When Bea was eight, she, her family, and the rest of the German Jewish population were transferred to concentration camps. They were taken to Gurs, the first and largest concentration camp built in prewar France. Gurs was located in the Basque region of southwestern France and was situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains northwest of Oloron-Sainte-Marie (USHMM 1). In October 1940, Nazi Germany deported about 7,500 Jews from southwestern Germany across the border into France. The French Vichy government concentrated most of them in Gurs, and Bea’s family was among those deportees (USHMM 5). Bea recalled how a friend who went back to Germany in the 1970’s traveled to that camp. All he found was an empty, vast field, no recollection of the horrid time she and so many others spent there. Click here to learn more about Gurs Concentration camp.
Once in the camp, the men and women were forced to live in separate parts of the camp. In the midst of all that hunger and pain, Bea’s courage came to life. Bea and her younger sister Susie shared a barrack with their mother, surviving in an overly-crowded, hunger-stricken, disease-ridden women’s camp. Bea missed her father. She had noticed her mother was getting thinner and thinner, and she was worried about her father’s health. She decided to go visit her father in the men’s camp and take five-year-old Susie with her.
“You are crazy! They will never let us in,” Susie tried to change Bea’s mind. Bea insisted. She took her by the hand and marched to the gate of the women’s camp. The guard standing at the entrance stopped them right away.
“Where are you going?” He forbade them from leaving the women’s camp.
Eight-year-old Bea explained politely that they were on their way to visit her father: “We will not run away,” she promised. The guard did not budge. Bea persisted and started arguing with him. Out of frustration, and an unimaginable amount of courage, Bea kicked the guard’s tall black boot, yelling at him, “You dirty pig!” Taking Susie by her hand, they ran away from the guard toward the men’s camp. Little Susie and Bea managed to make it into the men’s camp, where they found their father. “He was overjoyed to see us,” she remembered (Interview Karp).
Bea was not the only one who resisted the Nazi oppressors in those dark times. Each survivor, each prisoner of these camps, and even those who perished, has a story of resistance, a time when they fought back when it seemed impossible. While visiting her father, the Nazis gave the male prisoners a rare and unusual treat, a single raw egg. When Bea saw that egg, she was terribly excited to taste it. She remembered thinking, “Oh, he will surely share it with us.” Very carefully, her father cracked a hole in the top of the egg, breaking the shell. He then stuck as finger in the egg and started mixing the yolk (Iterview Karp).
As Bea tells this story, I couldn’t help imagining the look on her young face. Perhaps her eyes were wide-open, staring intensely at her father’s finger swirling around the egg; perhaps her stomach was growling even more than usual, anticipating the unusual, nutritional treat; perhaps her tongue was moistening her lips, her dehydrated mouth watering for the first time in a long, long time.
Unexpectedly, her father frowned. Bea moved closer to him, to see what might have upset him. There was blood in the egg. Right there and then, Bea knew her father wouldn’t eat it. It was not kosher. Kosher laws forbid eating eggs with blood in them. Moritz then took the egg and threw it at the barrack wall. The egg splattered, the yellow yolk oozing down, trickling away. Eight-year-old Bea ran toward the wall, stuck her tongue out, and as she was about to lick the egg off the wall, she glanced over at her father. “He was upset. I was so frustrated, I started crying. I was mad at my dad. I didn’t understand him, not then.” They were starving. She thought he would make an exception and disobey Jewish law.
“He took us in his arms and tried to console us. It wasn’t until I got to the convent [later on] that I realized what my father was trying to tell us. When I really thought about it, what he was saying to us was this: ‘I have no control as to what the Nazis do with me physically, but mentally, I still have a choice’” (Interview Karp 17). These acts of defiance are those instances that are important to remember, to pass on to future generations.
To this day, Bea believes that the Nazis gave the Jewish prisoners bloody eggs on purpose. Bea explained that back then, they used candles to check the eggs for blood. “It wasn’t enough for them to just hurt us physically, but also mentally” (Interview Karp 17). The Nazis were adamant about breaking the human spirit—better yet, the Jewish spirit. With his little action, as the yolk dripped down the wall, Moritz stood up to them. He fought back.
After spending several months at Gurs, Bea became very ill with cholera. In a way, her sickness saved her life. Bea’s mother Rosa knew that the only way to save her daughters’ lives was to let them go, allowing a French Jewish Zionist organization called Œuvre De Secours Aux Enfants (OSE) to take her out of the concentration camp to hide out in old Chateaus in Vichy France and, later on, in a Catholic convent. Click here to learn more about OSE. Rosa had to say goodbye to her youngest daughter Susie a few months before Bea left. The two sisters didn’t see each other again until a few months later, when Bea and other Jewish children were smuggled from one hideout to the other. Bea recalled that during her time with OSE, she moved over fourteen times. Her last stop was the Catholic convent, where she learned who Jesus was for the first time.
“And I enjoyed the story, mind you.” Bea laughed as she silently remembered the stories she had been told at the convent.
During my second interview with Bea, I asked to see pictures of her family—her daughters, husband, and grandchildren—and pictures and memories from her life after the war. Cautiously, I also asked if she had any pictures or items she somehow managed to save from before the war. Most Survivors lost everything and were left only with a faint memory of what their loved ones looked like. As she led me into her kitchen, I was pleased to see the pictures of her grandchildren smiling at me from within golden and wooden frames. I was even more pleased to see some black and white pictures spread among the color ones, including a group picture of her family members; one of Bea as a four-year-old with a strange smile on her face; and one of her father sitting in front of a