Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Rene Lichtman - August 13, 1998


Another new identity.

Oh, that was another trauma, you know, with, with a, with a religious Jewish stepfather who was horrible.

Was your mother religious?

No. She, she was, she wasn't religious. She was very, she knew the stuff from Poland. She knew what to do as a Jewish woman, you know. But she never imparted it to me. I mean, I, I had, I had, the Jewish identity I had in Paris was more like cultural and we had Jewish friends. And, and um, and that, that was kind of interesting, because my mother was part of a, a group of young Jewish people. And they, they liked to party and they liked to sing and you know, at somebody's house and, and, and sing the old Yiddish songs and all that. And it was, that was very beautiful for me, that and she had a beautiful voice.

Your mother?

So that part of Judaism, the cultural aspects and the social aspects, I really, I really liked that. And...

Your mother was not religious, but she wound up marrying a Hasid? Not a Hasid?

Not quite. An Orthodox Jew...

An Orthodox Jew.

...but he wasn't Hasidic.

How did that happen?

But, but he, he lived in, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which was, still, you know, Hasidic territory. Um, my, I mean, very briefly, there was, my mother had a sister in Brighton Beach, New York, who was a secular woman, a leftist, a poet and raised her kids to be artists and theater people and all that kind of stuff. But somehow um, my, my aunt chose this guy who was--I shouldn't say, he's dead now, so, but you know, he was, he was terrible for my mother because he was much older and he was very pious, just like this, you know, really kind of a nothing. He had grown children, he had grandchildren himself. It was the most mismatched, why my mother, I don't--and interesting enough, my mother had a very active social life in Paris. She had boyfriends and, and you know, very um, I mean, they really enjoyed themselves. They went to the French clubs. It was essentially a, kind of a French culture and here she comes to and I remember when she came to the United States. And I was with my guardian. I was staying with my guardian at that time, because when my mother did anything,

In France, you stayed...

In France, I would stay with my guardian. Like, during vacation, I would go back to my guardian. Um, so I kept seeing her. And, and my mother, you know, accepted that. I mean, it was, it was going like to a foster parent, you know, instead. So the relationship continued. And in 1950, when my mother came for a visit to the United States, I was with my guardian. And I remember the, the, the mail coming and, and my guardian opening it up outside in our, in our front yard which was all, you know, vegetables and flowers and all those, it was summertime. And she's reading this letter and she's saying--she says, "Rene," she says, "your mother went to New York and uh, she's um, she married a man in New York."

How long before that happened? How long was she away?

How long was she away?


I don't know, hardly any time, you know, for the, I mean, it was like, I guess, by that time I was in s...school, so it was summer vacation, I assume, during the summer. And um, "So she's coming back and she's going to take you back to New York with her." And I went nuts. I...

What did you do?

I started screaming and crying and, and just, I just--I remember that very clearly. And she was um, you know, she played the role of--again, you know, to do what's right. You know, you're going to do what Mama Ellen, there was always Mama Ellen and Mama Nana. I mean, I always had these...


And so I did what I'm supposed to do. And then as soon as I got there, I got an ulcer and...

In New York?

Yeah. That's what I was told later, that for years I've had duodenal ulcer.

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