Abram ZEJGMAN was born in Radom, Poland in the voivodeship of Mazowieckie on April 22, 1895. His father, Gershon Zejgman, a merchant by profession, was born on March 24, 1857 at Kazemierz Dolny, and his mother, Soura née Vanlougerl, was born on September 8, 1856 a Białobrzegi. Abram was the fifth of six children.
David, the eldest, was born on March 15, 1880, followed by Israël in 1884, Zycio in 1890, Nekha Liba in 1892, and Chana Laya on April 27, 1898.
The Zejgman family lived in Radom, where the children married. David had four children, Israël and his wife Chana née Najtarnik ( ?) had eight, Zycio and his wife Chaya (?) three. All the family except David lived together in a single house in Radom.
In 1920 Abram was 25 years old. Nothing is known about his education. He probably spoke only Polish and Yiddish, but he decided to leave Radom and Poland with a friend, no doubt to go out and see the world. Shortly before his departure he met Mirla Gal at a marriage in Lodz; she was sixteen, and they corresponded during the two friends’ journey.
The first leg of the trip took them to Budapest, where they participated in the anti-Fascist flash action with the local workers’ movements. They were arrested in Budapest, jailed, then freed and expelled. The two friends then left for Paris, where they doubtless arrived in 1920. No one knows what became of Abram’s friend.
Abram settled on the Boulevard de la Villette in the Belleville neighborhood, where he lived in a one-room flat, earning his living cutting leather in a shoe factory.
Mirla, who came from a family of small businessmen in Lodz and had a ninth-grade education, decided at the age of 18 to join Abram in Paris. They got married (?) in a religious ceremony, probably in a little Belleville synagogue. They had a daughter Rosa in 1925, followed by Georges in April, 1927, born in the open ward of the Hôpital Saint Louis. After the delivery a Frenchwoman in the next bed heard Mirla’s story and, learning that she was not legally married in a civil union, retorted, “He’s gonna drop ya!”
After she got out of the hospital her two-year-old daughter Rosa died of unknown causes. Mirla, unable to forget the anecdote that occurred in the hospital, got Abram to marry her before the mayor of the 10th district.
In 1926 was created the French Mutual Aid Society of the Friends of Radom, one of the most important Jewish mutual aid associations of the time. A pre-war photo taken around 1927 of an association banquet shows a large crowd.
Charles was born in 1929 (to be verified), but died two years later (from what cause ?)
Simon was born on March 9, 1931 in Paris, probably at the Hôpital Rothschild.
Abram and Mirla became French citizens on May 4, 1934 (cf. photos)
Cécile was born on November 7, 1937 in the same hospital.
As their family grew, Abram and Mirla moved after the birth of their first child from their single room on the 7th floor to a ground-floor apartment in the same building. There they had running water, gas, and a toilet in the courtyard.
After war was declared in 1939 Abram volunteered for the army. His daughter Renée has a photo of him in 1939 in a military uniform with a forage cap on which has been sewn a cloth triangle bearing the number 22. (Could it be for the 22nd battalion of the Chasseurs Alpins? Other snapshots in mountain scenery suggest that possibility.)
Abram was soon demobilized as the head of a family.
In 1941, probably toward summer, Abram left for Lyon in the Free Zone, where he joined up with some “friends of Radom” ; notably Monsieur Weisberg, with whom he lived for several months, up to the arrival of Weisberg’s wife and daughter. Meanwhile, his elder son Georges joined him clandestinely after a detour via Bordeaux in order to get across the demarcation line. (To accomplish this he had tied up with a small group that had put itself in the hands of a crooked smuggler who led them around to their starting point; however, the next night they got across the line.) Abram got a job as a leather cutter for shoes and continued thus to earn his family’s living.
In 1942, alerted by the roundups that had already started in Paris, Mirla took 9-year-old Simon and 5-year-old Cécile and crossed the Loire and then the demarcation line by wading across the River Cher with great difficulty.
The family was reunited in an apartment on the second floor of a building belonging to Madame Papillon at n° 2 rue Bournes in the Croix-Rousse neighborhood of Lyon’s 4th district. Although this landlady had a large family and was a supporter of Marshal Pétain’s Vichy government, she was willing to rent to Jews and cause them no harm. During their residence there Abram and Mirla secretly lodged foreign Jews with no papers.
Abram and Mirla were friends with a certain Monsieur Collier, who happened to be a police commissioner in Lyon. Out of friendship for them he furnished Abram and his son Georges (who at age 15 needed his own personal papers) with false genuine identity papers.
At Easter in 1943 Simon, who was 12, and 16 year-old Georges took the train to Aix-les-Bains to visit some friends. In their luggage there was a package of unleavened bread wrapped in newspaper. Georges was reading a book in English when the Germans came through to check passports; they noticed the book in English and asked for his papers. Georges presented his student’s card and got by without being searched.
While traveling on another occasion Georges left his real fake I.D. at the ticket window, and Monsieur Collier recuperated it after reading an announcement in the newspaper that young Georges XXXX (the name on the forged I.D. card is not known) had lost his card.
In August, 1943 Mirla, seven and a half months pregnant, took the train to leave Cécile in Aix-les-Bains. They were arrested by the Gestapo, and taken to the Terminus Hotel at the Perrache station. Mirla was stripped and interrogated for 24 hours in those premises. An old German soldier passed by, saw 6-year-old Cécile with her blond hair and big green eyes, and said to the other Gestapo agents, “What do want with them? That’s not the woman we’re looking for. Let her go”.
The Germans put Mirla and Cécile in a car to take them back to the Croix-Rousse, but there was a long way to go and Mirla, knowing there were people hiding in the apartment, asked to be let out with Cécile on a street in the vicinity, which they were. Panic-stricken, Mirla had great trouble finding the way home. A few days later she soundlessly gave birth to Renée at one o’clock a.m. on August 26th.
Georges went to declare her birth at the town hall under her true name of Renée Zejgman.
Abram continued to work, and Mirla was extremely anxious. On July 4, 1944 Abram was arrested by the French militia after being turned in (no one knows why) on the tram platform. He was interned in the Jews’ barracks in Montluc prison, and transferred on July 21st to Drancy.
Right after his arrest a friend who had witnessed the scene had Mirla warned at home, so that she could disperse the family and hide herself. Mirla took Georges with her to the Montluc prison in a vain attempt to get Abram out.
Simon was taken in by a family of friends in Décines, Cécile was placed in a Catholic convent, and Renée with a nurse.
Abram left on July 31, 1944 in convoy n° 77.
No news of Abram at the Lutetia hotel, until a survivor of the convoy, the name of whom was not recorded, rang the bell of the house, to tell his wife what he saw during the transport, and which was later reported in books written by other survivors.
The last echo his daughter Renée has had of him was written by Jérôme Scorin (cf. his biography under the name Jérôme SKORKA) in his book, “Itinéraire d’un enfant juif de 1939 à 1945” –The Itinerary of a Jewish Child from 1939 to 1945 – page 128:)
…During a train stop Jérôme was designated to go draw some water…”I turned around to go back to my car and was stupefied by what I saw: More than 60 men, entirely naked, chained to each other, were being taken under close guard to the last car of the convoy. They were almost all natives of North Africa who had been caught in an attempt to escape; they had been the cause of the previous night’s inspections; we never saw them again”.
Of the six children of the Zejgman family from Radom, Israël and his sister Chana Laya survived and immigrated to New York.
Abram’s wife and his four children, among whom his daughter Renée, author of this biography, survived.