A Close Call in WWII Europe
The Story of My Birth And Escape from Vichy France during World War
II My father, Arthur Allmayer, and his brother Kurt (Claude), left
Germany and moved to France around 1933 (or 1934) shortly after my
father dropped out of the University of Munich due to the rise of
anti-semitism in that hotbed of Nazism.
At about the same time
(give or take a year), my mother, Meta (nee Berg), moved her native
Kirn, Germany to Holland to be near her brother Julius and his family.
In Holland, she landed a job as an aide to a wealthy Jewish lady though I
am not sure exactly what she did for her. Meanwhile, my parents (of
course not married at the time) corresponded and occasionally visited
each other in Paris and in The Hague.
The romance culminated in
marriage in Paris around 1937. My parents, my uncle Kurt, and my
grandmother (Sally) lived in an apartment in Paris while my father and
uncle grew their bakery equipment business. Then, when Jews in Paris
began being rounded up by the French police in 1940, they abandoned
their business, put furniture, etc. in storage, and headed south to
Vichy France ahead of the German advance. I was born in Périgueux (near
the city of Bordeaux) and have no idea what my parents, uncle, and
grandmother did there at the time. I assume they were put in touch with
the French underground, which issued us false papers, train tickets, and
other essentials for a trip to the Swiss border. There were some tense
moments on the train when the conductor collected tickets since my
grandmother knew only a few words of French. (Fortunately, she wasn't
engaged by the conductor, and my parents and uncle were quite fluent in
French by that time.) Near the Swiss border, the five of us linked up
with an underground group at a pre-designated location near the edge of
Lake Geneva where we were taken to a row boat for a midnight crossing to
the Swiss side. At one point during the crossing, I (a baby at the
time) began crying, and someone suggested that I be tossed overboard for
fear of alerting the German collaborators operating in the area.
any rate, the suggestion was dismissed (fortunately) and we arrived at
the Swiss dock and were all promptly arrested as illegal aliens. My
father and uncle begged the custom officials for political asylum,
which, for reasons that were never fully explained to me, was granted.
(Some refugees were denied entry and their sad fate was then sealed.) My
parents, uncle, and grandmother were then assigned to a government
labor camp in the German-speaking segment of Switzerland near Zurich and
interned for the duration of the war.
Since my father and uncle
had extensive secondary education, they were assigned fairly responsible
administrative duties. We are not sure what my mother and grandmother
did during those four years (1941-45). I was assigned to a nursery
during the week and my parents could see me only on weekends. At the
conclusion of the war, our family left the camp and returned to Paris
(actually a suburb of Paris) and tried to pick up the pieces, so to
My father and uncle resumed their bakery distribution
business and did exceptionally well. But my parents were stateless and
feared the onslaught of communism in Europe. Moreover, my mother was
intent on moving to Cleveland, Ohio and be near her family, which had
left Germany in the late '30s. My father at first resisted but
eventually agreed to leave France. We first visited Cleveland in the
summer of 1947 and then arranged to obtain immigration papers. We moved
permanently to the U.S. in 1948. My uncle and grandmother remained in
Paris, which proved to be a very difficult separation for my father for
many years. I obtained derivative U.S. citizenship in 1954.