We’ve all seen pictures of the Nazis marching down the Champs-Elysées after the fall of Paris, but Edmond Goldberg, of Cranston, was there when it happened in June 1940.
Born in Paris in 1932, Goldberg was 8 years old when the Nazis took the city. His father, Elie Simon Goldberg, volunteered for the French army, was captured and spent time in a notorious German POW camp, Stalag 17.
Goldberg recalled that “when the Germans came into Paris, I remember they came down Gambatta Avenue – they came right down the hill – and people had mixed reactions, some were crying and some threw flowers.
“Once the Nazis arrived, the Jews had to wear the yellow star, they weren’t allowed to be in the front of a bus or metro [train], and after 8 p.m., Jewish people were not allowed to go out.”
He continued, “In 1941, my father got home from Germany …. Then he spent at least six months in the hospital because he had been wounded in the war and the Germans never took care of it. After … the Germans wanted him to work for them.”
Instead of going to work for the Germans, Goldberg’s father fled, along with Goldberg’s half-sister, Estelle, to the town of Perpignan, in the “free” part of France, near the Spanish border (the Vichy government had made a deal with the Nazis to delay occupation of France).
A little while later, Goldberg, his mother, Mariam, and younger sister, Suzanne, also fled to Perpignan. They had to bribe a guide, who took them by train and then through the woods.
They went to Perpignan for two reasons: because Goldberg’s mother had an uncle there, and because they thought that if the Germans came into “free” France, they could escape to Spain.
They later learned, however, that it was too dangerous to go to Spain when a guard who Goldberg’s father had befriended in Stalag 17 appeared, as the Nazis came to occupy Perpignan.
“My father was a barber who worked across from the school [in Perpignan] that the Nazis took over and used as their barracks. One day my father was cutting hair and the German officer got in there, and they recognized each other. They hugged and kissed each other. It was the guard from Stalag 17,” Goldberg said.
“I remembered him. He used to come to our house without his uniform on, and brought us food. He told us to leave Perpignan because they were starting to take Jewish people.”
The family backtracked to the town of Flayat, where they stayed for the duration of the war, hiding in plain sight of the Nazis. They adopted a Christian last name (Colbert) and attended church on Sundays. To survive, the family bartered Goldberg’s father’s services as a barber for food.
In June of 1944, Americans liberated Flayat. Soon afterward, the family returned to Paris.
“Believe it or not, we moved back into the same apartment,” Goldberg said. “There used to be a lot of kids, but when we came back, I didn’t see anyone I knew from before the war.
When they arrived in Paris, his mother was sick; she died in January 1945 in a Paris hospital. His father, unable to make a living and take care of him and his younger sister, temporarily placed them in an orphanage. Most of the kids there were Jewish and had been in concentration camps and lost their families in the war.
Eventually, everyone but Goldberg’s older half-sister, Estelle, came to America in 1948. Estelle stayed in Paris, where she lived until her death in 2017. For many years, she tried to learn what had happened to their grandfather.
About 10 years ago, she sent a copy of a partial manifest of a Nazi train convoy of Jews, including his grandfather, to Goldberg. She got the list from the municipal office of the 20th arrondissement, where they lived.
“On that particular day, there were 3,500 Jewish people from Paris who were taken away, and out of all those people, 15 men survived,” Goldberg said. Although his sister found out about the train that took their grandfather away, she was never able to find out where he died.
Once in America, Goldberg settled in Worcester, Massachusetts. He apprenticed as a printer though he could not yet speak English. Eventually he got a job in the print shop of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
In 1952, he met his future wife, Sandra Solomon, who was from Providence. They married in 1955 and lived on Pine Street in Pawtucket. His sister met a man from New York, married and still lives there.
In 1960, Goldberg was hired as a printer for the Providence Journal, where he worked until his retirement in 1995.
Today, Goldberg lives in Cranston with his longtime partner Judy Chorney (his wife passed away many years ago). He is thankful for his three children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and proud to be a longtime member of the Touro Fraternal Association.
Reflecting on his wartime experience and the world today, Goldberg is troubled. He sees a lot of “problems” with rising hate in Europe and America, and finds it “inconceivable that these things are still happening.” He fears that people are forgetting history and it could happen again – so he is now telling his story for the first time.
LEV POPLOW is a communication consultant writing on behalf of the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.