Above photo, David, Leon, Odette, and Rose (probably 1937).
Editor’s note: In the excerpt below from Rose and Odette: Unknown Children of the Holocaust, Chapter 4 highlights Rose and Odette’s real-life brothers, David and Leon. In this scenario, Lucius imagines how they might have avoided capture in this gripping close call.
September 2021 – David answered [his mother] breathlessly, “They came for us. First thing this morning before we barely started working, they came for every man and boy at the market.
“Luckily, we had just gone out in the back alley to start loading the first truck of the day. We heard the whistles and the yelling, and then we saw people running out the backdoor. So we dropped everything and started running too.”
Leon added, “I remembered how the Nazis always like to station guards with dogs at the ends of the streets, so I made David follow me into another building right across the alley. We ran up the stairs of that apartment building and onto the roof. There we could see where all the Nazis were stationed.”
“It was awful,” David said. “We saw everything. They had dogs and sticks and guns. And they were everywhere; we had nowhere to go. The Nazis were rounding up everybody, even some of our friends.
“We were trapped! They started going from building to building, bringing out any workers trying to run and hide. We knew it would not be long until they found us. All we could do was pray.”
[Rose, Odette, and their mother] started crying, but neither of the boys seemed to notice. They just kept pouring out their story.
“It was a miracle, Maman, truly a miracle,” Leon continued. “An old woman opened the door to the roof and motioned for us to follow her. We did, without even thinking about it. She led us to her apartment, never saying a word to us. Once we were inside her home, she opened a large wardrobe and moved aside a bunch of old coats.
“She pushed open a trapdoor in the back of the wardrobe and motioned for us to get in. We did; we crawled into a small hiding place built into the wall. It was barely big enough for the both of us. But we did it, no questions asked.”
David interrupted, “We could hear the old lady moving the coats back into place. She shut the dresser doors and shuffled away. Then she just started humming and banging pots and pans around. I guess she was cooking – or pretending to. Who knows!
“Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we heard banging on her front door. The old lady shuffled to the door and opened it. We couldn’t hear everything, but we could tell that the Nazis were yelling and screaming at her. She never said a word as far as I could tell.”
David stopped to draw a breath, so Leon picked up the story where his brother left off.
“They started throwing things around and breaking stuff. Still, the old lady never said a word. Just as we heard the Nazis approach the wardrobe and open one of its doors, another man burst into the room shouting, ‘Hurry up. The sergeant says he needs your help. The truck is full, and he needs you two to come and guard some other prisoners on the streets while we dump this load off at Drancy and come back for the rest.’”
“And just like that, the Nazis were gone,” David said excitedly, grabbing his mother’s hand. “See! I told you it was a miracle!”
Joy Lucius’ novel Rose and Odette – Unknown Children of the Holocaust
is available at resources.afa.net or 877.927.4917.