Claude BLOCH

1928 - | Birth: | Arrest: | Residence: ,

Claude BLOCH was born in Lyon on November 1, 1928.

This biography, prepared by Jeanne Gautier, a student at the René Goscinny high school in Warsaw, has been fleshed out with the testimony given by Claude Bloch on December 13, 2015 at the Qautre Vents junior high school in l’Arbresle near Lyon (published on YouTube).

At the beginning of the war, Claude’s mother, who was widowed, was working at the Prefecture of the Rhône department, but consequent to Vichy’s anti-Jewish laws she had to find another job.

As the family had not complied with the laws decreed by the Vichy regime that required it to declare its Jewishness to the authorities, they wore no star and there I.D. cards were not stamped JEW.

His mother obtained an I.D. card in her maiden name, Meyer, which sounds less Jewish, as there are many Protestants named Meyer.

Claude’s I.D. card was in his own name, but was falsified by his grandfather at the beginning of 1944. By changing the o of Bloch to a and adding et to the end, the name was changed to Blachet [1].

Claude studied at la Martinière [2].

In February of 1944 his mother decided to move to Crépieux near Lyon, where she rented a three-room apartment in the house of a family in the area so that she could continue to work in Lyon and Claude could pursue his studies at la Martinière.

This decision turned out to be particularly timely, as in April the children’s home in Yzieu was raided, and in addition the militia confiscated the flat of the Bloch grandparents to turn it into offices.

Early in June the news of the American, English and French invasion of Normandy, broadcast over the Swiss radio, gave the family new hope that they might avoid arrest.

However, on June 28, 1944 Philippe Henriot, who regularly gave hate speeches on the radio against “the Jews, the Freemasons, the Communists”, was killed by resistance agents.

The militia decided to shoot 8 Jews in reprisal.

Paul Touvier had some Jews arrested and ligned up eight of them in a hallway, but a militiaman told him that among the ” Jews” there was a resistance agent, who was sent back to his cell, since the reprisals were only to be aimed at Jews. The seven remaining hostages were shot the  next day, June 29th, at Rilleux-la-Pape (a village near Crépieux).

Early in the morning Claude’s grandmother left for Lyon to go to the dentist’s and did some shopping on the way. Claude’s mother was on sick leave, and the grandfather was at home like always. Claude was on holiday and polishing his bicycle, because the landlord had told him he was going to drive Claude to some relatives of his in the Drôme department, where he would be safer.

At 11:45, the militia, created in 1943 by the Vichy regime, showed up. Claude was to find out after the war that it was Paul Touver in person who arrested them. Touvier told them to pack their bags, and they changed clothes. Claude’s mother told him to put on long trousers instead of the shorts he intended to wear on account of the heat.

Claude, his mother, and his grandfather were taken away.

They were all taken to the cellars of the Gestapo headquarters at n° 32 Place Bellecourt in Lyon. His grandfather and his mother were then taken upstairs. When his mother came back she whispered to him (as they were forbidden to talk to each other) that “they have killed your grandfather”. Shortly afterwards he saw through the half-open door a man carrying his grandfather’s body on his back.

Claude and his mother were then taken to the Montluc Fort, where they spent the night.

On the morning of the 30th he was placed in a shack to be known as the Jews’ shack (a barracks that could hold around 200 people, where the Germans held Jewish males and also resistance agents who turned out to be Jewish [3]). He remained there until July 2nd, when he was called out “with his baggage” (The soldiers called the prisoners with or without baggage; “without” meant they would be shotin the vicinity, while “with” indicated they were to leave for an unknown destination). He rejoined his mother, who was taken out of her cell.

They were put on a bus that took them to the Perrache train station, where they were loaded onto a passenger train, the men and women in separate cars.

Some railway workers managed to inform the prisoners through the blacked-out windows that an assassination attempt had taken place against Hitler, but that they were ignorant of the outcome.

On July 21st they stopped over in Dijon and then started off again.

On the 22nd of July they finally arrived at a little station in the Paris area. A bus then took them off to Drancy.

While at Drancy he was with his mother, and he witnessed the arrival of busses that carried off very young children.

On July 31st he, his mother, and around a thousand adults and 300 young children were herded onto Parisian busses and hauled off to the Bobigny train station. There they were piled, 80 to a car, into cattle cars marked “men 40, horses 8”, with only their suitcases and no food. Claude was in a car with no children under fifteen.

On August 3rd the train stopped and they heard screams and dogs barking. The doors finally opened and they saw men strangely dressed in blue-and-gray-striped outfits, who told them to leave their suicases in the cars and get off, the men to one side (on the left) and the women and children to the other (on the right). In all the clamor it was not clear to the prisoners whether left and right meant theirs or with respect to the men in the striped outfits… and the confusion provoked screaming and yelling.

Claude BLOCH stood on his mother’s right, not knowing what might happen to him, but she pushed him over to the men’s side. He lost sight of her and was never to see her again. He told us, “On that day she saved my life[4]».

Claude had just arrived at Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz 2.

The men were passed in single file before an SS officer who decided for each one if he was apt for work or not. Claude has some doubt as to the goal of this selection, insofar as he, who was only fifteen, short, and weighed 45 kilograms (about 100 lb) was judged fit for work, while other men in the prime of their life were rejected as unfit. Next an SS officer proposed to each prisoner who felt tired to get on a truck. No one admitted to being tired.

The men considered inapt for work were sent to join the women an children on the right. Every woman who had a child with her was immediately judged unfit for work[5]. Claude cites the case of a woman declared inapt for work, who was holding the hands of children she had only met at Drancy.

The men fit for work, like Claude, then walked three kilometers to a building in Auschwitz 1 [6], where they were ordered to strip, were entirely shaved, and tatooed with a number (Claude BLOCH got number B 3692). That number was to become who they were, deprived of any identity, any humanity.

They were then shown their dormitory  with three-level bunks and just one straw mattress for two. The next morning they were awakened by the kapos[7] screaming at them at 4 o’clock. They lined up outside in the courtyard, where they were made to stand at attention[8]while the SS guards counted them.

After that they were marched off to work, escorted by kapos and SS, to rousing orchestral music. Claude BLOCH was assigned to earthworks, digging, hauling material at Monowitz, situated one or two kilometers from the camp in temperatures that could go down to -20°C or – 30°C. His only clothing was a small jacket, a pair of trousers and some old shoes. When they came back there was a new roll call, and it was necessary to tally those who had died during the day in the count, which lasted much longer (from a quarter of an hour to several hours) than the morning roll call. Indeed, the SS were in no hurry to, as opposed to the need to go fast in the morning so as to get everyone off to work. If the SS came up with a number different from the morning’s, they started all over to find who was missing[9].

In the evening they were given a cube of black bread (180-200 grams) with a little margarine.

On Sundays they did not work, but were forbidden to go inside, whatever the weather.

Time passed, convoys arrived, and room was needed; they picked out men, designating this one and that one…. who left for Birkenau.

One day, after a Sunday off, there was no departure for work ; after the war Claude checked that it was the Monday after Christmas, the holiday for children, who were systematically gassed on arrival.[11]

In the winter of 1944 he was taken with others to Birkenau, where they were loaded onto flatbed trucks open to the four winds that were normally used to transport coal. They rode in temperatures of -20°C and below for what Claude estimates to be 24 hours, from southwestern Poland to the camp of Stutthof (not to be confused with Struthof in Alsace), 30 kilometers from Dantzig (Gdansk nowadays) in the northeast of Germany.

The SS began to evacuate the camp because the Soviet army was advancing and discipline was getting slack at Stutthof on the shore of the Baltic in January 1945, because the camp’s SS were sent to the front and it was soldiers brought back from the front, worn out after several years of war, who replaced them. Claude worked in a factory at that time, which meant he had roof over his head, along with Polish civilians. During his time at Stutthof he went to the infirmery (which woul never have occurred at Auschwitz), where he saw a doctor from the Lyon area who treated his frostbitten foot effectively.

But the SS returned, and Claude went back to work at the end of April, beginning of May ; the SS evacuated the camp and that is when for many commenced the « death march ».

Claude was taken to a little port[12] where he was put in the hold of a barge. The barges left for another port..[13] He was then transferred to a freighter guarded by 2 SS. In the morning he heard noises; the SS had disappeared; it was civilians who were walking on the deck.

On May 10, 1945 (2 days after the capitulation of Nazi Germany) he finally docked, and the Red Cross took charge of the survivors in a northern German port (whose name is hard to understand

He was taken to Malmö in southern Sweden; at that time he weighed not more than 30 kilograms (66 lb).

The survivors were then sorted into those in decent shape who could take the train and those who had to be transported by ambulance.

Claude was in the first category, but when it came time to get on the train he was unable to lift his foot to get in the car and a medic helped him on by picking him up under the armpits.

He sent a telegram to some friends of his grandmother’s who lived on the rue Pierre Corneille in Lyon for them to let her know that he was still alive.

The Swedes took good care of him, and the doctor, after several weeks, told him he was « saved », although when he had first arrived he wouldn’t have given him 24 hours! Claude avows that he was surprised, never having imagined for a moment that he might die. He attributes his naiveté at the time to his youth, because a good many deportees had committed suicide by throwing themselves against the barbed wire fences.

After two months of treatment in Sweden he embarked at Göteborg and arrived in Cherbourg (in northern France) on July 20, 1945, then in Paris on the 21st, and finally on the 22nd at his grandmother’s in Lyon, where she had recuperated her flat.

His grandmother’s first question was, “And your grandfather and your mother ?” He then told his grandmother that her husband had been killed two hours after being arrested, but said “he knew nothing” about his mother, who was his grandmother’s daughter. In his heart he knew, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it.

In August he returned to his old school to finish his studies, but the State had made no provisions for survivors of his age. In the end he was accepted in second year as a repeat student.

In 1948 he became an accountant ; his grandmother died in September 1949 from a heart ailment.

He got married in September 1950 and had three children. Upon retiring in 1989 he decided to testify to the young generations.

One day he went back along with some journalists to the place of his arrest, where he learned from the daughter of the landlord at the time that he had been informed on.

He was raised to the rank of knight of the Legion of Honor in 2015.

[1] At the time official cards were still written out by hand.

[2] School where Raphaël Caraco was also enrolled.

[3] cf. the biography of Jérôme SKORKA, which illustrates this case.

[4] Claude later realized the link between the way she waved him away that day and the reason she had made him put on long trousers during the arrest.

[5] cf. biography of  Régine SKORKA, which confirms this point.

[6] Claude explains that it was a former Polish military barracks and was thus made up of brick buldings.

[7] Claude explains that the kapos were common law criminals — thieves and murderers — to whom the Germans had given all rights over the prisoners.

[8] Those who had died during the night had to be brought out for the roll call.

[9] Claude conjectures that it was through pure sadism that the SS pretended to come up with a count that failed to tally with the morning’s, as any escape was impossible.

[10] Claude tells of the construction of 5 buildings, one of which was disaffected at Auschwitz 1after the construction of Birkenau, and 4 at Birkenau, with their undressing halls, expose la construction de 5 bâtiments, un à Auschwitz 1 qui sera désaffecté après la construction de Birkenau, et 4 à Birkenau, with their undressing halls, with their « clous » numérotés, then the entrance into the “showers room” that could hold up to 1000 people. He relates how the gas chamber worked, including the role of the Sonderkommando (Special unit). He reveals how the members of the Sonderkommando were “renewed” so as to leave no traces.

[11] Claude recounts about this episode the Nazis’ interest in certain children when they arrived, either because of  their particular measurements or because they were twins, in order to carry out “medical experiments”.  And that leads him to mention once again his mother’s foresight in having him put on long trousers at his arrest to give him some protection against these unimaginable horrors. “My mother gave me life three times: once giving birth, then making me put on long trousers, and finally waving me away from her to the men’s group at the sorting on arrival”.

[12] Claude explains this surprising destination by the impossibility of traveling overland due to the Allies’ advance.

[13] Claude tells how before departure the SS, realizing they had “loaded” too many deportees and didn’t have enough room, made them get back on board and threw them into the Baltic.

Contributor(s) :

In addition to Jeanne GAUTIER of the French René Goscinny high school in Warsaw, mention must be made of two 9th-grade students at the Quatre Vents junior high school in l’Arbresle, a town in the Lyon area, Clément and Antoine, who wrote an earlier report on Mr Claude Bloch’s testimony in December 2015.

Additional information :

74274_BLOCH_Claude_portrait_exposé

Contributor(s)

En plus de Jeanne GAUTIER du lycée français René Goscinny de Varsovie, citons deux collégiens, Clément de 3°2 et Antoine, de 3°3 du Collège "les 4 vents" d'Arbresle, en région lyonnaise, qui ont rédigé un premier compte-rendu de l'exposé de Mr Claude Bloch en décembre 2015.

References

  • Compte-rendu de voyage de Mémoire - (Published on 15 octobre 2018 by Bolvin Jean-Baptiste) Dix collèges de la Métropole, avec 89 élèves et 11 professeurs et trois collèges du Département du Rhône pour 30 élèves et 3 professeurs, sont partis les 23 et 24 avril 2018 pour Cracovie, effectuer le 23ème voyage mémoire.

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