It's Time for a Short Lesson in History
When we left Germany the first week in September 1938, Hitler was demanding more "living space" and he wanted to annex the Sudeten Land which was part of Czechoslovakia and had a large German population. Austria had asked Hitler officially to join Germany. It was called the "Anschluss" or to be integrated with Germany. The German population in the Sudeten Land wanted the same deal and claimed to be mistreated. Benito Mussolini was for many years the dictator of Italy, IL Duce. He was not quite as vicious as Hitler and he did not restrict the churches. Antisemitism was not a big issue at that time, there were not many Jews living in Italy. Mussolini's party was the fascists. Spain also had its dictator, Franco. Germany, Italy and Spain became known as the Axis Partners. France and England did finally realize that war was imminent. The English prime minister Neville Chamberlaine, who was never seen without his umbrella, met Hitler and Mussolini on September 29, 1938 in Munich. He told Hitler that England and France did not object to the annexation of the Sudeten Land, but Hitler should be a good fellow and not to touch any other part of Czechoslovakia. The following day, on September 30,1938, France, England, Germany, and Italy signed an agreement to that effect. Chamberlaine thought he had bought the peace for Europe. On March 15, 1939 Hitler invaded and occupied all of Czechoslovakia. We were still in Italy when these meetings took place in Munich and we knew one thing for sure, Mussolini quickly became under Hitler's complete influence and it was high time for us to get out of Italy. In recent years a movie for television was made with the title "Winds of War". It is about this time in history and it is very good. I will try to get this tape for you. It would be a good addition to my story.
Wherever there are refugees, there are also rumors and the rumors were that it was possible to bring our car to the Italian border and our parents would come from the French border. We would meet in the "no man's land" between the two countries, that was probably not more than one hundred feet wide, and John and I would hand the car over to our parents. They would then drive to Nice and we would go back to Italy. We agreed to meet at the border two days after we had "delivered" mother and Yvonne to Nice. We packed everything we had in the hotel in the car and drove to the border. The Italian Carbinieri let us drive past the toll gate and we could see our parents on the other side. Only father came, he had the visa and was "legal". He knew how to drive at one time but had not driven a car in many years. We had only a short meeting and showed him how to drive in first gear only and very slowly to his side where we saw that mother got in the car and they drove off and back to Nice.
Father had heard some rumors through the grapevine that there was some help available at the Italian border to get into France. We stayed near the custom house and talked to some of the Carabinieri. Compare them to our highway patrol on border duty. They all spoke French and we knew some French. We found one who gave us the answer we wanted. He told us to come back after dark and he would help us. We came back to him after dark and he took us down some stairs, maybe one hundred fifty feet to a walkway along the water. He told us to walk towards France, which would be about five hundred meters or one thousand five hundred feet and we would be able to see from the street signs when we reached France. We started to walk and when it looked like we were in France, a French border patrol stopped us. He said we could not walk here and we would have to go to the highway and enter from there. We walked back up the stairs and found our border guard. He took us down another stairway to the railroad tracks half way between the highway and the coast. There were two tracks and a concrete drainage ditch on one side and he suggested to walk low in the ditch. We were on the right side of the track and expected a train would come from behind us. Suddenly we heard and saw a train with a huge steam engine coming against us and we went flat on our bellies in the bottom of the ditch. The cylinders from the locomotive, it must have been a very old one, extended very much over the sides of the track. We took a shower of steam and hot oil. After this episode we continued walking until we came to a railroad crossing. We had been told that we would be in France when the railroad crossed the coastal highway. We left the ditch and walked on a side walk next to the street. We had been walking about one hundred feet when we saw a man in uniform coming against us who looked like a French custom man. We kept walking at the same speed and did not slow down when we passed him. He stopped, we said "Bon Soir", he answered and we saw from the side of our eyes, that he turned around and watched us, but he did not stop us. We kept walking to the first town in France, called Menton, and from there we took the bus to Nice. Our parents and Yvonne gave us a royal reception. They had moved to a very nice apartment on Rue Meyerber, 2nd floor, with a side view of the Mediterranean, located between the Rue de la France and the Promenade des Anglais, a nice location. We had gotten their new address when we gave them the car.
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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida.
©1991 Kurt Lenkway.