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Private journal kept by Klaus Peter (later Pierre) Feigl, an Austrian/German Jewish refugee child living in France during World War II.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: N06262.10

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    Private journal kept by Klaus Peter (later Pierre) Feigl, an Austrian/German Jewish refugee child living in France during World War II.
    Private journal kept by Klaus Peter (later Pierre) Feigl, an Austrian/German Jewish refugee child living in France during World War II.

    Overview

    Caption
    Private journal kept by Klaus Peter (later Pierre) Feigl, an Austrian/German Jewish refugee child living in France during World War II.
    Date
    1944 - 1945
    Locale
    Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, [Haute-Loire] France
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Peter Feigl

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Peter Feigl
    Source Record ID: Collections: 1992.175.3
    Second Record ID: Collections: 1992.59

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Artifact Geography
    Washington, DC United States
    Biography
    Peter Feigl (born Klaus Peter Feigl, later Pierre Feigl)l is the son of Ernst and Agnes (Bornstein) Feigl. He was born March 1, 1929 in Berlin, where his father worked as a mechanical engineer for the Denes & Friedman company, an international firm specializing in the sale of automotive and aircraft parts. Peter was an only child. The family was Jewish, but entirely assimilated. Ernst, in fact, was an avowed atheist. Though the Feigls lived in Germany and Agnes was a German by birth, the family bore Austrian citizenship because Ernst was a native of Vienna. After the Nazi takeover of power in 1933, the family remained in Berlin for three more years, and Ernst continued to work for Denes & Friedman. The situation, however, became increasingly dangerous. At one point, the new government pressured Ernst to use his international business connections to import aircraft equipment into Germany that was prohibited under the provisions of the Versailles Treaty. Ernst refused to cooperate, though he knew it put him at risk. In 1936 the family left their home for Prague, where Ernst was assigned the task of closing the Czech branch of his company. The Feigls spent one year in Prague before moving to Vienna in 1937. On the 8th of May of that year Ernst and Agnes had Peter baptized a Catholic, though they did not do so themselves. The Feigls remained in Vienna until shortly after the annexation of Austria in March 1938. (Peter remembers viewing Hitler at a rally in Vienna a few days after the Anschluss and asking his parents if he, too, could join the Hitler Youth.) Ernst had little difficulty finding a place of refuge for his family because his firm provided him with entry visas to several countries. He decided to move the family to Belgium, where his company had an office in Antwerp. They settled in Brussels, and Ernst commuted daily to Antwerp. Agnes supplemented their income by opening an electrolysis business in her home, and Peter recommenced his studies at a public school. The Feigls lived in close proximity to Agnes' stepmother, Flora Bornstein, stepsister Annelise, and Annelise's husband, Joseph Blumberg. But, within the next year or so the Blumbergs moved on to Paris. On the day the Germans invaded Belgium, May 10, 1940, Ernst was arrested at the Brussels railroad station while trying to get to his office in Antwerp. Because of his German passport, the Belgian gendarmes jumped to the conclusion that Ernst was a German paratrooper and hauled him off to a military barracks. After two or three days Agnes located him and brought him some basic provisions. A few days later Agnes, Peter and Flora left Brussels for Paris. They traveled via Ostende and Dunkirk, often having to stop and seek cover from the strafing of German aircraft. When they finally reached Paris three or four days later, they went to the Blumberg's apartment. Within hours, however, there was an air raid in Paris, and Agnes insisted on leaving at once for Bordeaux. As it turned out, the family boarded the last train to Bordeaux before the bridges were blown up. Immediately upon their arrival, Agnes went to register with the police, but the authorities did not know what to do with the family, since they fell outside of all established categories. Ultimately, they were instructed to go to the town of Oloron Sainte Marie in the Basses Pyrenees near the Spanish border. When their train arrived, it was immediately surrounded by gendarmes, and all its passengers were put on trucks and driven to the Gurs internment camp. There were already several thousand enemy alien prisoners in Gurs when they arrived. Though the family remained together, living conditions were miserable, and Agnes resolved to get them out as soon as possible. Her chance came during a prearranged inspection tour of Gurs by a group of Wehrmacht officers soon after the French capitulation in June 1940. When the officers arrived, Agnes confidently strode up to them, gave the Hitler salute, presented her German passport and proceeded to demand her family's immediate release from the camp. The officers were taken in by her performance and ordered that a taxi be brought forthwith to take them wherever they wanted to go. At first Agnes demanded to be driven to Spain, but when the driver informed her that the border was closed, they went north to the town of Auch (Gers). On the way, Flora left the taxi to rejoin the Blumbergs in Toulouse. At the approach to Auch, Agnes and Peter were warned against entering the town, so they took refuge in a nearby convent. There, the nuns put Agnes in touch with a local refugee welfare organization jointly operated by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Swiss Red Cross and a French group. Agnes went to work for them and soon secured a one-room apartment for herself and Peter. With the help of the refugee organization, Agnes located Ernst at the St. Cyprien internment camp on the French Mediterranean coast. In late October 1940 St. Cyprien was destroyed by a violent storm, and its inmates were evacuated to Gurs. By this time Ernst was in failing health. Agnes petitioned the authorities to secure his release, and eventually he was granted a 30-day medical leave in the spring of 1941 and was reunited with his family in Auch. Fortunately, he was able to renew his leave every 30 days for the next 15 months. On August 26, 1942, while Peter was away at an AFSC summer camp in nearby Condom, the French police initiated a round-up of Jews in the area of Auch. Both Ernst and Agnes were taken. Their transport, Convoy 28, took them first to Le Vernet, then to Drancy, and finally to Auschwitz. (The convoy left Drancy on September 4 and arrived in Auschwitz on September 6, 1942.) Peter was told of his parents' arrest the next morning by Madame Cavailhon, the director of the summer camp. The last time he saw either of his parents was in mid-August, when his father made a special trip by bicycle to Condom to see him. During that visit he presented Peter with a small package, which he opened only after his father's departure. It contained his father's pocket watch, a good luck charm and a few pieces of his mother's jewelry. When Peter saw the contents of the package, he understood that he would never see his parents again. It was at this point, August 27, 1942, that Peter started his first journal, which he dedicated to his parents. Shortly after the round-up in Auch, the police came looking for Peter in Condom. Tipped off by a sympathetic gendarme, Madame Cavailhon made sure that Peter looked too sick to be moved when the police arrived. The police returned three times in as many weeks, but each time Peter was bedridden. Fearful that their luck would not hold, Madame Cavailhon appealed to the AFSC for help. The relief organization instructed Peter to fill out an application to join a children's transport for the United States. Unfortunately, he identified himself as a Catholic in the application and was initially rejected. Madame Cavailhon, however, was able to get the sponsors to reverse their decision after writing a lengthy letter explaining his situation. So, on November 4, 1942 Madame Cavailhon escorted Peter to Marseilles, where he was to wait at a shelter until the departure of the transport, scheduled for November 27. However, due to the Allied landing in North Africa in the second week of November, which triggered the German occupation of the free zone of France, the children's transport was cancelled. Peter remained in Marseilles until the second week of January, when he was put on a train for Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. He was met by Daniel Trocmé, who took him to the Les Grillons children's home, which he directed. For the next eight months Peter remained at the home, where he was given the false identity of Pierre Fesson. About a week after his arrival in Les Grillons, Peter noticed his journal was missing. He later surmised that Daniel Trocme must have removed it because it contained too many names and places that might have endangered others if it fell into the wrong hands. Peter developed many friendships at Les Grillons, which sheltered an array of Jewish and non-Jewish refugees, including many children of Spanish Civil War refugees. As tokens of their friendship the children of Les Grillons exchanged photos of themselves, which had been taken for identity cards. Peter collected more than 30 such photos (as well as group shots), many of which were inscribed with the true and false names of the children pictured. Despite the risk of carrying them on his person, Peter kept them with him for the duration of the war. In September 1943 Peter was sent along with four other refugee boys to a boarding school in Figeac (Lot) called the College Champollion. Soon after his arrival, Peter began a second journal, which he kept until May 1944. Early in May, members of the French resistance blew up the Ratier aircraft propeller factory in Figeac, which immediately brought about a large scale round-up in the town. All males between the ages of 16 and 55 were required to report to the town square. Though Peter was only 15, he went into hiding for the day inside the church where he served as an altar boy. A few days later, he and the other Jewish refugee children were contacted by a member of the OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants), who told them to prepare to leave at short notice. Less than a week later they set out by train for Clermont Ferrand, a collection point for the OSE, where about a dozen Jewish children were assembled for escape to Switzerland. With the assistance of a passeur, Peter successfully crossed the border on May 22, 1944. In his backpack he carried his photos and journal, and in the lining of his jacket was sewn his birth and baptismal certificates. After being interrogated at the Claparede reception camp near Geneva, Peter was given permission to remain in Switzerland. He was soon taken in by a former business associate of his father from Bern, Siegfried Gersonde. He and his wife, Angela, took care of Peter for about a year before turning him over to the Red Cross. For the next year he lived in a series of private homes and youth homes around the country, including the Home de la Foret in Geneva, where he studied tool and dye making at the nearby ORT vocational school. With the help of his relatives (the Blumbergs, who together with Flora Bornstein, reached the U.S. in 1941), Peter received an American visa and immigrated to the U.S. in July 1946. He retrieved his first journal only in 1987, after being contacted by a Parisian named David Diamant, who had purchased it in the late 1940s at a flea market in the south of France and published it in the 1970s.
    Record last modified:
    2004-08-10 00:00:00
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