Jewish Holocaust survivor shares story

April 24, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Many of the details of the events of Nov. 25, 1942, blur in Louise Gradstein Dillery's mind.

Others are crystal clear.

She lived with her father in Paris. France had fallen to German control on June 14, 1940, and times were hard.

Gradstein, a hardworking man, never took a day off from his job at a factory making springs, despite painful stomach ulcers. But on that particular day, he was too sick to go to work, too ill even to go to the Paris town hall with his food-ration coupons. His 16-year-old daughter, whose mother had died of tuberculosis in June 1939, took his ration book to get food so they could eat.

Dillery, 77, recalls the suits and hats of two plainclothes men - French, not German, who followed her back to the apartment she shared with her father. They arrested him because he was Jewish.


They treated her as if she weren't there, she says. "I could have been a chair."

She never saw her father again.

Years later, she learned that he had been sent to the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. "The Germans were meticulous bureaucrats," she says. They kept very detailed records.

Dillery will speak about her experiences at Day of Remembrance services at Congregation B'nai Abraham at 8 p.m. Friday, April 25.

"I really believe in the hand of God," she says. "For some reason, I was protected.

"My friends just rallied around me."

They helped her to get back to the public school she attended, where she was provided scholarships for her books and supplies. She went to see a Catholic priest once a month. He gave her money to pay her rent. She was invited to Sunday dinners at the home of a schoolmate - a family of Algerian Jews who had never declared themselves as Jews to the Germans or their French collaborators.

Her survival, with the help of neighbors and friends, is a story of circumstances she considers miracles.

And it is because of another rather amazing circumstance that Dillery will come to Hagers-town.

Last March, she was visiting the city of her girlhood with a friend from Minnesota.

A woman whose billfold had been stolen was asking the hotel clerk for help in notifying credit card companies. She overheard Dillery and her friend speaking English and asked if they were American.

Yes, they answered, although Dillery said she grew up in Paris.

The woman, also originally from France, now an American, was Jeanne Jacobs of Hagerstown. She and Dillery exchanged pleasantries in French.

"Where did you go to school?" Dillery asked.

"Lyce Victor Hugo," Jacobs answered.

"That's my school," Dillery said.

Nearly 60 years after her father was arrested, Louise Gradstein Dillery and Jeanne Gayrard Jacobs met by chance in Paris.

They remembered each other from the four months they were in school together, says Jacobs, who had returned to school in September 1944 to prepare for the oral examinations required for her baccalaureate.

"I could never forget her," Jacobs says.

"We practically fell all over each other," Dillery says.

They shared addresses and phone numbers, met for breakfast the next morning and have become good friends.

"We talk to each other every week," says Jacobs, who invited her friend to speak at the Hagerstown synagogue.

Dillery says she is not a formal lecturer. She taught French in a high school and a community college for years and describes herself as "a very natural teacher."

"I will share my souvenirs, my experiences," she says.

Although it is painful to recall, she says, it would be worse to let the memories fade. "We must not forget. We must remember, so that it won't happen again."

She recalls the June 1940 day the Germans entered Paris. She recalls seeing the French flag being brought down.

"I can't talk about it calmly," she says.

She also recalls the joy of the liberation of Paris. "I can't find the words. Such euphoria. The greatest day of my life up to that point. I owe everything to the Americans," she says.

After the liberation, she was asked to identify the two men who had taken her father. They were tried and later executed.

But Dillery says vengeance was not her idea. Had she been given a gun and the opportunity, she could not have shot them.

"I consider myself really very fortunate," she says.

If you go ...

Louise Gradstein Dillery will speak at Yom Hashoa - Day of Remembrance - services

8 p.m. Friday, April 25

Congregation B'nai Abraham

53 E. Baltimore St.


The public is invited. Refreshments will be served after the services.

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