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Handmade birthday card given to an American internee

Object | Accession Number: 2018.426.18

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    Handmade birthday card given to an American internee

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Handmade birthday card given to Leonie Roualet by fellow internees, while she was interned in Vittel internment camp in German-occupied France from September 1942 through September 1944. Leonie was born in New York to Leonie Calmesse and Henry Charles Roualet, French champagne vintners who had immigrated to the United States in the 1890s. In the 1930s, Leonie’s mother returned to France to take care of her ailing brother. While caring for her brother, she too became sick, and in 1939 Leonie traveled to France to take care of her mother and her uncle. In May 1940, Germany invaded France and occupied the northern half of the country. Leonie’s sister, Henriette, began to worry about the fate of her mother and sister as she struggled to contact them, and she wrote repeatedly to the U.S. State Department for information on their whereabouts. In November, she received a telegram stating that her mother was in a hospital in Bordeaux, while Leonie was living with their uncle in Épernay. On September 24, 1942, the Gestapo arrested Leonie as an enemy alien and sent her to a prison in Châlons. From there she was transferred to Frontstalag 194 in Vittel. She remained there for two years until the camp was liberated by Free French forces on September 12, 1944. Immediately following liberation, Leonie worked for the Red Cross and helped establish the first displaced persons (DP) camp in Paris. In December 1945, Leonie returned to the United States, accompanying a convoy of refugees at the request of the American Embassy.
    Date
    received:  1942 October 28
    Geography
    creation: Vittel (Concentration camp); Vittel (France)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Mark Roualet
    Markings
    interior, top flap, handwritten, gold ink : To….Leonie / With best wishes / for a very happy / birthday / Vittel / camp / 28.X.’42
    interior, top of bottom flap, handwritten, black ink : Betty (illegible) / Renee Hieton / C. Margeton / Eeszy Dotman
    interior, bottom of bottom flap, handwritten, blue ink : You may not have all you desire / On this your natal day, / But very soon, all barbed wire / Will vanish quite away!
    Contributor
    Subject: Leonie B. Roualet
    Biography
    Leonie Berthe Roualet (1900-1978) was born in Hammondsport, New York to Leonie (née Calmesse, 1869-1942) and Henry Charles Roualet (1866-?). Leonie and Henry were both originally from France, where they worked as champagne vintners. They immigrated to New York in 1890, where they continued to work as wine merchants. Leonie Berthe was raised Catholic and had two older brothers, Georges (George, 1891-1951) and Andre (Andrew, 1894-1973), and one older sister, Henriette (1898-1969). Georges served in the U.S. Navy during World War I aboard the USS Wisconsin. After the war, the entire family moved from New York to Cleveland, Ohio.

    In the 1930s, Leonie’s mother, Leonie Calmesse Roualet, returned to France to take care of her ailing brother. While caring for her brother, she too became sick, and in 1939 Leonie traveled to France to take care of her mother and her uncle. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and two days later France and Britain declared war on Germany, officially starting World War II. In May 1940, Germany invaded France and occupied the northern half of the country. Leonie’s sister, Henriette, began to worry about the fate of her mother and sister as she struggled to contact them, and she wrote repeatedly to the U.S. State Department for information on their whereabouts. In November, she received a telegram stating that her mother was in a hospital in Bordeaux, while her sister was living with their uncle in Épernay.

    On December 11, 1941, four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Germany declared war on the United States. Following this declaration, German authorities began arresting American citizens in their occupied territories with the hope that they could exchange them with German citizens interned abroad. On September 24, 1942, the Gestapo arrested Leonie as an enemy alien and sent her to a prison in Châlons. From there she was transferred to Frontstalag 194 in the Vittel internment camp. In Vittel, Leonie lived in hotel-like accommodations with running water and heat. She was able to send and receive mail, and accept Red Cross packages. The Germans published propaganda photos and press stories about Vittel to showcase it as representative of conditions in German camps. Despite these improved living conditions in comparison to other German camps, Vittel was still surrounded by barbed wire and constantly patrolled by armed guards. Leonie often suffered from malnutrition while interned in the camp.

    On September 12, 1944, the Vittel internment camp was liberated by Free French forces. Immediately following liberation, Leonie worked for the Red Cross and helped establish the first displaced persons (DP) camp in Paris. In December 1945, Leonie returned to the United States aboard the S.S. Gripsholm, accompanying a convoy of refugees at the request of the American Embassy. She resettled in Cleveland, reuniting with her sister, Henriette. In Cleveland, Leonie continued working for the Red Cross before becoming the director of the diocesan Catholic Resettlement Council when it was established in 1949. Working for the Council, Leonie helped resettle thousands of refugees from wars and political strife around the world.

    Physical Details

    Language
    English
    Classification
    Decorative Arts
    Category
    Papercrafts
    Object Type
    Birthday cards (lcsh)
    Genre/Form
    Birthday cards.
    Physical Description
    Handmade birthday card constructed from white cardstock paper. When closed, the card is cut to resemble a rectangular gift box with a bow on top. The front is painted brown with a blue ribbon and bow. The interior upper flap has barbed wire drawn around the border with a handwritten message in the center all in gold ink. The top of the lower flap has four signatures in black ink. The rest of the lower flap is painted to look like the interior of a chocolate box, all silver with five vertical rows of different chocolate candies. Along the bottom is a handwritten message in blue ink. The card is lightly stained overall.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 7.000 inches (17.78 cm) | Width: 7.625 inches (19.368 cm)
    Materials
    overall : paper, paint, ink

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The birthday card was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2018 by Mark Roualet, great nephew of Leonie Roualet.
    Record last modified:
    2023-09-15 10:14:15
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn628057

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