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In July 1942, French police came on several occasions in the middle of the night, looking for Charlotte’s father. On July 16, 1942, in the daytime, two French policemen came for her mother. Charlotte packed a suitcase for her. The Nazis declared a raid and a mass arrest where more than 13,000 were taken: 44% were women, 31% children. In Paris in 1988, Charlotte walked us past the prefecture of police: “Here is the place where the policemen served who came to take my mother,” she said. “They were young, embarrassed.”
By this time, Charlotte’s father was in hiding in their house. Her mother was taken to the center of Paris, to the Velodrome D’Hiver, the cycling track, where it was later discovered that Jewish people had been taken in large numbers and kept there for five days without food or water, other than that provided by relief groups, and without toilets or a place to rest. From there they went to internment camps in Drancy, and then by train to Auschwitz, where they were killed.
Her brother had already left for Nice; their father left shortly thereafter. Charlotte, then 17, remained in the family’s home in Bourg-la Reine with her grandparents. Eventually she headed south to join her father and brother in Nice, in the basement apartment they shared. One day, her father, upon opening a closet in their room, came upon a stash of his daughter’s weapons; by then Charlotte had joined forces with Resistance groups. She realized that she had to arrange to get her father out of the country immediately. “I made false papers for him as a Chinese man, and led him to think that I would accompany him to Switzerland, but as we approached the border I bid him goodbye. A passeur, or one who lead people to safety, guided him to a camp in Switzerland, where he lived out the war. At the Liberation, he returned to Paris. He was shocked to discover that his son had been deported.”
When Charlotte took over Marianne Cohn’s responsibilities, she continued the work of transporting groups of youngsters to the Swiss border. She made false documents; received and transported weapons and money; planted explosives where Germans gathered. One time, she pasted plastic explosives on the wall of a movie theater in Paris where the SS was meeting. “We heard the boom,” she recalled. “It worked! Imagine!”
Among Charlotte’s many responsibilities was guiding men to Toulouse, where passeurs took them to the Spanish border. “Here at night they crossed the Pyrenees to the Spanish frontier and were brought to bordellos as safe houses,” she said. “Some spoke only Yiddish. Some went to join the Resistance in North Africa.”
She recalled riding her bike, with its basket loaded with weapons and weapon parts, when German soldiers confronted her. At that split second — with no time to think — she let her bicycle fall at the feet of the soldiers. They assisted her in getting to her feet, and she rode off.
Often, situations arose that required an instinctive response. One day, she boarded a train for Nice, carrying a suitcase with weapons. Her journey required a train change in Marseille. She chose to sit among the German soldiers because it was far more common for the French soldiers to inspect French passenger bags. The Germans talked with her and helped her off the train in Marseille. They checked her suitcase with their own luggage in the train station, as there was a wait for the connecting train to Nice. “If you want to see a real French football match while we wait for the train, I will take you,” Charlotte told the soldiers.
With that they all went off to the game. When they returned to the station, the German soldiers removed her suitcase — green with a double floor for hiding weapons and money — from the baggage check. They handed it to her and boarded the train for Nice.