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Frances Schlessinger Cutler

Frances Cutler was born on March 16, 1938, in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. She survived the war after losing both her parents: Frances Cutler’s mother Cyla was killed in Auschwitz when Frances was only four years old. Her father, who had fought for the resistance, died in 1946 of an illness made worse by wartime circumstances. In order to save her daughter, Cyla had been forced to put her into hiding after France fell to the Nazis. Fanny was only three years old when her mother took her to a children’s home run by the government, Maison des Petits. This location proved to be unsafe after a period of time, so Fanny was moved to a farm owned by a Catholic family. There, her basic needs were taken care of, but she did not feel part of the family. After the war ended, she moved to an orphanage in Andresy and then to several other orphanages, the last one in Aix-les-Bains. She finally departed for the United States with the help of the HIAS, the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society. Fanny was taken in by her great aunt and uncle, Rose and Jacob Schlessinger, where she began her new life in America.

Frances Cutler Picture Narrative

(Adapted from talk at St. Cecilia Academy, April 28, 2010)

Introduction

Good morning.  Thank you for the opportunity to share my story with you—the story of a child survivor of the Holocaust.

As you know, my name is Frances Cutler, but it was Fanny Lindenberg when I was born in Paris, France in 1938. After the War, my name changed to Fanny Kahane, then in the US to Frances Kahane, then  Frances Schlessinger when I was adopted, and  Frances Cutler when I got married.

I am a child survivor of the Holocaust.  I was not in a concentration camp but was placed in hiding by my parents to protect me from the Nazis.  

It is rare for any Holocaust survivor to have photographs and letters from this time.  The majority of my pictures come from my father.  A few pictures are from two aunts who survived Auschwitz, some from cousins, and two are from another orphan.

Parents

These are my parents, Tzirel Lindenberg and Shlomo Zalman Kahane, Polish Jews, born in Ciechanow, a little town(Shetl) in Poland. My great aunt in the US had prepared papers for them to immigrate to the US, but the borders closed before they could leave.

Ciechanow August 1935

This is my mother in Ciechanow in August 1935 with her sisters, Rahel, Malca and her husband Herschel.

Parents in Paris

My parents moved to Paris around 1936 to join relatives there and to seek a better life. France was noted for its egalitarian government, open to all on merit.  Jews thrived.  However, conditions changed and with the depression and increasing numbers of immigrants, foreigners were seen as taking jobs away from native French.  This led to negative perceptions of immigrants, a scenario very current in today’s world.  Still conditions were better in Paris than in Poland.

My parents understood what was happening when the Germans entered Paris on June 14, 1940.  To save me, they placed me in a children’s home when I was about three years old, and then later I was moved and lived with a Catholic family on a farm. After the War, I was in a number of orphanages.  Unfortunately, my parents did not survive. My mother was murdered in Auschwitz in 1942. My father, a resistance fighter, died in 1946.

Let me introduce you to the larger family:

Family Portrait with Father

This is the Lindenberg family, my mother’s family, in Poland, around 1936.  Here is my father. My mother is already in France.  Only my two Aunts, Rachel and Helen, survived the Holocaust.  Even, Shlonek, the little boy with the toy, was murdered.  And Eliahu was hung by the Germans.  His older brother, Herschel, a tailor, made two free suits so that Eliahu could be hung in another town so that his mother, my grandmother, would not have to see her son hung. He was about 16 years old.  Such murderous acts were repeated in many Jewish towns in Poland and elsewhere by Nazis and their willing accomplices.

My Mother and Me in Her Arms

3 ½ year old Fanny in her mother’s arms.

La Maison des Petits

I’m perhaps 3 years old in this picture of 29 children, mostly toddlers.  I’m standing at attention, very rigid and most unhappy, but I am aware of the defiant little girl on my left arguing with the attendant.  The children are sad and angry.  

At night, the children prayed to the statue of the Virgin Mary and giggled when I didn’t know what to do.  I probably was quickly taught, but I do not remember the prayers.

I felt abandoned, lonely, confused, bewildered and scared.

My Mother and Me (March 1941?)

I am not sure if this is my mother in this picture, but I know my mother did come and visit me at the children’s home because of this postcard.  


Postcard (Sept. 6, 1941)

This is a postcard from my mother to her family in Poland, dated Sept. 6, 1941.

Other Side of Postcard

My mother writes that I am now 3 years and 3 months old and how very difficult it is for her not to be with me every day, how painful it is to leave me each time. She was asked to visit only weekly, because I always wanted to go home with her.

She missed her mother and family in Poland very much and understood how bad things were in Poland and that soon it would be  the same in Paris.  Even immigrants who had lived in Paris for 15 years had lost their right to work and my father was having trouble getting his papers extended. Nevertheless, she hoped for better days.

It broke my heart to hear my mother’s voice, feel her pain, my pain, and understand the agony of deciding to leave her child with strangers hoping I would be safe and that someday life would be sane again and we could be reunited as a family.  What a difficult and courageous decision.

When the Germans entered Paris in 1940, they moved slowly at first in imposing racial laws.  First, all Jews had to register with the police. Only 10% disobeyed. Many could have hidden their identities because religion had not been part of the French census since 1872. Then, Jews were not allowed to own businesses; their occupations were restricted; radios, bicycles and telephones were confiscated; they couldn’t change addresses; curfews were established; public places became closed to them.  On May 29, 1942, Jews had to wear yellow stars.  All Jews in France lost their citizenship rights.  Jews no longer had any protection from the French or the Germans.  To hide a Jew could cost you your life.


Red Cross—1997

To learn more about my history, I contacted the American Red Cross, which researched German records, perhaps in response to Steven Speilberg’s film, Schindler’s List, and then his Shoah project.

This letter indicates that my mother was born on May 15, 1914.  At 10:30 a.m. on July 27, 1942, the Nazis with the cooperation of the French police deported my mother from the detention Camp Drancy in Paris to the concentration camp Auschwitz on convoy 11.  I was now four years old.

The Final Solution, the complete extermination of all Jews, was decided in autumn of 1941, the bureaucracy for implementation was established in January 1942.

Convoy 11

Of the 1,000 Jews on Convoy 11, only 13 were alive three years later, only one a woman. She was not my mother.  My mother was 28 years old when she was murdered.

The deportation of 33,000 Jews within 11 weeks between July and September 1942 required extensive cooperation from the French police and administration.  The ordinary French citizen had been indifferent, but these roundups generated sympathy. Most Jews who survived had at least one Christian family to thank.

Maison des Petits Letter

This letter, signed by M. Halbery of the Societe Maternelle de Paris, Montlignon, warns my father that unless other arrangements are made I will be put on the next convoy.

Catholic Farm

Other arrangements were made and I was placed with a Catholic family on a farm. They cared for perhaps 10 children, in addition to their own.  The family ate at a separate table.  I felt so jealous.  I wanted so much to belong, to have my own family.  Did they know I was Jewish?  If so, they risked their lives.

I was miserable, even more lonely and unhappy, especially since I no longer saw my mother.

Paris was officially liberated on August 25, 1944, but the war in France continued until the Fall.  France lost about 25% of its approximately 300,000 Jews; 70% of the 7 5,000 Jews who perished were foreign born.

We cannot forget the atrocities of the Holocaust.  And though we ardently pray “Never Again,” genocides continue-- Darfur at this very moment.

Andresy

After the War, I was taken to an orphanage in Andresy.  I was thrilled to leave the grim and frightening farm.  I started public school.  Girls and boys were in separate buildings.  The smartest students sat in the front.  I sat all the way in the back.

At Christmas, we received presents, and I got a beautiful doll dressed in a black cape lined in pink satin.  In the summer, we were told to pack our bags but not to take any toys, because there would be toys at our summer destination.  The toys would be here when we returned, but I never returned and never saw my beautiful doll again, though I wrote and pleaded to get her back.

I had no parents and no doll.

Photographers Studio (June 27, 1946)

I remember seeing my father twice after the War in the hospital. The first time, he was sitting on a bench holding a cane.  I was very excited to see him and very optimistic about his recovery.  But at my last visit, he was in bed, and he told me he was dying and that his aunt would bring me to the US and take care of me. I was seven years old. I wanted him to go with me to the US.

This picture was taken in a photographer’s studio, a month before his death, and sent to the family in Philadelphia so that they would recognize me.

I was told of my father’s death and promptly blocked it out of my mind.  One evening in bed at the orphanage, the children were discussing the future.  I said my father would come to get me as soon as he felt better.  One child said my father was dead.  I denied it.  She insisted.  I got hysterical.

My Father

My father, Schlomo Zalman Kahane, was born on September 3, 1910, the son of very poor parents. He was a tailor, a common occupation for many Jewish immigrants in Paris.

My Father --Book

This picture of my father is in a book of memorials about the Jews in Ciechanow, Poland.  The writer says my father dreamt of a better world from the time he was very young.  He fought the Fascist government in Poland and was imprisoned.  When the Nazis occupied Paris, he joined the French Resistance, despite his poor health.  He was wounded and after the War had to enter a hospital, where he died on July 24, 1946, of TB before his 36th birthday.

Bagneux Cemetery

Two years later, his remains were transferred from the plot at the hospital to a Holocaust hero’s memorial in the Bagneux cemetery on the outskirts of Paris, where there are rows and rows of memorials to Holocaust victims.

Leon and Gegne Shway

At my last orphanage in Aix-les-Bains, we were awakened each morning by a man playing beautiful violin music.  At this Jewish orphanage, I began to learn a few Yiddish words. Cousins and friends of my parents came to visit and took me to their homes during holidays.  These are my cousins Leon and Gegne Shway.

Playing Checkers

I received this picture and the next one from a French child survivor, also an orphan from Aix-les-Bains, whom I met at a Child Survivors Conference in Miami in Sept. 1997. She stayed in the orphanage until she was 18 years old.

The Rosenbaums, friends of my father, bought me the doll I am holding, my very own doll, which I still have, though a bit worn.  You may notice how serious and competitive I am at playing games.

Going Away Outfit

This is my going-away outfit on May 24, 1948—the day I left for the US.

Peering out of the Porthole

I am peering out of the porthole of the Sobieski with my doll Juliette in New York on June 7, 1948.  I was the youngest in a group of about 20 refugees brought here by HIAS, the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society.  My picture appeared in a number of newspapers.

So now at age 10, I am about to venture into the next phase of my life—about my 7th move so far.  To say the least, my childhood—which was not much of a childhood -- had been chaotic, confusing, and scary.  Not only did I lose my parents, and their love and protection, but I was also robbed of my childhood—a time that should be safe, carefree and happy—not scary and dangerous.

The Schlessingers

Here I am with my great aunt and uncle—Jacob and Rose Schlessinger.  Soon upon my arrival, my family started to call me Frances instead of Fanny and I thought it was because I came from France, so I called them American, but they explained they wanted me to have a more American name.  Name changes are common among many survivors and immigrants, sometimes deliberate to hide one’s identify and ethnicity, sometimes because of misunderstanding or pronunciation, when immigrants entered the US and their names were Anglicized by immigration officials. I feel very uncomfortable about involuntary name changes because one’s name is part of one’s identity.

With a new home and a new family, everyone, including myself, expected me to be happy and to forget my past.   But you can see that even though I was very young, the effects of the Holocaust affected me greatly, and I remembered my past very well.  Now that I am a senior citizen, my memory is not as sharp, so it is very good that I have written my story and can share it with you.  But when I first arrived in the US, people generally did not want to speak about the Holocaust.

You as young people may want to start writing your own stories down and interviewing your parents, grand parents and other relatives about their lives before they are forgotten.

I was adopted two years later in 1950. The adoption was very difficult, because I had to finally acknowledge that my father was dead and would not return.  I felt disloyal. My name was changed again.


Citizenship Papers

I became a US citizen at age 15, earned a BA at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Ken and Cynthia

I married, and in 1985 moved with my husband and daughter to Miami. While working as an administrative assistant at the University of Miami, I earned an MA in Liberal Studies, where I studied the Holocaust. Now retired and widowed, I moved to Nashville almost 5 years ago to live near my daughter.

By the time I got married, I understood and acknowledged Fanny’s anger and rage at being abandoned and appreciated the courageous and difficult decision my parents made, and the danger to those who helped me and hid me. I also came to appreciate the kindness and generosity of my adopted parents for the sacrifices they made.  They had already raised three grown children and were grandparents when they brought me, an angry, unhappy 10-year old, into their home. They gave me the family I so desperately wanted and were grandparents to my daughter.  Most children of survivors do not have grandparents.

Aunt Rachel and Aunt Helen

These are my mother’s two youngest sisters, who survived the Holocaust, whom you saw as youngsters in the family portrait. They are holding my Aunt Helen’s first child, Susan, later followed by Sidney.  They both now have children of their own, and Susan has two grandchildren.  Aunt Rachel has two beautiful daughters and five grandchildren.  Besides me, only one other child survived in the Lindenberg family, my cousin Jean in Paris, the son of my mother’s sister, Ester.  Unfortunately, Aunt Helen was killed by a drunk driver in 1958 when I was 20 years old, and my Aunt Rachel now has Alzheimer’s.

Child Survivors Book Cover

When I lived in Miami, I joined a Holocaust Child Survivors’ Group, which was a very healing experience for me.  To celebrate the group’s 12th birthday, we decided to publish our stories in this book:   CHILDREN WHO SURVIVED THE FINAL SOLUTION, edited by PETER TARJAN. If you want to learn more about child Holocaust survivors, you might like to read it.  My story is one of the 26 in this book.

1.5 million Jewish children died during the Holocaust: 11,000 in France kill. Less than 1/10th of 1% of the people in Europe helped.  Can you imagine how many more could have been saved, if just a few more people had cared and acted.? But we still have not learned to treat each other as fellow human beings.

I share my story with you not only to make history a little more real for you but hopefully to encourage you to treat each other and those who are different with kindness and courage and to speak out and take action when people are bullied and  harassed.  If abusive behavior is nipped early, perhaps we can create a better world where our common humanity is respected and protected.  I hope your studies of the Holocaust will challenge you to think about how you would act in the face of atrocities.

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