‘Out of Chaos’ Holocaust survivor book launch is Oct. 3 in Highland Park
BY CYNTHIA WOLF For Sun-Times Media | @cynthia_wolf September 19, 2013 11:01AM
Nicole Dreyfus Terry, one of the contributors to the "Out of Chaos" anthology, shows a picture of her extended family at her Highland Park home. | Cynthia Wolf/For Sun-Times Media
‘Out of Chaos’
What: Book launch
When: 1:30 p.m. Oct. 3
Where: North Suburban Beth El Synagogue, 1175 Sheridan Road, Highland Park
Updated: October 20, 2013 7:19AM
“Les allies ont debarqués.”
Nicole Terry remembers with absolute clarity when first she heard those words.
“Les allies ont debarqués,” the 79-year-old repeated in her Highland Park kitchen this month, her gaze momentarily distant.
The words, meaning “the allies have landed,” came in June 1944 from the mouth of Terry’s mother, a mother of two little girls who’d spent years hiding — as well as several months separated from their parents — in the French countryside.
Terry, whose maiden name was Dreyfus, is among 24 survivors who contributed personal accounts to a new anthology called “Out of Chaos: Hidden Children Remember the Holocaust.”
Edited by Elaine Saphier Fox and introduced by Northwestern University professor Phyllis Lassner, the book is published by Northwestern University Press. It will be celebrated at several launch parties, including one at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 3 at the North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, 1175 Sheridan Road, Highland Park.
Terry plans to be there, along with fellow Highland Park residents and co-contributors Edith Singer Turner and her husband, Amos.
Born in France, Terry spent her earliest childhood years near Paris. In 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, she was just 5. During the next several years, the Nazis would murder an estimated 5.9 million Jews from more than a dozen European countries.
Terry said she didn’t know of that horror, but sensed her parents’ near-constant anxiety, and knew not to argue when her parents told her that she must lie about her identity.
“I had a little sister,” Terry said. “My responsibility was to take care of my sister. One scene I remember very vividly. It was my mother telling me ‘Your name is Nicole Dejan,’ and to my sister, ‘Your name is Simone Dejan.’
“We had to pack. My sister didn’t want to go away. She started taking stuff back out of the suitcase.”
Terry’s portion of the anthology, under the “Hidden with Rescuers” segment, includes chapters titled “The Borrowed Saint,” “Armand Can Do Anything,” and “Long Live Liberated Alsace, a Child’s Vindication.”
In them she describes fleeing Paris with other members of her family to a small town in central France called Brive-la-Gaillarde, in the unoccupied zone. Her parents and other adults attempted to hide their fears from the children, “but at night I could hear them whisper and listen to the old radio,” she wrote.
In 1944, the Nazis started rounding up French Jews. Even with their false papers describing them as Christians named Dejan, a simple examination of their father could slate them all for death. In Europe at that time, only Jewish males were circumcised.
So Irma and Armand Dreyfus sent Terry and her sister to a Catholic boarding school in Egletons while the parents hid in the mountains of Auvergne.
The Dreyfuses were fortunate. The liberation for them came six months later, and all survived. Such good fortune is not a common thread among many of the author-contributors to “Out of Chaos.”
“Some of the poems are quite wrenching, and the stories, too,” said Saphier Fox, the book’s editor, who worked for years with members of a group called Hidden Children/Child Survivors Chicago to develop the text.
“It’s sad,” Saphier Fox continued. “But to see how these people all succeeded despite this terrible, traumatic, horrible childhood, it’s amazing.”
Children of the Holocaust are its last living witnesses. Saphier Fox said that capturing their stories, in their voices, has been an intensely satisfying task for a Jew who grew up during the World War II time period, but here in the United States, out of harm’s way.
Through the project, Saphier Fox met people like Edith Turner, who was born in Vilna, Poland, now Lithuania. Turner, then Singer, was 10 years old in 1939, when the Germans swiftly overtook her homeland.
By the age of 12, she was in the Glebokie ghetto, living behind an electrified fence. She recalls a tower, and guards, and German Shepherds, and constant foreboding.
Permitted to exit the ghetto to work for the Germans, Turner, her father, mother and sister were part of a group who one day escaped, even as bullets zipped in their direction. They met at a pre-arranged location after work instead of returning to the ghetto, and they headed by night for the Belarus forests, hoping to join Russian partisans who were fighting against the Nazis.
“I lived in the forest from March 1943 to August 1944,” Turner said. “When you’re alive, you adjust to conditions, to circumstances … we escaped the ghetto. My mother, my sister, my father and I, we all survived.”
Shortly after the Singers fled, remaining Glebokie residents were wiped out.
“The whole ghetto was liquidated,” Turner said. “Everyone was shot. People in bunkers were discovered. There was nothing left.”
Twenty years ago, Turner returned to the location.
“I went to the place where all of the Jews were shot and buried, the Borok forest. That’s where my grandparents and uncles and many of my cousins and family are buried. It’s a mass grave,” she said.
Visiting the site was painful, just as revisiting childhood memories in order to write about them for the anthology was painful.
Turner recalled that some Christian peasants near Glebokie and throughout the region risked their lives to help her and others as they fled.
“People should be aware of hate, of what can happen to people when people are intolerant,” she said. “We learned during those terrible years that there were so many good people, but there were more terrible people.”
After the war, Turner and the man who would become her husband, Amos, also a child survivor of the holocaust and a contributor to the anthology, both headed for the United States under the displaced persons relocation program.
They met en route in 1950, corresponded between his Chicago home and hers in New York, married in 1954 and moved to Highland Park 51 years ago, building numerous happy memories to stack against the dark ones forever stirring from childhood.
“Every time I talk about it and think about it, it wakes up such feelings of pain and, well, unbelievable suffering,” she said. “But you know, I also have my life.”
“Out of Chaos: Hidden Children Remember the Holocaust” retails for $50 and is available at various online booksellers for prices starting at about $32.