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Fred Jarvis

Tennessee Holocaust Commission -

Bristol, Tennessee
Born: 1935 Freiburg, Germany
Hidden Child, Survivor : Gurs And Rivesaltes Concentration Camps

Fred Jarvis recalls being smuggled out of a French concentration camp in 1942 when he was seven years old, “My mother’s courage saved my life. The fear of losing me to murder surpassed her fear of surrendering me to a total stranger.”

His earliest memory is of the Gestapo coming to his home in 1940 and telling them to pack. Fred and his parents (his older brother had been on the last Kindertransport to England) and several hundred other Jews were shipped on cattle cars to Gurs, a French concentration camp near the Pyrenees, then transferred a year later to nearby Rivesaltes. With the help of a cousin, they escaped, driving toward Switzerland to find the border closed.

As deportations to Auschwitz began, the OSE (Society for the Rescue of Jewish Children) surreptitiously collected the small children. Fred was given a new identity and taken to a farm. “Madame Burra was very good to me,” Fred recalls, “She took me in as her supposed nephew at the risk of her own life.” In school he had to speak French. “We had to learn very rapidly, without making the slightest mistake. Mistakes were fatal,” he says.

At war’s end, his brother Joseph located him through the Red Cross and found that their parents had perished at Auschwitz. An aunt in New York City sponsored Fred’s immigration to America. He quips, “I spoke only French, lived in a household that spoke mainly German, and went to a school that spoke only English. I had a lot of adjusting to do.”