My name is Elysha Varenbut and I am from Toronto, Ontario. Currently I am spending a semester in Jerusalem studying at Hebrew University. I began volunteering at Yad Vashem this year, and met Holocaust survivor Berthe one day while listening to her special story. I instantly felt connected to her and her passion for life.
|Berthe in the Hall of Names|
Berthe was born in Lyon, France in 1932 into a Jewish family. Her father, originally from Poland, moved to France at the young age of 14. Quickly realizing the danger that Jews faced, he became communist, in the hope that it would ease the harsh lifestyle created as a result of living in Europe. Her mother, originally from Poland, moved to France with the same intention as Berthe’s father. As the situation continued to worsen, Berthe’s parents quickly realized that in order to keep Berthe safe she would have to be sent away.
In December 1941, when Berthe was only nine years old, she packed a suitcase. About to leave behind her family and the only life she had ever known, she was scared and uneasy, but somehow understood it had to be done. Berthe was relocated through a Christian church program, and had to hide her true Jewish identity in order to fit into her new life. She was taken in by a young woman, Madame Marsona, and her three children, who were living in a small village about 100 kilometers outside of Lyon. Madame Marsona lived a very simple life; she was strict yet sensible, and treated Berthe as one of her own. Berthe explains, “She knew I was Jewish but never said a word… not even to her children.”
|Elysha and Berthe at Yad Vashem|
Berthe lived in a stable household with Madame Marsona and her family for about two years before German soldiers began to invade the town in 1943. “When I was walking I would look down… I was afraid they would see my face and see I was a Jew. I was so afraid to say the word ‘Jew’." Not only was Berthe afraid for her own life, she feared that Madame Marsona and her family were also at risk. It was forbidden for French citizens to host Jewish people for several weeks without registering them with the authorities; some French rescuers were punished and either deported or even murdered. However, although the Marsona family understood the risks of hiding Berthe this did not deter them from hiding her in their home.
On September 3, 1944, French units liberated Lyon, and Berthe safely returned home to her mother and father in Lyon. Berthe continued living in Lyon with her parents until 1956, when she made Aliyah to Israel. Her parents later joined her in Israel in 1971.
|Elysha and Berthe at Yad Vashem|
Looking back and thinking about the hard times Berthe and her family went through, she still manages to remain positive and have an optimistic outlook on life. “Because I learned to be tough, I learned to survive,” she said. "I am grateful to the Marsona family for saving my life. It is my duty to remind you that there are good people in the world.” Berthe’s story is just one of many that display actions of courage, bravery, and strength. The Marsona family, along with other Righteous Among the Nations families and individuals who risked their lives to save Jews will forever be appreciated and admired.
Berthe has been through so many struggles and losses, and yet she is able to wake up every day with a smile and focus on the good in the world. Spending time talking to Berthe and listening to her stories has been a wonderful learning experience. Every moment I spend with her is very special, and she is continually helping me to learn and grow more as a person. She helps young individuals every day realize the importance of listening to the voice of survivors in order to keep their memories alive.