Continuing with the harrowing story of long-time Franklinton resident Julia Gottlieb Moak during the Holocaust, her focus was her family. At this tumultuous time Julia's primary concern was her beloved 11-year-old half-sister Esther who was terrified after her parents and brother were deported from Cannes, France.
Having managed to save Esther from the same fate, Julia swiftly made arrangements for her sister's safety. Faithful friend Irene Dufour told Julia about "Le Lys" - a private boarding school managed by nuns. Julia prevailed upon the Mother Superior to enroll Esther, and Julia secured an assistant teaching position which kept the two sisters together.
Irene also found Julia an apartment not far from downtown Cannes, where she and Esther lived. Julia was determined, despite the chief of police's best efforts to force her out, to stay in Cannes. She wanted her family to be able to find her, should they return. In addition, by this time while most of France was occupied by the Germans, Southern France was occupied by the Italians (November of 1942). Though in December of that year the Prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes region (Southeast corner of France bordering Italy) sought deportation of the remaining Jews, the Italians did not concur. The Italian Army acted on its own accord until the Nazis arrived.
With continued threats from the chief of police, who wanted to confiscate her passport, Julia pled her case at the Italian headquarters. The sympathetic director issued a permit for Julia and her sorrella (sister in Italian) to remain in France, under his protection. Furious, the police chief warned her of change when the Germans arrived. As they were situated on the coast, Julia sought passage for the two of them aboard a small boat bound for England, but no one would assume the risk of a passenger under eighteen. So, Julia worked on alternate plans.
When the British Consul departed Nice, the American Consul was in charge of British subjects left in Southern France. Once the American Consul left, the Swiss Consul took care of their welfare. As a British subject, Julia was allocated money not only for herself but also for Esther, though her little sister was Belgian, which helped her manage. As Julia penned in 1985, "I can never forget that generosity."
She also noted that with many of the French in the South of France of Italian descent, the Italian occupation was not that concerning. In fact, the French easily befriended them, inviting the Italians to dinner. And raiding loaded box cars bound for Germany, the Italian soldiers took crates of oranges and reciprocated with a feast. It was at one such dinner that Julia met Italo Pacelli, an Italian soldier who was not fond of the Germans. It was from Italo that Julia first heard rumors of the concentration camps. From Italo also came her first marriage proposal.
Once German occupation of Southern France was on the horizon, the Italian soldiers dispersed, with Italo among them. After two postcards from him, Julia heard nothing more. The situation was dire in September 1943 with German occupation of France's last free territory. But Julia was undeterred.
Becoming part of the French resistance, her goal was "to sabotage any German works." Once the Nazis established headquarters and recruited workers, Julia seized the opportunity. Leaving Esther with a Russian widow, she entered the headquarters building, swathed in huge Swastika flags and Hitler's image. Unintimidated, she secured a job as interpreter and payroll clerk for Todt Works, a German organization which built defense bunkers along the shore and maintained the railroads and other works for the German Army.
Fearing deportation, workers were forced into servitude. Frenchmen needed passes which evidenced work for the Germans so Julia, using an official stamp, forged passes for anyone who needed them. The two German overseers, who were not Nazis, pretty much left Julia in charge. In addition to losing building plans, she helped the workers feign daytime work as the real subterfuge took place at night - planting explosives, stealing goods bound for Germany, burning box cars, and derailing the cars.
Things went smoothly at the warehouse for a short while before the terror began, at the hands of the Germans. The French didn't respect them from the get-go, calling them Boches, also meaning Jerry. But the arrival of the SS in black uniforms, sporting the skull and crossbone insignia, incited fear, even in ordinary German soldiers. Making trouble, the SS sought collaborators. With Germany in desperate need of workers, the SS offered 500 francs to anyone who would produce the name of a friend or family member who could work. People gave up their own. Julia forged a payroll book, creating a false duplicate to circumvent this tattletale system. She then scrounged up funds, using payroll money owed to herself to pay special guides who, using unpatrolled routes, helped people escape into Switzerland.
But people began to disappear; stopped on the street, they were detained for deportation. On at least one occasion, Julia posed as a German official, requesting the release of twenty-three men, only one of whom she knew. Leaving with all of them, she requested more payroll money to cover the cost of spiriting these workers away from the region. Once a person's name was on a list, it wasn't safe for that individual to stay.
Courageous and determined, Julia played a valuable role in the Resistance. Immersed in her poignant memoir, I turned the pages as Julia evolved into a hero.
•Stay tuned next month for Part 5 in the Julia Gottlieb Moak series, based on her memoir, on the Holocaust and the Resistance.