Yvonne’s Story: Chapter 5

Chapter 5

By the end of 1944, the Allies had liberated France. With the war over, Yvonne and Renée were free to leave the convent. For Yvonne, however, freedom itself was frightening. Were they expected to return to their former lifestyle? Who would take care of them? So much had changed. Yvonne was tempted to stay with the nuns at the convent, but the girls were transferred to a Jewish orphanage. The Jewish orphanage was established by social service agencies at the end of the war to take care of homeless Jewish children whose parents were missing or had perished. At the orphanage, Yvonne and Renée met other children who told the stories of their own family’s horrors during the Holocaust. Many were now planning to immigrate to the Mandate for Palestine or other places.

Miraculously, some of the children at the orphanage were eventually reunited with their families. After years of holding on to hope while hiding in the convent, Yvonne and Renée were astounded to learn one day that their father had in fact survived. They didn’t recognize him when he arrived to find them. Papa had been a handsome, smiling, happy man. Now, he looked like a walking skeleton. He had suffered through the killing centers, and ultimately survived until he was liberated by American troops at the Buchenwald concentration camp. He believed that Maman had not survived. She was a prisoner at Auschwitz, where Dr. Mengele conducted his gruesome human experiments. Yvonne understood that Papa was a broken man. She would now have to care for both Renée and Papa as they all tried to rebuild their lives together.

Portrait of the Ferstenfeld family after the war.

Portrait of the Ferstenfeld family after the war.

To find comfort and strength, Yvonne turned once again to religion. She would sneak away from her family to go to church on Sundays. Oma, who had also survived and was now living with them again, declared, in dismay, that her grandchildren had become “Goyim” (non-Jews). But Papa said nothing. He hoped that Yvonne would grow out of this phase and eventually turn to the usual pastimes of young women her age, such as school, boys, and dancing.

While trying to reestablish their normal lives, Yvonne and the family were also waiting for news of their other relatives. Some letters arrived from family members who had survived, and other news came of relatives who had perished. The family started spending time listening to the radio and the news bulletins that would announce the names of survivors looking for their families. One day, they all were listening to the radio and couldn’t believe what they heard: Maman had survived!

Testimony: “Finding Mother”

“She was too weak to resist.”

—Yvonne Ferstenfeld

After all of the papers were obtained for Maman’s return to the family, Papa went to meet her in Paris. She had been recovering in Sweden with other women who were liberated from the Ravensbrueck concentration camp. Papa brought her home, but to Yvonne she now looked entirely different. The girls even wondered if she was the same person. Maman had been blond before, now she had dark hair. She was swollen and aged from all she had gone through during the war. Yvonne and Renée had changed a lot, too. When Maman saw them last they were children. Now, they had grown and matured. Everyone needed time to get used to the changes.

With the family reunited, they decided to move back to Paris. They were dismayed to find another family living in their former home, but managed to find a small apartment where they could try to begin anew. The girls began making up for years lost, meeting with friends socially and even being courted by suitors. In 1949 Yvonne married a young Jewish man from America, and the couple brought the other members of her family to New York in 1950.

Life continued for Yvonne in America, but she admits that all her experiences are not yet behind her. She struggles with her sense of identity, but concludes that, “You are who you are.” You inherit all of your life experiences, and they build your unique individual identity.

Testimony: “Still Struggling”

“…it’s all behind me, but it’s not.”

—Yvonne Ferstenfeld

Chapter 5



Skip to toolbar