Holocaust Remembrance Day takes place on Thursday, April 16th. In honor of this significant day in our people’s history, we asked Rebecca Schalit-Newman, Intermediate Campaign Associate with our Federation’s Sylvia Weisz Women’s Philanthropy, to share her family’s story.
Last year, I received a friend request on Facebook from a woman by the name of Rosette Schalit. Usually I don’t accept requests from random people, but given that we shared the same last name I accepted. Shortly after, I received a message in French that I plugged into Google Translate. It read: “Hi, I’m Rosette, your great cousin in Paris.” I thought to myself: I have a great cousin in Paris that I’ve never heard about? How could this be?
It turns out that my great aunt Fanny adopted Rosette from a Rothschild Orphanage in Paris. Rosette’s family became victims of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, which was a Nazi-directed raid and mass arrest of Jews in Paris by the French police on July 16th and 17th, 1942. During those days, Rosette suffered from an upper respiratory disease that caused her neck to swell, and because of her “deformity,” the Nazis didn’t allow her in the stadium. In the middle of the night, a volunteer from the orphanage picked her up and brought her to safety. My cousin Fanny, who was then living in France, adopted Rosette. The two of them went into hiding—and survived the war.
Enthralled by Rosette’s story, my husband Max and I decided to visit her in Paris, where she told us more fascinating stories. We learned that Vel’ d’Hiv was an important turning point. Prior to July 1942, only Jewish men had been sent to internment camps. But men, women, children and the elderly were held captive and it was the French police, not the Germans, who were responsible. In 1995, French President Jacques Chirac acknowledged for the first time French complicity in the Holocaust. My cousin shared that, during this public event, which took place on the anniversary of Vel’ d’Hiv, he held her hand and placed a plaque at the stadium to memorialize that horrific day in history.
I am so grateful and fortunate to have met my cousin Rosette. Who would have thought that an upper respiratory infection would ultimately save her life? Forever I will cherish her story, especially on Holocaust Remembrance Day.