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Over the years, Charlotte talked informally with my husband and me about the times during the war. But after I mentioned Cohn, and Charlotte agreed to be interviewed, she and I talked in a more deliberate way. We would sit together at the huge dining room table in her house in Washington, D.C., which was filled with her sculptures, including a bust of her father, figures reminiscent of the work of Alberto Giacometti, small abstract metal pieces mounted in wood and hand-blown glass pieces made by her grandson. Over the course of our conversations, among the many things I learned was that Noshpitz did know about Cohn. In fact, one of Noshpitz’s duties was to assume Cohn’s responsibilities of transporting children to the Swiss border.
Charlotte tells me of another dream, this time of her grandmother, whom she does not recall ever dreaming about.
“Where is your grandmother?” I ask her.
“In my kitchen, here in my house in Washington,” she says.
And now she remembers that when her grandmother died, she repeated the words to herself from the Gluck opera “Orpheus et Eurydice” over and over: “I have lost my Eurydice, nothing equals my unhappiness… I am overwhelmed by my grief. Eurydice!”
Charlotte Sorkine was born in Paris on February 15, 1925. Her mother was born in Braila, Romania, and her father in Rogachev (now Belarus). They were not French citizens at the time of the German occupation, which is important to note because foreign nationals were taken in the first round-ups. As early as 1940, Vichy laws revoked the citizenship of naturalized Jews and decreed that foreign nationals of Jewish faith could be interned in camps or restricted to residence by regional prefects.
Charlotte’s maternal grandparents lived in the family home, as did her brother, Leo Serge Lazare Sorkine, a poet who served in the Resistance and was betrayed and sent to Silesia to work in the salt mines. He was killed before the Russian liberation too weak to survive a forced march in freezing conditions.
Charlotte grew up in a highly intellectual household. Her maternal grandfather, Wolf Louis Horowitz, born in 1866, was a professor of anthropology who spent much of his professional career at Kings College, London. There were weekly salons with such individuals as Henri Bergson and Gerard de Lacaze-Duthiers. During the war, he and his wife were taken to the Rothschild Internment Center. They both died in 1946. His numerous publications are archived in New York at the Center for Jewish History’s Leo Baeck Institute.
As a young child, Charlotte heard about the Germans and an apparent danger, though not a clearly defined one. She recalls German refugees coming to the door to sell pencils. At one point, she gathered up a collection of prized porcelain dolls marked “Made in Germany,” walked to the balcony of her home and threw them over the railing, where they broke into pieces. Years later, when she and her brother were teenagers, their mother told them that they must attach a Jewish star made of yellow cloth and outlined in black to indicate that they were Jewish. They both wept.