Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Maximilian Kowler - April 26, 1984

Searching for Old Friends

When I walked in to uh, a place in Chambon-sur-Lignon, where I was looking for a young lady I knew there and uh, I had traced her down finally because the grocery store is now a supermarket, and I walked in there and I said, "I would like to talk to Monsieur and Madame ???" She said, "Oh, they're not here." I said, "What do you mean, they're not here?" She said, "They died," very hesitantly. I, I didn't remember how many children they had--and I was very friendly with two of the children. I didn't--whether there were--I knew how many children--I knew there were three but I didn't know how many boys and how many girls, I didn't remember that. Two and one, or one and--or two others of one--I, I just didn't remember. So I said uh, "Are you one of the daughters?" and hesitantly again she said, "Yes." I said, "Are you Jeanine ???" She said, "Yes." I said, "I am Max Kowler." She held her hand over her mouth, and said, "Oh my God, I thought you were dead." We are talking here 1981. From '45 to '81, I had not--did not make an attempt to find these people. Uh, what my feeling was afterward, you can imagine, when she said, "You know, I still have your letters." We are talking about letters during the war, which I smuggled out of Switzerland. So I said, "What for?" She said, "Oh, I kept them." I said, "What did you do with them?" "I put them away with my mother's belongings." And uh, I said to her, "When did your mother die?" and she told me--I forgot now how many years ago she died--and she said, "You know, mother talked about you 'til the day she died. She wondered whether you made it through the war." So you can, you can imagine the way I felt. If there would have been a hole in the floor I would have gone right through it. It, it was terrible. And these were people who were very nice and good to me. Now why did I wait so long? I don't know. There are so many, there are so many things about the war and about what we went through in the war--I'll give you another example. Uh, I had false papers. I changed my name from--which were incidentally made in Chambon-sur-Lignon. I became a performer, understand? And my name was Marcel ???. Now the war was over--the day, or the next day, I don't know--the war was over, I threw away all my false documents. I have absolutely no proof--I can't show--I have no proof now to--I have absolutely nothing to prove to you that I was Marcel ???. How then did I discover that? Very simple. Few years ago, I applied for Social Security--sécurité sociale--in France. And they asked me to prove to them from when to when I was where, and so I had to prove to them that I was Marcel ??? for a certain time and I had no way of proving it, 'cause I threw everything away. So I asked my wife, "Did, did you keep your papers?" She said, "No, I have nothing." We were so happy to, to, to regagner--to, to win back our identity, our own identity--we could care less, we threw it away. All right, I, I managed anyhow to prove it, and they believed me, you know? That's not the thing. But the interesting--I have nothing--I have absolutely nothing to prove it. I knew I got the papers in Chambon, because I knew--how--I didn't even know who gave me the papers. I remember I got them from the pastor, from the pastor of the Protestant church there.

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