Marie Kaufman was born during the war in a city called Albi in south France.  Marie’s father, Michael, and mother, Anna, who were both Polish, came to Paris at the end of the ‘30s.  When the Germans invaded France in 1940, both Michael and Anna boarded a train to southern France, governed by the Vichy and still safe for Jews.  Michael liked Anna from the moment he saw her and proposed that she remain with him, and though she was not very enthusiastic about the idea, he eventually convinced her that she would be safest with him.  Michael had worked in the French Foreign Legion, so he knew the geography of southern France well.  They settled in Albi, where Michael found work.  On March 19, 1941, Marie was born there, and soon after Marie’s parents decided to move to a tiny village called Milhars near Albi.

In late 1942, the police came to look for Michael at Lexos Cement, the factory at which he worked.  The owner lied and told the police that he was not there, and they told him to tell Michael that he must report to the government to be taken into custody.  When Michael learned this, he went into hiding in an abandoned.  Anna brought him food when she could, and when he needed to he stole food from nearby farms, and though he was seen by at least one farmer, no one ever reported him.  The cement factory wrote in his records that he was taken to a concentration camp so that if the police ever checked their records they would believe that he was gone, though they continued to provide Anna with money.  Anna grew most of the family’s food in the kitchen garden so that she didn’t have to draw attention to herself by asking for things, and she often worked out of the house so that if they police came to question her, she would not be there.

Even this became too risky, however, and so Michael soon moved into a crawl space underneath the house.  The mayor of Milhars brought the village priest to the house, offering to provide Anna and Marie with false baptism papers so that the police would not take them away.  Soon after, in 1943, Marie’s sister was born.  It was obvious to the town doctor and the neighbors who helped with the birth, as well as most of the rest of the townspeople, that Michael was hiding in the house, but no one said anything, and Anna and Michael never realized that everyone had guessed their secret.  Even the village police officer knew about Michael’s hiding place, and whenever the Nazis forced him to question Anna about Michael, he would ask if she knew where he was, and then casually chat with her for a few more minutes while she nervously held her new baby and tried to look innocent.

The teenage children of two neighboring families were often given the task of taking care of Anna.  As all five teenagers knew, they could easily be killed if the government discovered that they were protecting a Jewish child.  They made sure that she did not talk to anyone but them and their families, and they prevented her from running into the streets or anywhere else unsafe.  Her mother had taught her to call Michael her “autre maman,” meaning her other mother, and she often talked to the teenagers about this other mother.  The youngest of the teenagers even held Marie’s sister when she was given a false baptism, despite the numerous Nazi soldiers sitting in the church.  Even when Marie was with these attentive and loving teenagers, however, she could never relax.  She always looked scared.

When the war ended in Europe, Michael came out of hiding, and in August of 1944, he went back to work in the cement factory.  The family stayed in Milhars until March 1946 when they moved to Paris.  Michael and Anna married, and in 1948 they got a letter from Michael’s aunt and uncle.  They were living in Los Angeles, and they said that Michael’s sister had survived Auschwitz and was now coming to live with them.  In 1951, Marie’s family joined them in Los Angeles.

Life remained very difficult for Marie.  Her parents did not love each other, and her father became depressed and abusive.  Neither of her parents talked about the war, so the memories began to seem like a dream.  Marie knew she was different from most of the other children she attended school with, but she did not really know what had happened in her past.  She married young to leave her unhappy home, but the man she married was also controlling.  Finally when she was around 40, she decided to leave her husband.  She went back to graduate school and became a therapist, and she began to gain the sense of self she had always lacked.  She began to hold music parties once a month, and at one of these parties she met a man with whom she fell in love.  They soon got married.

As Marie got older and heard more stories of Holocaust survivors, she began to wonder about her own story.  She wrote to the mayor of Milhars and discovered that the teenagers who had taken care of her were still alive.  She and her husband went to MIlhars in 1996, and all of the townspeople greeted her with hugs and tears.  The teenagers, by this time in their 60s and 70s, were overjoyed to see their “little sister” again and said that they had always wondered what had happened to her.  They told her all about her life in Milhars, showing her the cement factory and the house in which she had lived.  When Marie thanked them for everything and said that she would like to honor them in some way, they looked at her, confused, and asked why.  She replied that they had saved her life, and they answered, “C’était normale”—it was normal.  They saved her and her family because it was what they had to do, and they saw no other option.

When Marie next saw her mother, she told her about Milhars and everything she had learned.  Upon hearing this, Anna began to cry and mourn for her lost family members for the first time.  She finally told Marie her experiences in the war and showed her letters that her grandmother had written during the war before she was killed.  In the letters, her grandmother had written that she was overjoyed to hear about the birth of her granddaughter.  Marie had never known that her grandmother had known she existed.  Anna and Marie finally became close as Anna began to mourn her family.

About ten years later, Marie returned to Milhars with her son.  He was about to start his own family, and he finally wanted to know what his mother had experienced during the war.  When the five teenagers who had taken care of Marie during the war met her son, they began to cry and said that they finally understood just what a wonderful thing they had done.