wrote me a letter and said, “This is the best country in the world.” This was the time of Stalin. And he persecuted the Jews. And everyday he was thinking that they would come and destroy him with his family. So he said, “Everything is – this is the best country in the world,” he says. “You should come to it. We have everything done. Ask if you need something, we have everything in this country. There is no such country in the world,” he said. In the middle of this, he say to me, “You know, I see very often our good friend, Tetlock.” And I said, “Who is this Tetlock?” And do you know who Tetlock was?
BERNSTEIN: No.
BRAITBERG: Tetlock was – he said, “I see him very often, everyday, almost, our good friend. He’s young, he has a good situation.” The undertaker from our city. So he communicate – told me that he’s seeing death everyday because he said, “I see Tetlock everyday.”

Tape 3 - Side 1

BERNSTEIN: This is tape number three. This is Richard Bernstein interviewing Jacques Braitberg at his home on July 26, 1984.
Jacques, the last time that we talked, you were telling the war had ended and you were telling us how you were reunited with portions of your family. You were talking specifically about a brother who had gone to Russia. What happened to your family during the war and did some of them get out? And how were you reunited with them?
BRAITBERG: Okay. During the war, practically my family was destroyed. My mother died on the beginning of the war ‘cause she was not that old – she was 55 years old and she didn’t have the right medications. She became sick because she was obliged to running when they bombarded the small city. She had to go miles and miles and then finally she come back and she was a heavy person – I don’t know how to say it.
BERNSTEIN: She weighed quite a bit?
BRAITBERG: Yes. She had to walk, was no transportation, nothing. So she got sick and she died on the beginning of the war, the end of ’39, 1939. Then my father survived. I don’t know how they were living really because I never came back. But I received sometimes some letters, and I had to find out through the letters to imagine how was life, and I find out that his life was very miserable because my one brother, my twin brother ran away. He was in Russia. Nobody knew exactly what happened to him. Then my oldest brother wanted to protect the family, as he usually did. So he didn’t want to run away and decided to stay in the city and do exactly what most Jewish people in the city – means go to the camp in the city, in the beginning of the war when the Germans came into the city. So he went. Another sister, the oldest sister, with husband and two kids, and another sister, younger – she just married – with her husband, and my father and my oldest brother, Leon, and another brother, Joe with his wife. They all were in this camp.
BERNSTEIN: Do you know which camp it was?
BRAITBERG: In the city. They had to go because as soon as the Germans came to Poland, they took out all the Jews and put them in a special place. And they made a kind of camp with terrible conditions. People had to live in terrible conditions – 10, 15, 20 in one room. And they couldn’t go out. They had –
BERNSTEIN: Was this in Piotrkow?
BRAITBERG: Piotrkow, yeah. All the cities in Poland was like this in the beginning. And they designed a special place, a small place, usually mostly where Jewish people used to live. But they make it smaller, much smaller, and put as many people as they could, very much, probably. The people had to live 20 in one room without comfort. And they had to find food. It was very difficult. They couldn’t go out in the city. They didn’t allow that. Some of them, the Germans, they, the youngest, they made them work, hard work. They took them out, these police, in the morning and brought them back in the ghetto in the evening. They went to work in some factories. They want – whatever the Germans had to do, they had to do for nothing. They didn’t pay for this. So, finally, I don’t know – and from this, later, they started to deport these people. Some of the people went straight to the death camps. They were killed immediately. Some of them were killed in the city. They didn’t go anywhere. Some of them went to other camps to work. So, I don’t know exactly because I never knew exactly. My father, I don’t know. He was older, so probably they killed him, nobody knows where.
BERNSTEIN: Now you received letters while they were – ?
BRAITBERG: In the beginning, at the end of ’39 and in ’40.
BERNSTEIN: Who wrote the letters?
BRAITBERG: My father.
BERNSTEIN: Your father.
BRAITBERG: My father wrote it in Yiddish because Polish he didn’t know very well, but he wrote it in Yiddish. I have letters still from my father that he wrote to me.
My sister was in the camp and my sister – the youngest sister – she was very sensitive and she could run away because she looked like a Polish girl. She was blonde with blue eyes.
BERNSTEIN: She didn’t look Jewish?
BRAITBERG: No, she didn’t look Jewish at all, but she didn’t want (to go). She wanted to stay in the camp and treat…because most of the Jewish people who left in the camp became sick, like epidemic. Illnesses like typhoid, all kinds, because the conditions were there to make these people sick. She treated these people and she became sick too and died in the city. And her husband was deported and we never knew what happened to him. Another brother, Joe, he was a shoemaker, and he was working in the German – and he was specializing in making boots.
BERNSTEIN: Warm boots for the army?
BRAITBERG: Yes. For the army. So, they needed him and they didn’t kill him. And my oldest brother, he had a – he was working, anything. He was not very old and they kept him to work in very difficult conditions. Now, my sister and her husband, another sister, the oldest sister, they deported them in another city. The husband died somewhere, we don’t know where, and her son was killed, and she survived with her daughter, and she is now in Paris.
BERNSTEIN: Now, what’s her name?
BRAITBERG: Fela – and her daughter, Sarah. She married a French Jewish boy, a very nice boy named R…. She – they live very well. They have a little store in Paris, in a suburb of Paris, and her son now is already about 25 years. He has a very good job. He is very smart and works – he’s a banker, works for the bank in France. He has a very good job. And my sister is still there. She is now about 73 years old.
BERNSTEIN: And she spent most of the war where?
BRAITBERG: In camps, all the camps Buchenwald –
BERNSTEIN: And she survived.
BRAITBERG: She survived. She spent in all the camps. I don’t remember any more. Auschwitz, Buchenwald – all the very well known camps. She was everywhere.
BERNSTEIN: How did you find her after the war? Or how did she find you?
BRAITBERG: After the war – it’s very difficult to remember how I find them. After the war, I received one letter from the Red Cross because I wrote a lot of letters to the Red Cross in France, when I was in France. And probably when the people, the surviving people in the camp after the war, the Red Cross had my address and they contact these people. I told them I had a brother and the name and everything. So, my oldest brother first contact me and he was in Austria, in a camp.
BERNSTEIN: And this is Joe?
BRAITBERG: No, he passed away. Leon, the oldest brother.
BERNSTEIN: Leon.
BRAITBERG: He said he’s alive. He did not know about the other people. And slowly, after we find out that the other brother, Joe, was in Germany in a camp and his wife – we couldn’t find his wife, but we find their daughter and the sister of his wife that he married after. So, we find Joe and my sister-in-law and Sarah. Sarah lives here. She’s here in St. Louis, the daughter of Joe. And who else? And this was all. We didn’t find them then. Later, I received a letter from Russia from my brother, from Stalingrad that he was over there through the Red Cross also. The Red Cross was very helpful. Otherwise, without the Red Cross we couldn’t –
BERNSTEIN: So the Red Cross was very helpful in allowing –
BRAITBERG: To finding the families. Because I always wrote letters, wrote letters to them. During the war, even in France, I sent out letters whenever I passed in a city in France during the war, I send a letter that I am alive…
BERNSTEIN: Where did you send the letters?
BRAITBERG: Where I sent the letter because I had addresses from to my brother in – where I send – that’s a good question. I sent it to my address where I used to live.
BERNSTEIN: In Piotrkow?
BRAITBERG: In Piotrkow, yes. I sent them over there because I didn’t have another place. The Red Cross because everybody did this and they could find out where. Once I received a letter from my brother in Russia, in Stalingrad.
BERNSTEIN: And what’s his name?
BRAITBERG: Gregor Braitberg. He is my twin brother.
BERNSTEIN: Gregor.
BRAITBERG: So I received a letter that he was there in Russia and he described that the life was very difficult. And when I was in France, then my brother came – he came from – I forgot the camp where he was in Austria. I forgot the name of the camp. So he came to me in France. He was sick. He had heart trouble. Very damaged was his heart and he couldn’t – he was very quiet and he was with me about eight years in my house. Now I just had time – it was very difficult for me, so he was with me, and then he asked to go to the United States. He came here and he was studying medical technic, and he got a diploma here, and then he was working in the hospitals in St. Louis. Barnes Hospital and everywhere, as a technician until he died.
BERNSTEIN: How long ago did he die?
BRAITBERG: He died – it is now two and one-half years.
BERNSTEIN: Two and one-half years?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. He passed away. He was about 75 years old. In the papers he was 73, but I know he was a little older. Okay, so you know my sister died in the camp. Her husband never came back. The older sister – I had an older sister – we never know. And she has a child and a husband. We never know what happened to her. She married. She probably died in the beginning. Some people they killed immediately in the camps. In the cities, they didn’t go very far to get killed. It’s depend on the local government, on the local German responsible. He decided, he say, “Tomorrow I want to kill 20 Jewish people,” and that’s it! They kill 20 people. For example, in Piotrkow, I know a fact, was a holiday. A holiday, I don’t remember which holiday, and they decided on this holiday to kill all the intellectual people between the Jewish people in Piotrkow, all the lawyers, all the teachers, all the doctors – they decided to put 25 – let’s say. I don’t know exactly the number – 25, they brought them to the cemetery, the Jewish cemetery, and they told them to take off all their clothes. They had to make –
BERNSTEIN: Dig their own graves?
BRAITBERG: Dig their own graves. And I remember that there was a lawyer that I knew very well, a very nice guy, a doctor and a dentist, all kinds intellectual people. And then they decided that they needed 21 and they had only 20, so the man who was studying on the cemetery, they took him to make the 21 that they needed. This is a true story what I’m telling you, because everybody knew this. And they got killed in the Jewish cemetery. They came with a machine gun and killed everybody. Stein, I remember, the lawyer, was a good friend of mine. His name was Stein. Such a nice guy, such good people, beautiful people.
BERNSTEIN: Was this at the beginning of the war?
BRAITBERG: Yeah. This was in 1940. They start to kill. Everyday they kill. They shoot in the city, in the streets, because some people they went out for a reason, to find food or something like this. They saw them, they recognized them, they shoot them in the street and put them on a wagon. The wagon was driving everyday in the city and they picked up all the killed people what they killed in the city, shooting. Ah – but this has nothing to do with my family. I have to talk about my family. But, it seems like I said everything already about my family and concerning Poland because the story is not very long, is not a big story because everything was destroyed. The whole family was destroyed.
BERNSTEIN: Your brother, Gregor, who was in Russia. When did he leave Russia?
BRAITBERG: Okay. Well, Gregor, it was very difficult for him to get out because the Russians didn’t allow him to go out from Russia. He was a teacher over there, a music teacher in Stalingrad and his life was very difficult. I sent him a lot of clothes and things like a violin to sell because I understood that he needed help. Even with the position that he had as a teacher, he didn’t make much money even though he was able to make a living.
BERNSTEIN: What was his life like during the war in Russia?
BRAITBERG: His life – he was living, and he had two children, young children and his wife. They were living in one room. They didn’t have a restroom, they didn’t have any water in their room. They had to go out for water. For the restroom, they had to go out in the outside. In winter, it was very cold in Stalingrad, and his life was very difficult. Very often he had to be careful. Police come to him and reviewing him what he’s doing, if he’s a Zionist at that time, because it was the time that Stalin was persecuting Jewish people in Russia. So this was – I’m talking about ’55, ’56, ’57. So, I sent him money and I sent him once a good violin that I had that a collector gave it to me as a gift. A violin was very much money in France. A Frenchman gave it to me because I was playing well, he liked very much my music. So, I sent it to him, and he sold it in Russia or gave it to somebody, I don’t know, a man who helped him to go out from Russia to Poland. So, not to go out forever, just to – he find a combination to go to visit Poland with his family, because he was from Poland, Warsaw. And so he left everything in Russia that he had. He could take nothing because he wanted to go just for a visit. He had a paper to go to visit Poland and come back. But, when he went to Poland, he never come back to Russia.
BERNSTEIN: He always intended not to come back?
BRAITBERG: Not to come back. So, he took his two children, two boys, and his wife, and he went to Warsaw. This was probably in ’56 or ’57 and he was living one year. But, in Warsaw, they didn’t let them go out either because they had sometimes the same rules and regulations as Russia. So, he said that at that time in Poland they received him very well. They give him a nice apartment and give him a job and wanted him to stay in Poland, but he didn’t want to stay.
BERNSTEIN: Who gave him a job?
BRAITBERG: The government.
BERNSTEIN: The government.
BRAITBERG: Yeah, the Polish government, the Communist government. And so, what we did, I wrote him a letter that I didn’t see him in so long, and I invited him, his children, his wife to visit me in France. So, to allow him to was very difficult to go out, but he went to the – he know somebody in the communist party that needed an apartment, a nice apartment. And he said, “Look, I have a beautiful apartment. I give you the keys. I keep everything what is in if you do something to allow me to go to visit my brother.” This is what they did. And he got permission to go and visit, but he knew that he’s not going to come back.
BERNSTEIN: He took his family with him.
BRAITBERG: He took his family and came to my house and he was staying one year. This was in ’58. He was staying one year in Perrier and made a demand to go to the United States, let him go to the United States. They accepted immediately and he got the visa in about one year. He came to St. Louis and became a teacher.
BERNSTEIN: So he came here before you did.
BRAITBERG: Oh yeah. He came here in ’58 or ’59, and I came in ’71, so it’s a long time. I came to visit once with my family and then I decided to come to live because most of my family was here. So my brother left everything in Poland for the head of the party, and he took his apartment (LAUGHTER) because he knew that he will not come back. It’s some kind of combination there because, you know, even a communist assisted. They are also communists of all kinds. They needed apartment, they need money, they need everything that a human being needed in a capitalistic country and, of course, in a communist country, they needed the same things. They need to make a living. So, finally my brother come here, and I was still in France and finally I visited several times the United States and I told you why I decided mostly to come to the United States first of all because most of my family was here, and I find out that I had enough. Poland was anti-Semitic. France was anti-Semitic, in this. And I was very sensitive, especially when I wanted to, remember, to put up a monument for the massacre in Ste. Foy, where I used to live, for eight Jewish people and I find out that everybody, the moment they find out that all these people killed were Jewish people that were killed, they were not interested. And this was a terrible shock for me. And I said, “I don’t want to stay this time.” Because this means very frankly they know I am a Jew and there are not many Jewish people in this small city. From the moment they knew that I want to put a monument for massacre and all these people were Jewish people, they are not interested.
BERNSTEIN: That did surprise you?
BRAITBERG: It surprised me very much because when I told them to do this, everybody was very enthusiastic and they wanted to help. Everybody, everybody, the whole group of former combatants, because this was a group of former combatants. I was very sensitive, and I said, “Oh, these people are nice people, they want to help,” but the moment they knew this was Jewish people, everybody was running away but myself, and I was thinking, “Why you have to put a monument in such a country, for what?” And I decided to abandon the project because they would let me do, but I was alone. Nobody wanted to help me. And I was really very much disappointed. And this was the most important fact that give me the idea to leave France.
BERNSTEIN: And come to the United States.
BRAITBERG: Yeah. Because, officially I cannot say there was at that time anti-Semitism in France, but the people, the Catholics, are anti-Semitic. They are. It is very difficult to describe. It’s not the kind of anti-Semitism like in Poland. They will throw you stones or they will be aggressive with you – no, they are very kind, but they are anti-Semites. If you – they don’t like Jewish people. They don’t like because the fact that you are a Jew, you are not the same human being as they are. And each time they have an opportunity, if they have an opportunity, they will tell you, they will tell you. They will tell to everybody. And I had very often to support me like this because a lot of people didn’t know – I didn’t have a special sign that I am a Jew. And sometimes I said that I am a Jew and people said, “Jacques, we’d never know that you are a Jew.” (LAUGHTER)
BERNSTEIN: So, after the war, when – in the community that you lived around Bordeaux all during the war, did you after the war tell people that you were Jewish?
BRAITBERG: Even during the war, if somebody asked me, I said that I am a Jew. I never was hiding that I am a Jew, but a lot of people didn’t ask me. Why have to go and tell them –
BERNSTEIN: Well, during the war it would have been very dangerous for you.
BRAITBERG: Some people, I said – you remember that I was on the farm with farmers. I told them that I am a Jew, but I didn’t say anymore because it was too dangerous. But, if somebody would ask me specifically – sure, I wouldn’t say to the Gestapo (LAUGHTER) but if a private man on the street would ask me if I am a Jew, I would say, “Yes, I am a Jew,” and I would look why he’s asking. What’s the problem? After the war, nobody asked me and if somebody asked me, I said that, “I am a Jew.” It was not dangerous anymore. In Poland is different. The French people’s completely different than the Pollacks. Pollacks were anti-Semitic – terrible anti-Semitic and they are aggressive and killed in the street, they throw stones if you look like a Jew. They would do all of that. The French people, no. They would let you quiet. Officially, the police would protect you. You will have the same rules and regulations in court. They will apply to you the same rules and regulations as to others, but the people are anti-Semitic. The fact that they are Catholics, they are anti-Semitic. For example, they cannot understand that the Jew is like everybody. No, he’s inferior in their opinion. He’s somebody that God does not like. He’s – the fact that they would say, “This is a Jew,” means everything. It means he’s not like everybody, he’s inferior.
BERNSTEIN: Can you think of any specific examples that indicate?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, I can give you lot of these examples. For example, in my city, in Ste. Foy La Grande, was a very rich man. He was owner of vineyards. He was selling wine, a big company. And I had a small company, chemicals and we were very often in the relation. He was to me very kind. He bought some products from me, chemicals he needed to treat the wine. But he was very Catholic. He was going every morning before he start his life to church. But I couldn’t know if he was anti-Semitic because there was not other Jewish people in the city. There was me and another man from Morocco, but he didn’t live – he had only a store. He used to live in Bordeaux.
So, one time my wife became sick and I had to put her in a hospital in Bordeaux. She had – she was pregnant and had infection, was very sick. And I had to stop my work and be in Bordeaux – was about 40 miles from my city and I had to stay over there and didn’t work for maybe two months and I was not very rich. If I did not work, I did not have money. So, I met his brother, this rich man’s brother in Bordeaux. He was very rich also. And he had beautiful buildings and castles and very rich, very rich people. And I was specialize at that time, I make products to make floors, to – how to explain – in a new building to put plastics. And before you put the plastic on the floor, you have to self-leveling product to put to make it smooth. So, I was specialize in this and I went to see his wife. This Grenouillot, his name was Grenouillot. His wife, she received me very well – oh, no, no, no, no. It was not like this. I met her in the hospital when – yeah, now I remember. When my wife was in the hospital, I looked in the meantime to find some jobs in Bordeaux to make some money. And I find somebody gave me a job in a Catholic hospital where most of the people condemned to die, like terminal cancer and things like this – terrible things I saw. I never could believe my life. I went in a room and I saw these people without faces, without – really old people that were waiting to die there from cancer. The smell was terrible, and I accepted this job to smooth the floor, a big floor, to work because I needed money. When I went out in the morning, I fainted. (LAUGHTER) It was smelling so terrible and everything that I saw, I couldn’t support it. But I had to do the job.
In this hospital was a lady that came just to talk to those people, to condemned people. She talked to them and I was so surprised. She told me her name and she said she was Grenouillot. She’s so rich. And I find this terrible. I said, “People like this I admire,” because she didn’t need to go over there in this place, but she did it. Now, after I understood, because she was a Catholic and to go to the paradise, she had to do something on this earth. So, she went once a week to these people and talked with them. And when I met her over there, she didn’t know that I am a Jew. She told me she had a lot of buildings to do like this. She’s going to give me a lot of jobs. So, I told her who I am, where I live in Ste. Foy, and I was thinking she would ask information and she would know I am a Jew and she would not give me nothing. And this was true.
When I came, she was living like in a castle. I was ringing and somebody came to the door and I said, “This is Mr. Braitberg, she gave me an appointment.” She didn’t even let me go in her house. She didn’t even want to talk to me because in the meantime she called the brother-in-law and he said, “He’s a Jew,” and this is it.
BERNSTEIN: I see.
BRAITBERG: So, you have a case like this. And I said, “I cannot understand these people.” She can do beautiful things for these sick people. Because a lot of people wouldn’t be able to sit over there. I couldn’t sit over there because it was terrible. I cannot describe you all the sick people, terminal illnesses. And she came once, twice every week to talk with these people and she would be able to kill me because I am a Jew. So you see, this is what I couldn’t understand, I could not understand. Okay, this is one case. This was – I was shocked with this. I told you already the case with the monument for the massacre. And what else I have? I don’t know. I don’t remember. I had so many cases that I find out that Catholics they don’t like Jews.
BERNSTEIN: And that was enough for you to decide to –
BRAITBERG: I told you also the story where I used to live with the seminarians from – did I tell you the story?
BERNSTEIN: Yes.
BRAITBERG: There was maybe 15 seminars and they told the stories, joking that how a Jewish doctor was in love with a Christian and she was crying because the Germans took him and killed him. Things like this. Catholics. And I don’t know, I will have to think, but I could face these problems very often, very often. People talk to me. I tell you one time even in St. Louis here. I belong to a company, to a social society, French society. And there was a man, a Frenchman. He was a charming person. I liked him so much. And once we were sitting together eating. We had a reception, and he talked to me like this, “Jacques, I cannot understand why somebody doesn’t put that bomb of Jerusalem, and killed all these people that Hitler didn’t finish.” Like this!
BERNSTEIN: This is someone in St. Louis that you’ve met?
BRAITBERG: In St. Louis, a Frenchman. I knew he was a Catholic. I didn’t want to talk to him anymore. I don’t even go to the – but sometimes I go back because not everybody has the president of this society. He is a professor from St. Louis University, a charming man. He’s a good man. He’s a Catholic and he was such a nice man. He would help anybody, a Jew. He’s not an anti-Semite at all. So, they were wondering why I don’t – I told them the story. I said, “How can I go to your (society) when he told me such a story?” And I didn’t say to him nothing. I didn’t want to quarrel with him. So, when I came over there, he said, “Jacques, I don’t see you anymore.” He continues like this, and I don’t talk to him. (LAUGHTER)
BERNSTEIN: You ignored him?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, I ignore him, yeah.
BERNSTEIN: What French society is this?
BRAITBERG: French Society. This is a French Society in St. Louis. That’s it. The society is not anti-Semitic, but you have this kind – some people there who are anti-Semitic. He didn’t know that I am a Jew. He told me this story. What should I say? (LAUGHTER) So, when you talk about facts like this – anti-Semitics, I have a lot of them. I was, once when I was young, I remember I was on a river in Poland, Galicia. The name is Galicia. And I met a student, a Polish student, a girl from Warsaw, from the university. And we – I had a boat. I took her in my boat and on the way I asked her, “What are you doing here?” She said, “I live in Warsaw, and I am glad to not be there for a certain time because there are maybe 350,000 Jews in Warsaw, stinking Jews, (LAUGHTER) and life is terrible. I am glad that…” She talked to me like this. I took my boat and went on the seashore and said goodbye to her, “You know I am a Jew.” And she said to me, “Oh, Jacques, I am sorry, I am sorry.” I say, “You can be sorry, but goodbye. (LAUGHTER) You don’t like Jews. They are stinking Jews. You don’t have to stay with me.” So, I had many cases like this, a lot, a lot. What else – in France? I don’t think it’s necessary to say more, but in general, most of the Catholics in France, they don’t like Jews.
I think, not only in France, but all the Catholics, they don’t like Jews. But some are very aggressive and some are just passive, but then you have an opportunity and you don’t present, and they know you are not a Jew, and they will tell you that a Jew is something different. He is not like every human being. He is different entirely. That’s what they think, all of them. It’s not wondering because it is almost 2000 years that Vatican made the propaganda and described the Jewish people as inferior, as miserable, there are funny stories, dangerous, not believing in God, and this is all the books in Europe. You take the literature of German, French literature, English literature, Italian literature, Spanish literature – in Europe the whole literature is full of anti-Semitism. So it is not wondering that anti-Semitism exists because the people they don’t know. They say why all the literature, everybody’s joking about the Jews. Even Molière was joking about Jews. Even the biggest, best known authors in the world, English and French, everybody. You find always where they described Jews as ridiculous. So, it’s not that somebody, “That’s why we don’t like Jews.” Because the propaganda, the Vatican should do something now because he poison 900 million people. He poisoned them during 2000 years and he wants now anti-Semitism to stop. He should put some antidote –
BERNSTEIN: You’re speaking of the Pope?
BRAITBERG: Yeah, the Pope. I don’t accuse the Catholics because some Catholics, they are very nice. They follow the traditions and education, but the Pope is governing. They have the power and they impose anti-Semitism on all the Catholic countries. And I can give you a good example. Why, for example, in Poland, where the crowd – you say ____?
BERNSTEIN: No.
BRAITBERG: Where the crowd is Catholic country, Poland. Because there is 99% Catholic people. The Catholic has the power over there. The Jew is nothing. They are very anti-Semitic. And Rumania is the same thing. Ukraine is a different Catholic, but it is the same thing. In Latvia, Lithuania, all these Catholic countries, it’s terrible for Jews. You go in France and it’s a little different because French people has a different culture, is more educated, so the anti-Semitism takes a different form. It’s not like so visible, not aggressive, but nevertheless, they have it in their hearts, all the Catholics are anti-Semitic. In England, it’s the same thing and why, for example, in the United States, I remark here that there is a kind of good relationship between Jewish people and Catholics?
BERNSTEIN: In the United States?
BRAITBERG: In the United States. And I was thinking a long time, and I find it out. To me looks like this is the Pope’s, the Vatican’s strategy because the Catholics in the United States are a minority. They need other minorities to achieve what they want and that’s why they are cooperating with Jewish people. The Jewish people should know why they are so – better relations here. Once they become a majority, their strategy will be exactly the same as in Poland, as in France – maybe a different form, but it will be the same thing because the Vatican for 2000 years was always anti-Semitic. All the popes, all the strategy – they made a change, and as long as they don’t change, we can expect to have anti-Semitism. I am sorry that we finished on a different – but this is a common theme. What time is it? I will have to –
(THIS APPEARS TO BE THE END OF THE INTERVIEW, BUT JACQUES SANG AND NARRATED FIVE YIDDISH SONGS THAT HE SANG AS A CHILD IN PIOTRKOW-TRYBUNALSKI, POLAND. HE ALSO PLAYED A HASIDIC MELODY FROM HIS EARLY YEARS IN POLAND ON THE VIOLIN. THIS IS ALL SUPERIMPOSED ON ANOTHER TAPE WHICH WAS EVIDENTLY NOT ERASED COMPLETELY.)

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