Simultaneously I've been doing yet more digging around my relatives who were living in France in 1939 - and had been living there for at least 20 years, I think. Here's a piece I've written about researching these things:
Against 'Vernichtung'' - Against the Making-of-Nothing
My father's uncle, Oscar/Jeschie Rosen and his wife, Rachel Rosen, fled from Sedan and other eastern territories of France and Paris along with hundreds of thousands of others to southern France when the German army invaded. Oscar/Jeschie and Rachel went to Niort, Deux-Sevres. The authorities put them on the 'fichier juif'- the Jewish file. Later, they were 'aryanised' by Vichy authorities - that is, all their property was siezed, they were given yellow stars to wear and their market stall given the sign 'Entreprise Juive'. They seem to have been selling second hand clothes, though Jeschie was a clock-mender by trade.
They fled to Nice in secret, (I don't know how) where they waited for the Italian occupying authorities to issue them with false passports. At that point Italy was defeated by the allies and Nazi Germany took over Nice. Like many other Jews, Jeschie and Rachel were then rounded up from the hotels, transported via Paris Bobigny and Drancy to Auschwitz where they were killed.
Jeschie was born in 1895 in Oswecim, the Polish name for the town of Auschwitz. His and Rachel's names are on the memorial to Nazi Barbarism in the Jewish cemetery of Sedan and Charleville-Mezieres.
I have pieced these fragments together from a handful of post cards that survived; French books that document the fate of Jews in France under the occupations by Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy where my relatives' names appear on lists; the Wiener Library in London,ancestry.com, and an archive I've only just unearthed in the US.
I was able to access a new set of documents: the application by Jeschie's niece to bring Jeschie and Rachel to the US. She applied in 1939. I don't have the document which turned down the application but presumably it was. Or perhaps, permission came too late and they couldn't leave France. Jeschie and Rachel's address in Sedan was on the application.
We also have letters from Niort in France and from other relatives in Poland writing to the American relatives to send help or adopt one of the children. In fact he escaped by going east into the Soviet Union and eventually joining the Polish Free Army. He is 91. He didn't know any of this story.
I met Jeschie's niece, Olga Rosen Temkin, in the US. She didn't ever say that she had applied to bring him to the US. She just said that she had written to him when she was at school in order to practise her French.
None of the American relatives of that generation, nor my father or his sister, appeared to know any of this. They always said that the French relatives where there at the beginning of the war and they weren't there at the end. No one knew what happened.
I think about what Jeschie and Rachel could have thought as they were being deported from France and when they arrived at Auschwitz. What crime had they committed? What force was being mustered against them, and why? And then I think about whether they thought about how no one knew where they were or what was happening to them. They were being disappeared. The word the Nazis used for extermination includes the word 'nicht' - 'Vernichtung' - nothing-isation. That was the idea behind it all. To make nothing.
So, when I wonder why I've spent so much time trying to find these things out, I come face to face with that word. And I guess I've been trying to contradict that 'nothing-isation'. I've been trying to make a something. So that the aim of the 'Vernichtung' fails - to a small degree, I hope.
That's also one reason why there'll be a counter-demonstration on July 4. There are of course many different ways of trying to make nothings of people a racist or fascist might regard as or wish to be a nothing. I hope that many people will see that that is the more general reason for the counter-demonstration. It's against all attempts to turn all or any peoples into nothings.