Claire Kahane

Nashville, Tennessee

Born: 1937 Antwerp, Belgium

Refugee: Antwerp, Belgium

“This is how we spent our lives, really…I remember my life…of going to consuls and trying to help the other members of our family get to the United States.”

“This is how we spent our lives, really…I remember my life…of going to consuls and trying to help the other members of our family get to the United States.”

In 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, and Claire’s family made the decision to move near the French-Belgium border to De Panne, France. Her family stayed in De Panne for about nine months, with her father commuting back and forth on weekends; however, on May 10, 1940, when the Nazis invaded Belgium, they knew that they had to move again. Claire, her mother, an aunt, and her two small children took the train from De Panne to Bordeaux on May 11, and they stayed at Hotel Le Phesant; this hotel served as a meeting place for the family. Over the following four days, her father made many trips by car, bringing as many family members as he could. As the French Army approached, Claire’s family moved further south, because they knew that the French army would requisition the hotel.

The family moved to the countryside and eventually found lodging in Pergeux, but they were there only two days before Claire’s father found a chalet just outside of Mont-de-Marsan in southwestern France; the chateau was called La Glorieuse. Eventually about 22 family members moved into this chateau. The Fischer family stayed in that chateau from June to August of 1940, and when they could no longer find any gasoline for the car, they used bicycles to go back and forth to ascertain how close the Germans were to their chateau. The Germans actually advanced to within five kilometers of their hiding place, and a priest in Mont-de-Marsan bicycled to the chateau to tell Claire’s family to leave. The Germans caught the priest soon afterwards and executed him for helping their family.

The Fischer family then went to Montpelier and stayed there in August and September; they immediately began making plans to get the family to the United States. Claire’s father went to Marseilles where the nearest American consul was. Although they had an American family member who wished to sponsor them, Miles Standish, an antisemite who was in charge of the American consul at Marseilles, said that their relative had already sponsored too many families and could not sponsor them. Thus they had to find someone with even better connections to be able to get to the United States. Claire’s father was a banker, and he had a connection with Manufacturers Hanover Trust Bank in New York. Through this connection, they were able to get in contact with Paul Penoyer, the son-in-law of J. P. Morgan, who told Miles Standish that he would sponsor them. Claire’s maternal grandparents, however, could not go, because they were under Polish quota. Her mother’s parents went to Spain, because they could leave from Spain with a transit visa. Most of the rest of the family then left France and went to Lisbon, Portugal, but Claire’s father stayed behind, because he feared they would stop him since he was still of military age. In December of 1940, Claire’s father was reunited with the family; he had disguised himself and falsified his age in order to be able to leave France.

The Fischer family then left Portugal on the Serpa Pinto. Claire remembers of the ship, “It lasted about fourteen days, we ran out of food…I remember.” They were delayed in Bermuda and forced to stay there for a while before finally leaving for America. On March 31, 1941, Claire and her family finally arrived in New York. Claire’s family lived in hotels, searching for other family members, and trying to help get them to safe places. Claire’s maternal grandparents had made it to Cuba, and her paternal grandparents were living in the United States.

In 1945 after the war ended, Claire’s family finally settled into an apartment, and another baby was born; the Fischers then raised their family in New York City.