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Regina Frankel

The Rubinfeld Family. Belfort France, 1950.


Frankel Shares her Story of Survival

By Rhonda J. Prepes, P. Eng., June 10, 2010

“This period in history has defined my family’s lives. We had courage. We did what had to be done.  And thank God, all five of us survived,” says Regine Rubinfeld Frankel, 80.

Frankel spent three years during the Holocaust hiding from the Nazis in the woods of France. She has been talking about those experiences in French and in English for over 20 years, first in Montreal and for the last five years in Winnipeg where she now resides. She also has told and retold her story at numerous Holocaust Symposiums across Canada. In April, 2010 she spoke to 2,000 non-Jewish students in Saskatoon and was the keynote speaker at a gathering of 350 adults. In May she spoke at the Holocaust Symposium at the University of Winnipeg.

 “You hope you make a difference by telling about your experiences in the war,” Frankel says. “We were not in a camp, but we still had a very bad experience. When I talk, it is so vivid in my mind that I really see it in front of my eyes.”

Before the war, the Rubinfeld family, consisting of father David Hersh, mother Cyla, son Georges and daughters Rachel and Regine, lived in Belfort, France, a couple of hours away from Paris They lived an upper middle class life, and had a large extended family and many friends, Jewish and non-Jewish. Both David and Cyla were well established in the business world, and were very artistic and avant garde. They valued education and their children took music and dance lessons and formed a popular concert trio.

At this time, life was good in France for the Rubinfeld family. They lived peacefully with their non-Jewish neighbours and Jews were integrated into all aspects of French life.

In 1940, when Germany invaded France, Georges was 17, Rachel, 14 and Regine, 10. The family was advised to evacuate Belfort, but they had no car and no other way to escape. Fortunately, family friends drove them to Tulle, a city in the centre of France. They took only the clothes on their back, and found a small house in a field to live in, with no running water and no bathroom. After a short time, they moved into another house in Tulle, where, despite their hardships, the children were able to resume their education.

In 1942, the Nazis occupied all of France, and all Jews had to be registered and were sent to live in forced residences. For the Rubinfeld family, this was a small, sparse and primitive house in the country 7 km. from Tulle. There was no electricity, no running water, and no bathroom. The children helped a neighbouring farmer in exchange for food, and for a time again, they were able to resume their education and play their music.

Being in a forced residence, however, meant that the Nazis knew exactly where they were and at any time could come for them. The Rubinfeld family lived in constant fear of this inevitability.

Many times there were warnings, alerts, and reports of the Nazis approaching. On one such occasion, George hid in the attic to avoid being found. Another time the family slept in a farmer’s barn overnight. Finally, Georges went to join the resistance, Rachel went to live at another farmer’s house, and David, Cyla, and Regine went to stay at a Mr. and Mrs. Souliers house. When they were separated at that point, they did not know if they would ever see each other again.

Many times Rachel was forced to change hiding places because the people she was staying with became fearful that she would be found and they would be shot or deported and their house burned. It was a horrible time for the Rubinfelds. David and Cyla tried their best to keep their children safe in a violent and unpredictable world, but soon even neighbours and former friends became hostile and urged the Souliers not to hide them.

Once, when the family heard that soldiers were searching the nearby woods for Jews, Cyla and Regine were able to run away, but David, being disabled, had to hide in a tiny hen house. In spite of being in constant fear, having to hide on a moment’s notice, and knowing that any day they might be caught, shot or sent to a concentration camp, the family tried to keep their faith and practice their customs as much as they could.

“We lived in constant fear. We were on guard every minute. You never knew if or when someone would denounce you or if a group of soldiers would come by and make a random search,” explains Frankel. “You never knew if the next day you would be alive.”

When the war ended, all five family members were alive, but they had lost everything. They returned to their empty house in Belfort and rebuilt their lives, continuing with their education and their music and starting to work. In 1953, they immigrated to Canada. Georges and Rachel came to Winnipeg and Regine settled in Montreal. They all married, had children and grandchildren. David, Cyla and Georges have passed away, but Rachel and Regine continue to volunteer their time to speak about their experiences in the Holocaust. Their story is reprinted in the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada book, Voices of Winnipeg Holocaust Survivors, edited by Belle Millo.

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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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