Oral History

Simone Weil Lipman describes camp conditions and her work for the Children's Aid Society (OSE) in Rivesaltes

When Simone was three her family moved to Strasbourg, where her father bred sheep. Simone and her brother were active in Jewish scouting. In 1940, she worked as a teacher in Paris. The Germans invaded western Europe in May 1940. Simone and her family fled German-occupied France for the unoccupied southern zone. There Simone worked at an internment camp for foreign-born Jews. She tried to provide forged documents in an attempt to save lives. Later, Simone assumed a false name and joined the Children's Aid Society (OSE) to rescue Jewish children.


The camp was situated in an area where what I remember mostly is the wind blowing, this hot wind called "La Tramontane" [north wind], which, the people being so weak from malnutrition, uh they just rolled along with the wind. They couldn't...they couldn't walk in the wind. Now in the camp there was still some Spanish refugees from the Franco wars, and in the camps were all the Jews that had been deported from Rhineland, from areas along the Rhine, on the...on uh...in Germany. Some of them had already been in Gurs, another very infamous camp in the southwest of France, and transferred to Rivesaltes. Um, after a year of internment, they were in very weakened condition already. Because, though as I understand it the food that was provided was according to the Geneva Convention, but much of it disappeared on the black market. In addition to which, uh there wasn't much food, period, in France. And, um, one of the jobs of OSE [Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants: Children's Aid Society], which was originally actually a, um, medical social agency, was to provide extra rations for the people. So that became one of the important tasks of OSE, to distribute whatever it could. Some day it was milk from the Swiss Red Cross. Sometimes it was dates. Sometimes it was a handful of olives. And always a little bread that we had to divide. I shall never forget entering into the barracks and dividing the breads in eight pieces. And how can you make them exactly equal? So, we put numbers of them, so that it was like a...a, a lottery for people to get the piece of bread so that no one would be slighted, because fights would erupt around the size of a piece of bread. Um, I remember handing a man in the barrack a piece of bread and his just falling back. And he was dead. Um, that was the condition of the adults.


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