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Oral history interview with Léon Prays

Oral History | Accession Number: 2015.427.1 | RG Number: RG-50.030.0853

Léon Prays, born on May 6, 1932 in Charleroi, Belgium, describes his Polish parents; older brother, Josef, and his older sisters, Paula and Anna; how his family fled to Germany in 1929; his father committing to work in the coal mines for three years in order to immigrate his family to Belgium; his father’s plumbing business; his mother’s death when he was two years old; his family’s strained financing and being hungry often; having violent arguments with his step-mother, Mrs. Grünfeld; his family’s failed attempt to flee to France in May 1940; the arrest and deportation of his father and brother to work for the Todt enterprise, then to Malines, and finally to Auschwitz in 1942; his step-mother taking the family (Paula, Anna, Léon, and baby Jacques) to her sister’s home in Montigny-le-Tilleul, Belgium; being sent with Anna to a Belgian children’s home outside of Charleroi called the Cité de l’Enfance; how the resistance fighters helped he and his sister escape from the home in December 1942; hiding in a stable for two weeks before being taken to Le Château du Faing in Jamoigne, Belgium run by Madame Taquet and her husband; being separated from Anna; how the home was run like a boy scout camp; attending mass every morning; the Allied attacks in the region; American soldiers arriving and taking over the boys’ dormitory; the Americans sharing their rations with the children; suffering from rickets, scabies, and furuncles; being taken with other boys by American soldiers in January 1945 to Brussels; the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee sending money from Switzerland to help the children; the Aide aux Israélites Victimes de la Guerre (AVIG) arranging for 3,000 children to be placed in various orphanages; how a wealthy man named Mr. Bernheim rented a château for them near Brussels in the commune de Voixfort; Anna living with a Jewish family in Switzerland; the liberation of Belgium; going to the main train station in Brussels to see if his father or elder brother were among the camp survivors; going to a sanatorium in Vevey, Switzerland for 11 months and learning to read; his step-mother claiming him as a relative; his sister Anna going to Israel with their sister Paula; being placed in a children’s home called Miravalle; how the director Zygmund (“Ziggy”) Hirsh encouraged them to express themselves artistically; his bar mitzvah; attending a trade school; completing his military service; working for an international transport company then a travel agency; the lives of his sisters; and his thoughts on his life.

Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.
Mr. Leon Prays
Peggy Frankston
interview:  2015 September 17
3 digital files : WAV.
Record last modified: 2020-03-26 09:37:52
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