Long Island Survivor Recounts Seeing Hitler’s Nazi Parade in 1935
Renée Kann was only four years old when, in 1935 her nanny took her to see Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Parade in her hometown of Saarbrücken, capital of the Saarland, an independent area between France and Germany.
“I thought it was so exciting. The crowd was cheering a man with a moustache standing in an open car. I couldn’t wait to go home and tell my parents all about it,” said Renée, now 86. “I was puzzled that they suddenly fired my nanny. A few days later my family fled to France.
Shortly after WW II did break out, Renée’s family was arrested and sent to the Gurs Internment Camp in southwestern France, just north of the Pyrénées Mountains as fears of foreign born residents grew.
When France capitulated to Germany in June 1940, the family was “liberated.” France was now under the Vichy Regime, a government in total collaboration with Nazi Germany whose attitude towards Jews was as cruel as the Nazis’. Renée’s family lived in Villeurbanne, near Lyon when serious persecution of Jews began. At age 11, with her 9-year old sister, she was taken to Le Chambon sur Lignon, believing she was being sent to the mountains on vacation. Meanwhile her parents were being hidden as well.
Conspiracy of Goodness: How French Protestants Rescued Thousands of Jews during WWII, is the current exhibit at Queensborough Community College’s Kupferberg Holocaust Center (KHC). It centers on one of the most awe-inspiring stories of World War II—the little-known rescue of thousands of Jews by devout Christians in Le Chambon, France. Features in this exhibit include a pair of wooden-soled boots, a leather satchel, and original documents including passports and false identification papers.
Included in the exhibit is a Reflection and Writing Area inviting students, faculty, outside groups and visitors to express their feelings about the courageous people of Le Chambon. The exhibit also includes survivors’ stories of deprivation and hardship, false identification papers and their escape to Switzerland. Dozens of notes in neon colors cover the wall with emotional messages, some signed in Hebrew, Bengali, Greek and Slovak.
“The other day a Queensborough student from Pakistan spoke with me about the concept of humanity. It was a staggering experience to converse with someone who, despite our wide gap in age, experience and cultural history, was so eager to connect and learn.”
The dynamic exhibits and permanent collection at the KHC conveys the urgency of Holocaust education. The KHC has, over the course of 35 years, received artifacts from Queens and Long Island survivors and their families, including survivor oral histories, films and videos, primary sources from World War II, and an extensive library.
In 2013, the Renée Kann Silver collection was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It consists of a camera with case, a medal, documents, oral testimony, and photographs related to the experiences of Renee Kann (later Silver), her parents, Edmund and Friedel Klaber Kann, and her sister, Edith (later Roth) in Germany and France before the war, in France and Switzerland, including their imprisonment in Gurs internment camp, during the war, and in Switzerland, France, and the United States after the war.
Renée Kann Silver resides in Garden City, Long Island. She has described her experiences prior to and during WW II in a memoir And Yet, I Still Loved France, co-authored with children’s book writer, Connie Colker Steiner.
(Marble House Editions, © 2012)