1914 - 1944 | Birth: , | Arrest: , | Residence: , , , , ,

Biography of Golda KlLEJMAN née HERCBERG, called Genia

January 14, 1914 (Lodz, Poland) –  August 5, 1944 (Auschwitz, Poland).

Arrested in July, 1943, interned at Drancy, then in the satellite camp on the rue de Bassano in the 16th district of Paris1.


My grandmother Golda was born in a middle-class Jewish family in Lodz (Poland). Her father was a musician. She played the piano with a certain talent. There is little information on her family, but she had several sisters and brothers. At least one of her brothers2 owned a movie theater (the Syrena on Aleksandrowska Street), where Golda sometimes worked at the ticket window. He may have had several of them, and they could have been itinerant.

Golda didn’t like her first name and exchanged it with one of her sisters3. She was thus known by the diminutive Genia, the name she used for her resistance activities in the UJRE group (Union of Jews for Resistance and Mutual Aid) (or MOI: Immigrant WorkForce), according to the resistance fighter and historian David Diamant4, who knew her personally and remembered her vividly5.

Genia arrived in Paris in May, 1937 to work in the Polish booth at the World Exhibition. There she met Szmul Klejman (called Simon), an attractive Polish Jew who had come a few years earlier from the small town of Piotrkow, near Lodz and who worked in the clothing industry. Having fallen in love, she decided to stay in France. As both of them lacked papers, they couldn’t marry legally. Although neither was a practitioner or even a believer, they decided to formalize their union before a rabbi, most probably in February-March, 1938. Soon after that Genia was pregnant and the couple decided to go to Brussels, where Simon had relatives. Their son Edward was born there at the end of December, 1938. They remained until the invasion of Belgium.


Right at the start of the war Simon, like many Jews at the time, enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. He enlisted under the name of Cleman, which he asked to preserve after the Liberation6. Genia stayed in Paris with their baby. She lived at different locations, notably on the rue Barbette7 before moving to 4 rue de Varize in the 16th district, where one of Simon’s uncles, Nathan Klejman, was living. The soldier Szmul Cleman was taken prisoner and sent to the «Markt Pongau» stalag XVIII C. Certainly thanks to her contacts with political activists that obtained « papers » (an official marriage certificate?) for her, Genia/Golda was protected as the wife of a French war prisoner under the name of Klejman8… until July, 1944.


I have no information on her political activity in Poland, but according to David Diamant Genia was already active along with him in Paris before her departure for Belgium in 1938: “I can still see Genia, of medium height, lively and energetic, accomplishing all the tasks I gave her, for she was an activist in my sector before the war.”9 She worked with him in the charity organization Secours Populaire10. Her husband, my grandfather, who survived the war and remained a Socialist to the end of his life, told me nothing on the subject; I deduce, perhaps wrongly, that she became politically conscious in France, where she came in contact with the workplace, a world to which she  had not been directly exposed in Poland. She was probably a Communist and quickly joined the Resistance as soon as the war began, in the network known as the “réseau de la casquette”11 under the auspices of the UJRE.


Like most of those around her she worked in the clothing industry, doubtless before the war and most certainly in 1939 and 1940, since, again according to David Diamant, “she worked in a large clothing factory where she succeeded in organizing clandestine unions among the French female workers. She distributed tracts to the women working in her sector.” Given the quality of some of the clothing she made for herself at the time and that I have inherited, she was an excellent seamstress.


I learned from my father, who was quite young when it took place, that she was arrested a first time and sent to Drancy. One of her friends kept her son, but she asked her to bring him to her12. Her status as the wife of a French prisoner of war got her released. She came back with her son to live in the apartment at 4 rue de Varize, Paris 16e, without ceasing her clandestine activities. Just what did these consist of? All I know is what David Diamant has told me13: “She distributed tracts among the workers, organized union actions and was very popular with her fellow workers. Genia worked simultaneously in the Jewish union group. Meetings of the Jewish Interunion Commission were held in her flat, in which plans for the struggle against the occupier were worked out.”14 A friend and neighbor of hers, Isabelle Izikowieff, who was my “babushka”, told me that Genia had warned her several times of roundups that were going to take place, thus protecting her and her two children. Genia therefore had access to precise information, but that did not prevent her from being arrested again. “Genia was arrested in July, 1943 and sent to Drancy, where she helped to organize prisoner solidarity inside the camp. She was in touch with the direction of the outside clandestine organization.ˮ15 But this time her status as the wife of a French prisoner of war gave her only partial protection. She was sent to one of Drancy’s satellite camps in Paris at 2 rue de Bassano, a small camp (sixty prisoners) that since March, 1944 brought together French Jews, the Jewish wives of war prisoners, Jewish spouses of “Aryans”, and “half-Jews”16. In this camp she worked making garments for a large fashion house. What I know was told me by two friends she made in this tiny camp: Georges and René Geissmann, two brothers who were Parisian industrialists and businessmen from Belfort, arrested in the big Marseille roundup17. As she was working for the Paquin fashion house, she was allowed to go out into town. To keep her from escaping she was warned by the camp authorities that should she fail to come back, they would deport her two friends. She always came back.


By some means or other (I wasn’t lucky enough to meet my grandmother’s two friends, who died before I was born.) Genia had been able to get her son into the camp. Other children lived in the attic of this private mansion in the 16th district confiscated from the Cahen family of Antwerp. Edward, however, was not officially registered. He was “hidden” inside the camp, but still played with the other children, and even with a young German soldier and his (also) German shepherd. Whenever “officials” came to inspect he would be hidden beneath a pile of cloth under a cutting table. One day in June Renée Primorin, Georges Geissmann’s wife, who was not Jewish, came to visit her and left holding Edward by the hand, accompanied to the gate by the same German soldier, who wished her good luck. Genia had entrusted her son to her, sure that they would soon be reunited. Her two friends had promised to take care of her and the child after the liberation, which was at hand. A few weeks later the Germans called out several people to take them to Drancy. A woman on the list protested. She had arrived after Genia; it wasn’t fair for her to have to leave first. Thus, they both were taken. That woman’s name was, of course, familiar to the Geissmann brothers, but it hasn’t come down to me. Convoy 77 left Drancy on July 31, 1944. It carried 1321 deportees, including 300 children and a new-born infant18. I dare hope that Genia was consoled by the knowledge that her son “Eddy” was not among them. All the children officially kept in the center on the rue de Bassano were deported. Eddy fled south with his new “momma” and witnessed the landing on the Mediterranean coast on August 15th. He saw the plane pilots Renée nursed. He observed the villagers who refused to put up Renée, her old mother, and her sons for fear of reprisal if the Germans should return.  And he experienced the joy of the Liberation. The Geissmann brothers were brought back to the camp at Drancy on August 5th with other surviving detainees of the rue Bassano. Aloïs Brunner had not had time to send them off in one last convoy he had hoped to expedite to Poland. They were liberated at Drancy on August 18 and went back to settle again in Marseille, where they had lived before the war.


Why was Genia, a thirty-year-old woman in relatively good health and apt for work, not shunted toward the work camps instead of the gas chambers? The official documents stipulate that she was gassed on arrival. As defeat approached, the Nazis were liquidating as many deportees as possible. For a long time my father tried to believe that the convoy had been prevented by allied bombing from getting to its destination. Her father Simon, back from the prisoner camp in Germany, went to the Lutétia Hotel every day for weeks to read the notices and search out witnesses. Then he went to Poland to sift through the transit camps. He found out nothing about Genia, but he did find the youngest of the Klejman brothers, an Auschwitz survivor. It took them months to get back to Paris. They were the only survivors of Simon’s family. Edward, my father, stayed with the Geissmann family, made up of Georges, his wife Renée, and their sons, François and Maurice. Although he had no memory of Simon, who had left to fight in 1939, he saw him regularly when the Geissmann family came to settle in Boulogne. Simon never remarried, claiming he was waiting for his wife’s return. He gave me clothes and some objects he had somehow recuperated. Genia’s flat had been looted and occupied by a family. He took a small room in the same building, to wait. Finally he moved into an apartment next to his brother’s in Levallois-Perret. They lived side by side until Simon’s death. It is in that little apartment that I wrote my history thesis.




David Diamant, Combattants, héros et martyrs de la Résistance : biographies, last letters, testimony and documents, Messidor, 22 mars 1984, FeniXX digital reedition (Pneumathèque) (1 janvier 1984).

The first edition of this book came out in 1962.



[1] This is an attempt to write a biography from scattered documents and rare family memories. More research is under way to try to bring to light other information the archives may contain.

[2] One of her brothers, Solomon (Shoem) Hercberg, played an extremely unpleasant role in the Lodz ghetto that fortunately ( !) Genia never heard about. He took command of the prison and was convicted of corruption. He, his wife, and their two children, as well as his mother-in-law were deported.

[3] Interview in 1985 by Laurence Klejman with Ida Ravanel, née Klejman, Simon’s cousin and Nathan’s daughter.

[4] David Diamant, born David Erlich at Hrubieszow, in Poland, on March 18, 1904, deceased in France in 1986, was an activist, journalist, resistance fighter and historian who devoted much work to the Jewish resistance. Most of his very abundant personal archives were kept in the Bibliothèque Marxiste, then deposited by the French Communist Party in 2005 in the Seine-Saint-Denis Departmental Archives, where they were inventoried (Fonds David Diamant 335J 1-191. 1919-1986). Another part (fonds David Diamant CMXXV 1-169) is in the BDIC (Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine) and in the CDJC (Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine) at the Mémorial de la Shoah.

[5] Interview by Laurence Klejman with the historian and resistance fighter David Diamant, in September, 1983 when Mr. Diamant was preparing a new edition of his work, Combattants, Héros et Martyrs de la Résistance, which inventories the Jewish and Communist members of the Resistance. He had written up the entry on Genia in the first edition (1962) and recalled quite clearly his comrade in the struggle.

[6] Szmul CLEMAN. Born on April 18, 1912 at Piotrkow (Poland), stalag XVIII C. Sources Mémorial de la Shoah – Fonds UEVACJEA.

[7] Interview by Laurence Klejman with Ida Ravanel, née Klejman, a cousin of Simon’s. Ida took me to the gate of this building (about 30 meters from my apartment on the rue Vieille du Temple) and suggested I should ring… A young man who played football for the PSG (the Paris club) let us in. The flat, according to Ida, had changed a great deal. The Marais neighborhood has become completely gentrified and is nothing whatever like the quarter in which the Jewish immigrants lived.

[8] whereas her « husband » seems to have enlisted under the name of Cleman

[9] David Diamant, Combattants, Héros et Martyrs de la Résistance, 2e édition, 1983, p. 167, footnote.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Interview by Laurence Klejman with David Diamant, in 1983.

[12] This information needs to be checked with the archives of the Drancy camp.

[13] I admit that my presence of mind was faulty when I met David Diamant and failed to ask him enough precise questions (preposterous for a historian, moreover adept at oral history!). He wasn’t very talkative, either, but he was moved at meeting my father and me.

[14] David Diamant, Combattants, op. cit., 1983, p. 168. My father remembers these clandestine meetings.

[15] David Diamant, op. cit.

[16] Jean-Marc Dreyfus and Sarah Gensburger, Des camps dans Paris. Austerlitz, Lévitan, Bassano, juillet 1943-août 1944, Fayard, coll. « Pour une histoire du XXe siècle », Paris, 2003. I wanted to meet Mr. Dreyfus for further information, but he never answered my requests, even though I briefly outlined their object by telephone. I had, however, participated several years earlier in a round table that brought witnesses and researchers together. It turned out that my neighbor, a charming old gentleman, had known quite well Georges Geissmann, Genia’s friend in the Bassano camp who was later to bring my father up. He showed me some photos he had with him of the Geissmann brothers and my father in Marseille. Unfortunately, I noted down neither his name nor his address, as I left before the meeting was over. He had been a prisoner in the Lévitan and Austerlitz camps, of which he had kept some photos of him and Georges Geissmann. Notice to anyone who might recognize him in this feeble portrait. (Personal and professional history don’t always mesh well !)

[17] Georges and René had both been members of the group which in mid-September, 1943 tried to dig a tunnel to help the prisoners in the Drancy camp to escape. See the testimony of André Ullmo, « Tunnel de résistance », published in Libération, the 9th of June 2001. In the autumn of 1944 Georges Geissmann published in L’Homme libre, an organ of the Résistance, a piece that tells the story of life in the Paris camps.

[18] By a decree of the general director of the National Office of Former Soldiers and War Victims on November 20, 2010 :I. – The mention « Mort en déportation » (Dead during deportation) is stamped on the death certificate of: « Klejman (Golda), born on January 14, 1914 in Lodz (Poland), died on August 5, 1944 at Auschwitz (Poland). »JORF n°0297 du 23 décembre 2010 page 22575  texte n° 36 NOR: DEFM1030702A  ELI: Unavailable


Laurence KLEJMAN, petite-fille de Golda HERCBERG, épouse KLEJMAN.
  1. wladimi zandt 2 years ago


    je suis content, très content, de rencontrer cet enfer juif…
    Ma famille juive polonaise vivait à Varsovie et Perla Zandt, ma Maman a étudié à LODZ…
    Cette famille a-t-elle des survivants ?
    Je serais heureux de pouvoir rencontrer leurs descendants (peu importe le pays, je communique avec Skype)

    j’ai retrouvé ma famille aux USA.

  2. Germaine et Pierre Lyszyk 1 year ago

    Nous serions intéressés d’entrer en contact avec Laurence Klejman au sujet des Sonnenblick qui probablement ont des liens avec notre famille. Merci

  3. Author
    Serge Jacubert 1 year ago

    Mr et Mme Lyszyk,
    votre demande a été transmise à Laurence, qui a dû vous répondre. Bien cordialement.
    Serge JACUBERT

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