Beizer Journey Part 6: Montpellier
Trip Start Jun 22, 2012
21Trip End Aug 08, 2012
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Before Esther rescued the kids from the convent, she and Mechel had begun the process of trying to locate one another. After deserting the French Army, Mechel went to Montpellier to find work, and coincidentally Esther decided to go to Montpellier as well. The two located one another by placing ads in newspapers.
Late July 1940 - Early April 1941
The Beizer family stayed in Montpellier for the next eight months or so. The children attended school, Mechel worked in a jewelry shop and Esther worked on obtaining immigration documents for the U.S.
The story of how Esther was able to obtain these documents is remarkable. Esther had been born in Chicago, however at the age of four her mother, who was a Russian immigrant, took her back to Russia to be part of the Russian Revolution. Esther's mother died soon after, and Esther was adopted by her aunt and uncle. She grew up in the small town Kaushany, then in Besserabia, and in modern-day Moldova, believing her aunt and uncle were her parents and that she had been born in Russia. When Esther was 18 or so, she decided to move to the larger town Chernovits, which was the Jewish cultural center of that entire region. It was in Chernovits that Esther and Mechel would meet. Mechel had a Polish passport, however was born in Roumania and went to school in Germany. What brought him to Chernovits was being apprenticed to a jeweler. Before leaving, Esther's aunt and uncle revealed to her the truth; they were not her parents, and she had been born in Chicago.
Jumping a few decades forward, Esther remembered she was an American citizen and so decided to go to the American consulate in Marseilles to ask for immigration papers. She may have also gone to the American embassy in so-called "unoccupied" Vichy, France (Boris says the only difference between occupied and unoccupied France was that in unoccupied France, the Gestapo did not wear uniforms). However there were thousands of European Jews claiming to be American citizens and who were asking the embassy for immigration documents, so the embassy was unwilling to give her the papers. However Esther had something particularly unique about her. She had been born with a dime-sized birth mark on her forehead. She knew her birth date and she knew she had been born in Chicago, so she asked an officer at the consulate how many babies had been born in Chicago, on her birth date, with that distinguishing birth mark. The officer thought this was too incredible to be overlooked and went through the trouble of finding Esther's birth certificate, opening the way for the entire family to obtain immigration papers (see the pictures below for some of these papers).