By Abigail Cukier
When the Gestapo came to get Helene Goldflus’ father, he kissed her, said goodbye and told her to look after her brother and mother.
It was 1941 and Goldflus was nine years old. She never saw her father again.
He was taken to Auschwitz concentration camp. Goldflus later learned that he was killed soon after.
Goldflus was left with her younger brother and her mother, who was seven months pregnant with twins.
When her mom fell down the stairs, the ambulance took her away and neighbours in their Paris apartment building hid Goldflus and her brother for three days. Then her brother was taken – to where she did not know – and she was sent to a convent for three months.
After that, Goldflus was put on a train and stayed on a farm with a woman and her four daughters.
Three months later, Goldflus was sent to a different farm near Arquian, France, where she was reunited with her brother. They remained with that family for four years.
“They treated me like their own,” said Goldflus, now 80. “We lived in a little village with six farms. We walked five kilometres to school and back every day.
“They were very poor. Four girls slept in one bed. My brother slept in the room with the parents.”
Goldflus said that for many years after, the thousands of children hidden during the Holocaust did not speak.
“People said the hidden children didn’t suffer,” she said. “It’s hard for people to understand. There I am, nine years old. I have a mom, a father, brother and the next thing, I have nothing.
“You don’t have to be tortured to suffer. I am not belittling what happened to others. It was horror. I have no words for it.”
Goldflus will speak in Hamilton Thursday, Nov. 8, 7.30 p.m. at Adas Israel Synagogue, 125 Cline Ave. S., as part of Holocaust Education Week.
While Goldflus was treated very well by the family with which she stayed, she still lived in fear.
Once, while still in the convent, she refused to kneel and pray, as that is not done in the Jewish religion. A nun took her to see the Mother Superior.
“She said ‘Don’t be afraid. I am the only one who knows you are being hidden here. From now on, when we are praying, move your lips and say your Hebrew prayers in your heart.’”
One day at her school in Arquian, Goldflus responded to a question. When the teacher asked her how she knew the answer, Goldflus mistakenly said, “Because I am Jewish.”
In the principal’s office, he said “You have just signed your death warrant. If anyone talks, we will all be killed.”
No one ever said anything.
The Nazis would come to the school twice a week and line up every child and ask them their names, where they were born and if they knew any Jewish people. No one ever said anything and the principal never treated her any differently.
“People can say what they want about the French government, but the people, the actual people, they saved my life.”
After the war, when Goldflus returned to Paris, she found out her mom had worked for a professor at an insane asylum – her blonde hair and blue eyes protecting her from suspicion.
She met her twin brothers who were now four years old. They had stayed with a couple from the time they were babies. They did not return to Goldflus’ mother until they were seven and the family was immigrating, preferring the family they knew.
Adjustment was difficult. Her mom was often distant and Goldflus had forgotten Yiddush, which was the language she had spoken growing up. She only remembered her little brother’s name and how to count to 10. The language eventually came back to her. She didn’t forget her Arquian family and would send them canned food, rice and sugar.
In 1948, her family tried to enter the United States in New York, but were turned away. They took a train from Buffalo to Toronto, where they settled.
She met Meyer Goldflus in 1950 and married in 1951. They had two sons and a daughter. Meyer set up a business in Hamilton. When he died 25 years ago, their children started to take care of his business. Goldflus lived in Florida and her children moved to Hamilton. Ten years ago, they convinced her to move here too.
While there are certain things she won’t talk about, she thinks it’s important to share her story. Like she did last week with a class of eighth graders at Hamilton Hebrew Academy.
“If we don’t speak up nobody will,” she said.
Goldflus will speak Thursday, Nov. 8, 7.30 p.m. at Adas Israel Synagogue, 125 Cline Ave. S. The program will include the film The Children of Chabannes, which is about how the people in a tiny village in unoccupied France saved the lives of 400 Jewish children.
Other Holocaust Education Week events
Other Holocaust Week events include The Forgotten Genocide: The Process of Exclusion and Persecution of Roma and Sinti in Past and Present at the Hamilton Spectator auditorium, 44 Frid St., Monday, Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m., with guest lecturer Karen Polak, educator from the Anne Frank House and chair of the International Sub-Committee on the Roma Genocide.
From Nov. 18-Nov. 30, Travelling Exhibitions from The Anne Frank Center, NYC will be displayed at Temple Anshe Sholom- The Canadian Première of Art and Propaganda in Nazi-Occupied Holland, 1940-1945 and Anne Frank: A History for Today on this 70th anniversary of the diary.