Sunday 30 January 2022

My father's uncle Martin and the Holocaust


Here's a third piece that I have recently written for History Works and Professor Helen Weinstein to be used by school students for their presentations. It was for this year's Holocaust Memorial day. 

At mealtimes

our father would say to us:

‘You know - I had two French uncles

they lived in France.

They were there before the war

but they weren’t there at the end.’

We sat there 

not knowing what to think.

‘What happened to them?’

We’d say.

‘I don’t know,’ he’d say

‘They probably died in the camps,’

he’d say.


What camps?

We didn’t know about camps

where people went 

and never came back..

It was mysterious

and awful.

It made us sad

and afraid.

My brother said

it gave him nightmares…

l thought of the Tower of London

dark grey, 

the prison

the torture chamber in there.

I didn’t know what they were really like.

As years went by

I found out about these camps.

I started to research

to find out what happened to my father’s uncles:

I went to libraries

I looked online

I wrote emails.

I went to America

to talk to relatives there.

More libraries

more searching online

more emails.

Bit by bit

I started to find things

about my father’s two uncles.

Martin and Jeschie.

It’s like I was tracking them down.

I found out that Martin and Jeschie 

lived in eastern France

but when the war broke out

they - like millions of others

took to the roads.

they fled to the villages and towns of western France

They called it The Exodus.

Let me tell you about what happened to Martin.

I found a trace of him

first in a little seaside place

with a group of others from the east.

Because they were Jewish

they had to wear a yellow star.

One document said that Martin

refused to use his clothing ration 

to make the yellow star.

Then he moved to a village inland.

I wondered:

did he run away?

Was he in trouble because he protested about the

yellow star?

He was with his brother-in-law - who was not Jewish - 

and they were staying with a landlady.

I wondered

were they hiding?

It was 1943.

Everyone knew that Jews were being rounded up

and deported.

No one knew where they were being deported to

but they knew that no one was coming back.

They called this place Pitchipoï.

One day,

the German Kommandant in the nearest city 

issued a command.

‘All Jews present in the region must be arrested in the first hours of January 31, 1944 and they must be transferred as soon as possible to the closed camp of Drancy’. 

The command went to the Prefect.

The Prefect gave the command to the Sub-Prefect.

The Sub-Prefect gave the command to the French police:

the gendarmes.

On that One Day

January 31, 1944

at 2.30 in the morning

four gendarmes called at the door of Martin’s landlady.

Martin opened the door, 

the gendarmes arrested him

and they took him to the nearby town

where other gendarmes gathered together

all the Jews of the region.

Then the gendarmes wrote up their report.

I wonder did they do this back at the police station

or in the village cafe, perhaps? 

They wrote that Martin Rozen

was born on 18 August 1890

in Krosniewice in Poland.

They wrote that he was naturalised French

they wrote that he was of the Jewish race.

They wrote that he was 1m 62 tall.

with dark brown hair,

brown eyes

he had a scar

he had an oval face.

He was wearing yellow cotton trousers

and a grey cotton jacket.

Were these his pyjamas, I wondered.

It was the middle of the night.

He was wearing a Basque beret

  • had he put it on to be polite? 

I wondered.

He was wearing flat shoes on his feet.

Were they his bedroom slippers?

I wondered.

All four gendarmes signed the report.

That’s what they did on that One Day.

That was their work. 

Martin was taken to the Drancy Camp

from there he was taken to Paris Bobigny station

where he was put into a cattle truck

on a train that went straight from Paris

to Auschwitz 

This was Convoy 68, 

carrying 1500 Jewish men, women and children

on one day February 10 1944. 

Out of the 1500, 42 came back.

Martin was not one of them.

I often look

at the gendarmes’ report.

It’s careful.

It’s neat.

it has a lot of detail.

The details of what happened

on that One day 

January 31 1944

That’s why my father said to us,

‘You know - I had two French uncles

they lived in France

They were there before the war

but they weren’t there at the end.’

But my father didn’t live long enough

for me to tell him

what I had found out about 

what happened to Martin. 

He never knew.