Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Maximilian Kowler - April 26, 1984

Sneaking into France

Do you have brothers or sisters?


So just the three of you?

No, it was only just the three of us, yeah. And Italy at that time was still relatively friendly to us, so we had a friend of my father's who lived there all his life, and uh, he was the one who received us, who took us in, and then helped us. We stayed there for a while and, and then, naturally--to get organized, sort of--and then realized that we'd better get going, because uh, Mussolini had started to collaborate more and more with Hitler, listening more and more to Hitler. So we just crossed the border then, on the--what is called the Moyenne Corniche, near Menton, near Ventimiglia, from Italy into France--illeg...illegally. We didn't have any papers or anything. Again, without anything in our hand, we just walked over the Moyenne Corniche, hiding behind a parcel of stuff at the custom controls, went over the bridge, and walked into France. Took the--walked down to Menton, took the bus in Menton--public transportation to go to Nice, and in Nice went straight to the synagogue--was Erev Rosh Hashanah, I remember exactly. Went there, and they put, put us up then in a sort of a--in a hotel, which was sort of like a bordello, and was the safest place because it wasn't controlled by the police. And the next morning then, uh, somebody from the uh, consistoire, from the Jewish uh, from the temple, or Jewish agency, or whatever it was. It's not--it wasn't the Agence Suisse. I know it was like a community center--a Jewish community center and they took us then to the police, and they gave us residence as refugees, which France accepted illegal refugees at that time for political or religious reasons. And that's how we then stayed a few days in Nice, and from then on went on to Lyon, where we finally stopped then and sort of established ourselves.

As French citizens...

No, no, no, not French citizens yet. Uh, at that time we--the nationality we had in France was called ex-patrician--ex-Austrians, okay? Uh, eventually, later on, we got a passport which was also a passport for uh, sans nationalite ???. It's like a passport which is also a ???--I still have it, matter in fact. And uh, we got uh, working privileges and uh, France, France was very, very nice to us.

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