The Liberation of Rothschild
The battle for Paris began a few days before the Rothschild Hospital was liberated. On August 10, 1944, Allied Forces gave the signal for insurrection by the French resistance forces. Colonel Rol-Tanguy, who during the Occupation led the communist resistance force known as the FTP (Francs-tireurs et partisans), commanded the FFI (Forces françaises de l’intérieur) for the Paris region. His men put up posters calling on Parisians to mobilize. More by tradition than otherwise, barricades sprang up, with more than two dozen in the XIIth arrondissement. One was erected outside the Rothschild Hospital at the angle of the boulevard de Picpus and the rue Santerre.
With the Allies approaching Paris and the German army in retreat, Brunner, on August 17, transferred control of Drancy to the Wehrmacht, and boarded a train for Germany. The Wehrmacht promptly handed the camp over to the Swedish Consul General, Raoul Nordling, and French Jewish resistants under Rol-Tanguy’s protection opened Drancy’s doors. Nordling entered the camp the next day, August 18, accompanied by the President of the Red Cross and Red Cross social worker, Annette Monod. Monod was an extraordinary individual who had worked at Drancy, Beaune-la-Rolande and Pitiviers, the Vélodrome d’Hiver, and who was part of the clandestine child rescue network operating out of the Rothschild Hospital, which will be discussed in chapter 3.
Nordling asked Monod to organize Drancy’s liberation, which she recounted in a filmed interview. (USHMM Archives.) Liberating Drancy, she said, was not just a matter of opening its doors, but rather finding a solution for each of the 1,518 terrified remaining prisoners. She pleaded with them to stay at Drancy until the fighting in Paris subsided. Those who insisted on leaving were given a food package and a ration card, but were warned that the Germans had not left Paris and that German cannons were still strategically placed, for example, at the Place de la République.
The first night at Drancy, Monod slept in Brunner’s bed, where she said she found chocolate and ate it. The next night, she took all the Archives the Germans didn’t burn home with her, to turn over to the Red Cross. When it was safe, she sent two busloads of the sickest and feeblest prisoners to Rothschild.
The Rothschild Hospital was liberated one day after Drancy, on August 18, 1944. As at Drancy, there was neither bloodshed nor drama. The hospital was populated solely by Jews. and the few lingering French police did not interfere. A Belgian physician, Dr. Vanderstegen, who belonged to Robert Debré’s Comité des médecins résistants (Resistant Doctors’ Committee), walked in unimpeded. According to eyewitness Dr. Marcel Leibovici, some prisoners, who for months had faked illnesses to prolong their hospitalization, tore off casts and dressings, tossed them in the air in celebration, and walked home.
The Rothschild Hospital was the first liberated public space in Paris. (Halioua interview.) The flag of the Free French Forces, and the flags of the Allied armies – the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France – were raised over the Rothschild Hospital’s main entry, just above the spot where the French police had their office.
Robert Debré met secretly with Rol-Tanguy, who informed him where it was thought the Germans would strike in Paris. By the time Rol-Tanguy’s forces entered Paris, doctors and nurses from Rothschild and other Paris hospitals were already dispersed throughout Paris, undoubtedly on orders from Debré who directed medical emergency teams from his command post in the Paris sewers. When the fighting began, Dr. Weissman tended the wounded at St. Michel, Dr. Geissman at the Place de la Republique. Dr. Pérel was part of the resistance in the XIIth arrondissement. Simon Schwartz, a pharmacy intern, serving as a nurse with the FFI, rode around Paris picking up and taking the wounded to Rothschild; he then joined Libération Nord, a group linked to the town hall of the XIIth. Outside the hospital, salvos were exchanged between members of the French Resistance on the hospital grounds and Joseph Darnand’s pro-German French Militia in the Picpus Cemetery.
On Liberation day, August 25, 1944, the wounded of the Battle of Paris were being treated inside the Rothschild Hospital. It holds the distinction of being the first hospital to treat the battle’s casualties.
It has been reported that when the Americans entered Paris, Jewish Americans soldiers filled the synagogues, and Jewish American military doctors rushed to the Rothschild Hospital to treat Jewish survivors. Later, when the full scope of the tragedy of the Holocaust was coming to light, American Jewish doctors came to Rothschild to show solidarity. (Halioua interview.)
Of the 76,000 deported Jews of France, fewer than 2,500 survived. For most survivors, the process was the same. Sometime in the spring of 1945, they arrived in Paris at the Gare de l’Est. Social workers met them and took them to the Hotel Lutétia which was set up to receive civilians – political prisoners, resistants, and Jews - returning from concentration camps. The survivors were registered, given clothing, identity cards, ration books, money and a bed. Some were encouraged to accept treatment at the Rothschild Hospital. The hospital was thus singled out once again, as the place where Jewish survivors went to recover.
Family and friends went to Lutétia almost daily to look for their loved ones. They scanned the lists of those known to be liberated, they posted missing persons notices and photographs, they wandered about showing snapshots to survivors, and occasionally they rejoiced upon locating a husband, wife, child, relative, or friend.
Armand Kohn posted a notice for his son 12-year old Georges-André, but received no information. He died in 1962, never knowing his son’s fate. 11,000 Jewish children of France perished in deportation. Georges-André Kohn was the last Jewish child deported from France and one of the last Jews to be murdered during the Holocaust, just hours before British troops liberated the camp at Neuengamme, April 20 1945.
Rothschild’s final war mission was in large part a sad one. The Rothschild Orphanage reopened. A few children were reunited with their parents, some as late as 1947, but more often than not children started new lives with adoptive parents.
In 1954, the Rothschild family sold the Rothschild Hospital to Assistance Publique- Hôpitaux de Paris for one franc.