Trip Start Jun 22, 2012
Trip End Aug 08, 2012

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, Aquitaine,
Saturday, June 30, 2012

As a recap to this point: from Paris Esther brought the kids to a child refugee center in the small town of Capbreton along the coast of Southwestern France. The center was run by Madame and Monsieur Minard who abused and starved many of the kids. The center was eventually shut down and all the kids were moved to either Capbreton's hospital or convent. Boris remembers Esther breaking them out of the convent while Margot remembered being broken out of the hospital.

We had a day and a half in Capbreton and spent the first afternoon exploring the town by bike. It has become a resort town where many French and Spanish vacationers come during the summer. It also has some of the best surfing in France, which there unfortunately was no time for. As we went farther from the beach the houses started becoming older. We asked around and eventually found the convent the Beizer children had been moved to after the Minards'. We were pretty happy about this discovery and decided to go to the town's library the next day to see if, in the small chance, they had any records or documentation of information surrounding the Beizer children's experience in Capbreton.

Lo and behold the next day we went to the library and one of the librarians, after hearing why we were there, thought she could help us. She began by showing us some pictures of Capbreton from the 1940's, which included some pictures of the hospital, and she then called one of the town's historians, Alain Duviella, and told us he could come meet with us to discuss the story. While talking to Alain, the librarian mentioned the Minards and Alain surprisingly said the name rang a bell.

Twenty minutes later Alain arrived at the library holding an old magazine. He spoke no English, a little Spanish and of course fluent French, so between my mom's 9th grade French, my intermediate Spanish and the help of the librarian who spoke some English, we were able to establish a rough way to communicate with one another. He told us that Madame Minard had worked as a midwife in Capbreton and showed us an advertisement for her services in the magazine, which was from 1940. He also knew where her house was and walked us to the location. The house doesn't look like something in which one would imagine two Nazi-sympathizing war criminals would have lived. It is wooden, about the size as many of Capbreton's other old houses and guarded behind a short fence.

After our visit to the Minards', Alain took us to his home, which had hundreds of old photo albums and historical objects scattered throughout. It was like walking through a small museum. He introduced us to his wife, Marie, who we learned was the town's other historian. They run the organization SADIPAC (no idea what it stands for), which is dedicated to preserving the history of the Capbreton area. Marie said she had access to a data base with the information of all the refugees that had been brought to Capbreton during WWII and that she would see if she could find records of the Beizers. Unfortunately the database cannot be accessed until later in the summer, but we provided her with our contact information and she said she would email us if she came up with anything. The Duviellas mentioned that they had not done extensive research on Jews in Capbreton because there have been very few historically to come to the area. This is consistent with Boris' belief that the Beizer children had been the only Jews in the convent.

After Esther broke the children out of the Capbreton convent she wanted to take them to Montpellier to reunite with Mechel. However doing this required taking a train to Marseilles through occupied France, which meant Nazis would be searching the train for Jews at certain checkpoints. However she decided this was the only choice.

It is unclear exactly where it happened, but likely between the border between occupied and non-occupied France the Nazis began sweeping the train. These types of trains had cabins with doors that when shut didn't allow passerbyes to see into the space. It must have been tempting for Esther to shut the door to their cabin in hope the Nazis wouldn't open it, however she decided on the contrary. She left the door open and told the children to sit very still and press themselves against the wall of the cabin. Lo and behold the Nazi patrol walked right on by the cabin without seeing anyone was inside.

And so the Beizers made a quick layover in Marseilles and then headed to Montpellier where they met Mechel.

We definitely did not have as nerve-wracking a trip, and instead drove seven hours from Capbreton to the small, Medeival town of Grignan, which is about two hours North of Marseilles. See the next post for the experience at Grignan.

- Elijah Jatovsky
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