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Child survivor returns to honour the French villagers who hid her

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The plaque installed on the house in Morée where Georgette and Léa were sheltered.

Montrealer Georgette Brinberg, a Holocaust survivor, returned to France to honour the memory of the people in the village of Morée, who sheltered her and her sister during that terrible time.

June 18 was chosen for the commemoration, because that was the day in 1940 that Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Forces, made his famous speech appealing to the French people to resist the Nazis.

Brinberg, as well as her three children and grandchildren, were present for the unveiling of a plaque on the home of her rescuers, the late René and Aimée Tardif. It pays homage to the couple’s courage. Also remembered was their nephew, René Le Texier, who brought the girls to the area from Paris.

Brinberg was also presented with the village’s medal of distinction, and accepted one on behalf of her sister, Léa, who did not attend.

It was a very emotional experience for her to enter the house again, where she was welcomed by descendants of the Tardifs, especially with her children and grandchildren beside her. It still bears the same address: 17 rue de la Bois-Neuf.

She remembered the big kitchen and making rhubarb jam with Aimée Tardif, as well as learning catechism and going to church.

Georgette Brinberg

Brinberg, neé Tepicht, was born in 1938 to Polish parents in the mining town of Villerupt, in northern France. When the Germans invaded, the family fled to Paris.

Although she was barely a toddler, Brinberg remembers her father being arrested and sent to a transit camp in 1941, never to be seen again. He would end up being killed in Auschwitz.

In July 1942, she, her sister, who’s 10 years older, and her mother were among some 13,000 Jews who were arrested by French police under Nazi orders in the notorious Vélodrome d’Hiver roundup. The majority would be deported to Auschwitz.

“I don’t remember much,” said Brinberg, “only the cries, the terrible noise. And then, when my mother let go of my hand.”

After five days, the girls were separated from their mother, who would be murdered in Auschwitz that September. They managed to escape the cycling arena turned internment camp, thanks to a French police officer who told them to run as fast and as far as they could.

Alone and not knowing where to turn, they desperately sought refuge. Some people turned them down, fearful of the consequences of assisting them.

Then a stranger – Le Texier – offered to drive them to his aunt’s place in Morée, about 125 km southwest of the city. The Tardifs took the sisters in and raised them as their “nieces,” until France was liberated. They took on a Catholic identity and went to school and church. Nevertheless, Brinberg remembers the constant fear of being exposed.

After liberation in 1944, she and her sister went back to Paris, travelling with the American army, and found their grandmother, who was still in hiding.

Brinberg and her grandmother boarded a ship to Israel in 1949, where she lived on a kibbutz. In 1955, she immigrated to Montreal, where her sister lived. She married two years later and had a career as an accountant.

If I can tell my grandchildren, then why not everyone else?
– Georgette Brinberg

After resettling in Montreal, Brinberg tried to locate any surviving relatives, as well as the people who helped her and her sister.

For many years, she has spoken about her experience in schools, as a volunteer with the Montreal Holocaust Museum. As she says, “If I can tell my grandchildren, then why not everyone else?”

Last year, she accompanied the March of the Living. In April, she spoke at a Yom ha-Shoah service at St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Montreal. She was also among the Holocaust survivors invited to the inauguration of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa last fall.