“I'd rather regret the things that I have done than the things that I have not.”
― Lucille Ball

Monday, June 30, 2014

Episode 4: Snow and Cold

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Pyrenees covered with snow,
picture is not from the original book

Snow and Cold

Levie and Izak have disguised themselves with a french beret and whiskers. They hope to be seen as Frenchmen, but traveling is still dangerous, especially because their identity card includes a capital "J" showing that they are Jews.

Although they are in unoccupied France, it doesn't mean that there are no dangers. The free French zone is governed by the French-Vichy government under general Petain and prime minister Laval. The latter is well known for his pro-German attitude and the many anti-Jew measures implemented.

The mountain train brings the brothers Cohen on November 30th, 1941 to the heights of the Pyrenees. From there they have to continue their journey afoot. It's cold and there is a lot of snow. Their outfit was not meant for this type of weather. Especially Levie has a difficult time and his younger brother has to help him to move forward. The road is almost impassible.

The men are cold and exhausted, their feet wet and almost frozen. Finally they arrive at a hamlet, where in a public house they take off their shoes and socks to dry them near a stove. Suddenly two gendarmes enter the pub and are asking for their ID's. Because the brothers do not have authorized outward voyage papers, they are transferred to the remand center in Perpignan.

Chained to twenty other prisoners, they are transferred through the streets of Perpignan to the courthouse, while gendarmes are guarding them with their machine guns. Levie and Izak, two innocent Jews, who are trying to escape from the Nazi's, are now walking among French murderers, rapers and other criminals. The judge sentences the brothers to a month behind bars and a fine of 1200 francs.

After the imprisonment they are sent to the concentration camp Le Barcares, where they will stay until June 1942. The circumstances in the camp are wretched. The prisoners are hungry constantly. The sparing ration they get (just a small piece of bread) they supplement it with a kind of white carrots, which they dig out of the soil.

Levie and Izak are being drafted to the 416th regiment with stranded foreigners. They have to work in the   mountains, digging slots. The work is hard using shovels and pickaxes. Levie gets here blood-poisoning. His arm is getting blue and black. Amputation seems to be the only solution, but finally a Spanish fellow prisoner with medical experience, is allowed to do some surgical work on his arm. His arm is saved and only a scar is what remains.

The guards are Frenchmen from the isle of Corsica, the most lousy people you can think of, writes Levie later. "Basterds". Maltreatment of the prisoners is a daily reality. When a young boy 16 years of age is being maltreated, Levie is getting so upset, that he cannot control himself and slaps the guard, who in return punishes the Dutchman. Because of the massive opposition of the group of more than hundred forced laborers, the impact of Levie's act is not as bad as expected. However, the fear for revenge is substantially.

Levie and Izak are being transferred again, this time to camp Marechal Foch and later to the labor camp Mont Louis near the Spanish border. Here they get help from the Dutch vice-consul Kolkman in Perpignan. He is able to get permission from the authorities to transfer his countrymen to Maison Mazard in the hamlet Le Soler. In this shelter home are staying some twenty Dutch refugees, waiting for outward voyage papers, which Kolkman is organizing for them.

Translation by Leo Kolwijck, 2014


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