• Part 5 •
"For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing." ---Simon Wiesenthal, Holocaust survivor. (earlier versions of this quote exist, including one from John Stuart Mill in 1867)
An integral part of the Resistance, Julia Gottlieb Moak did everything but nothing, in France during World War II.
Under constant suspicion, she was subject to intense interrogation. But a master at making excuses, Julia had answers, always with an impeccable German accent. For example, she convinced her superiors she needed extra payroll funds for food as much of it was exported to Germany, making that which she could get, on the black market, exorbitant. And explaining away work slowdowns, Julia informed that younger men were drafted for the war while others were imprisoned, leaving for the local work force older men without enough food or energy. And multilingual, she consistently denied that she could speak English.
Julia was a quick thinker, and with the atrocities she was witnessing, she had to be. When one of the employees, an Indonesian French national, was arrested by the Germans for fighting, she saw firsthand their brutality. They beat his brains out until he perished. While the French were apathetic, refusing to get involved despite her pleas, the Germans were sadists.
Julia saved as many people as humanly possible. Franklinton lawyer Wayne Kuhn aptly described her efforts as a small-scale "Schindler's List." Part of the underground, Julia was the person people contacted when they needed false work permits. Though she acknowledged in her memoir that a work permit did not necessarily prevent deportation, it did serve as a delay. But Julia had to be very careful as collaborators would report her. In providing the false work permits, she relied on recommendations from people she knew and trusted.
Elaborating on the SS (the Schutzstaffel, an organized paramilitary group under the Nazis and Adolph Hitler) in her poignant memoir on which this series is based, Julia described them as "the most despised of all Germans." She recounted the despicable lyrics of their song, "Today we rule Germany, tomorrow the whole world." Arrogance and meanness, they had in spades. And feeling "superior in their uncivilized ways," they were known for brutality, evidenced by all the insults, arrests, and beatings. Julia observed them push an elderly lady on a cane into a gutter, breaking her leg. On another occasion, during a round-up the baby of a woman who was pleading to the German officer for her infant's life, was grabbed by another German and slammed against a brick wall, before the woman was arrested. And Julia also witnessed an SS member destroy property in a jewelry store, slapping the owner's wife and stealing valuable jewelry. As Julia explained, "there was nothing you could do about it." They were barbaric.
Things eventually became so terrible within the city of Cannes that Julia and her beloved sister Esther escaped to the suburbs. The Germans had taken over the town - the hotels and apartments. They harassed business owners and deported them. They arrested the baker for selling a stale loaf of bread and then, after that, for not having any to sell. An apartment manager who displayed a "No vacancy" sign (so he wouldn't have to rent to collaborators) was arrested. Businesses were required to display Hitler's photograph and to serve the Germans. Otherwise, they risked a visit from the SS and deportation.
Though listening to foreign broadcasts was forbidden, Julia listened to the BBC news when she could. Caught in the act by her superior who warned her to be careful, she posted some employees as look-out. Her two overseers also warned her about the wrath she could incur for being too outspoken, but this didn't stop her from emphatically turning down a Nazi who asked her for a date. When the German declared, "The fuhrer is our god," Julia didn't accept the invitation, explaining, "it was not my religion." She also turned down a young Polish noble who had joined the German army as a spy. Though Julia knew he had infiltrated the Germans, much like she had, she could never see past his Nazi uniform.
Though the Germans increased their visits to the warehouse where she worked, making more demands and threats, Julia ensured that work continued at its usual snail's pace as the Allies racked up victories. She was a sharp cookie. She had to be, as part of the Resistance.
All this time, the SS were conducting surprise raids on the convents, searching for Jewish children. After their parents had been deported, friends and neighbors had placed their children there. Julia explained that upon approaching raids by the SS, the Mother Superior would get word so that the nuns could take the children for very long hikes and picnics in the mountains. The boys went with the priests to the seminary. If they had been discovered, both the boys and the priests would have been executed.
Esther was blessed to have Julia. But Julia elaborated, "…I was the lucky one to have Esther, because she kept me going and hoping that someday we'll find my parents and Joseph again. We often talked about what we would do when we would be together once more."
•Stay tuned next month for Part 6 on the Holocaust and Liberation, the conclusion of the Julia Gottlieb Moak series, based on her Memoir. Julia was a long-time Franklinton resident, moving here post-war with her husband, Franklinton native Percy Moak.