SCOTTSDALE, AZ – The last time that Charlotte Adelman saw Alain, she was in her teens and he was 4-years-old. That was in 1945. World War 2 had just ended. Alain’s family had kept her alive.
Adelman was 8-years old and living with her parents and brother in Paris in 1940 when Germany captured France. Her father thought the family would remain safe but soon the Nazis were aggressively rounding up families like hers, French Jews.
She recalled that one morning she told her father: "Oh papa, look, they are taking people on the trucks."
The family split up, moving from neighbor to neighbor to avoid capture, until one day her mother and father were loaded onto one of those trucks like the others.
In a video as part of the We Remember Holocaust Art Project, she recalled harrowing years of hiding and living in squalor, saved only by the kindness and bravery of a family that kept her hidden in the cellar of a house in eastern France when Alain was a young boy.
A couple of years ago, he managed to get in touch with her. And now, more than 70 years since last seeing him and at age 85, she’s planning to reunite with him in France. Her family has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the trip.
That Charlotte Adelman is alive seems a miracle. In her We Remember video, she recounts that as her parents were being carted away on the truck that took them from Paris, her father recognized an opportunity to escape and urged her mother to jump with him. He jumped. She didn’t. Later, she would become one of more than 1 million people killed in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
"Unfortunately, my mother went, and never came back," Adelman said last year in a speech at Luke Air Force base. "She was 32-years-old."
As a young girl, Charlotte was eventually taken in by a woman that she said fed her one apple a day and never let her bathe or wash-up.
One day the woman told her that she’d be going to live in a castle, she recalls, but the janitor at the building they were living in told her that the woman had accepted cash for her and that she was really headed to a Nazi camp.
He helped her escape.
Her father managed to see her every so often in different hiding places until the Nazis nearly caught up with the two of them years after they first fled. They ran through woods to avoid capture. Somehow, her father managed to get her to Alain’s house, where she lived in a cellar located between two houses on a farm. She would stay there for nine months.
There was one close call.
"One day I said to them for one night I want to be normal, I cannot stay down there," she said at Luke. "So one night they made me come up and unfortunately that night, the Germans came and looked at the home."
She managed to hide under a bed, getting as flat as she could. She wanted to scream, she said, but knew that if she did, the family that had been hiding her would be killed.
The family’s young boy started to point to the bed. His grandmother put a bar of soap in his mouth and picked him up, saying it was time for his bath.
Alain contacted her a couple of years ago through Facebook. He had tracked her down and wanted to apologize for almost telling the Nazis where she had been hiding.
Their in-person reunion is now set for July 8-14 in Paris.
Photo from the Adelman family via GoFundMe.