Yitzhak did not tell his story to anyone, not even to his wife, who is also a Holocaust survivor. The first time he summoned the courage talk about this period was when his grandson, 13, began to ask him questions.
Itzhak Roger Gershon, was born in Lyon, France, 81 years ago, has been married for 60 years to his first love, Shoshana Gershon, and is the father of three daughters and grandfather to five grandchildren. He had now agreed to tell the story of how he survived as an eight-year-old boy during the Holocaust ‒ against all odds.
“I was born in Lyon, France, to a traditional Jewish family. My father knowing that Germans were persecuting Jews at that time, arranged false Turkish passports for the entire family. One night the French police arrived, intending to hand us over to the Germans. Father showed them the Turkish passports and tried to convince them that we were Turks. They said they would check into the matter and promised to return the next day. We spent the night in the cellar; at dawn we fled Lyon and started wandering among the small villages in the area.
“This, too, was beginning to be dangerous, and a woman who knew someone who worked for the Red Cross took my brother Maurice, who was one year older than me, to the Red Cross offices in the headquarters of the Gestapo in Lyon. They promised to take care of us. My parents were transferred to a convent and from there, they joined the partisans. They took us to a Red Cross building in a small French village in the mountains near Grenoble. Soon after, we were thrown out of that place, and so we began to walk, by ourselves. We were without food, without clothes, without shelter, in the winter. The temperatures reached 20 below zero. We went from place to place, eating herbs and potato peels and sleeping in stables and cowsheds.
“That's how we spent two years of my life. I was sick with all sorts of diseases, including TB, and I weighed just 18 kilos. My brother was stronger. We did not really understand what was going on around us and we had no idea where Mother and Father were. When we saw a village go up in flames, we hid in the first hole we found, which was a sewer.
We did not recognize her and she did not recognize us
“After a few months, as were wandering one day, as usual, in search of food, we heard the voices of people singing and dancing, and we realized that something good was happening. They told us that the war was over. We were so tired, sick and dirty, we just sat on a hill to watch the people who were passing by and celebrating. Then a woman saw us on the hill. She walked on, but after a few paces she came back and asked us if we had encountered two children named Roger and Maurice who were walking alone in the area. My brother looked at her and said, "I'm Maurice and that's Roger." Then she said, "I'm your mother, oh but I'm your mother." We did not recognize her and she did not recognize us. She was so thin and looked different and so did our father. But were we so excited. We got up and went with them; we were a family again.
“I was immediately taken to a hospital; I was there for a year and a half as I had so many diseases. We returned to our home in Lyons. It was not destroyed but there was nothing left. In 1948, the whole family immigrated to Israel, and we settled in Tirat Hacarmel. We were happy and we had many friends there. My father was a taxi driver and my mother was at home. I started working in construction, and then I joined the army. My wife and I established our home in Nes Tziona; we still live there today. At the Weizmann Institute of Science I worked in gardening and it was great. I really liked the outdoor work with plants in the beautiful gardens of the Institute. There was something very reassuring about it. For years I did not talk about all the things Maurice and I went through with anyone – not with our new friends in Israel, not with my wife. But it sat like a stone on my heart. I started to talk about it only with my grandson when he reached the age of 13. At first it was difficult, but the more you talk about it, the more you get rid of the stress.
"And despite everything I love life, more than anyone else."
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