Family moved away from advancing Germans
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
In 1938, Juliane Heyman’s parents were jailed by the Nazis for being Jewish. They were eventually released, and the family fled to Brussels, Belgium, where they assumed they would be safe. One morning in May they awoke to find their journey to safety had just begun.
Heyman: On May 10, 1940, the Germans invaded Belgium. The city was constantly bombarded, and it was a very dangerous time. Three days later, we heard that the Germans were coming closer to Brussels. We went to the train station with just what we could carry to try to get a train. The train station was chaos, there were people everywhere. Everyone was trying to flee the Nazis. Finally, we boarded a very crowded train. There were no seats available, it was standing room only. And we fled to the Belgium coast, which wasn’t occupied at that time.
After a 10-hour journey, we arrived at the coast. But by that time the Germans had overtaken Brussels, and we realized we had to move on. We walked over the border into France. There were thousands of refugees crossing the border. We really didn’t know where we were going. We just knew we had to walk and walk.
We arrived in Dunkirk and stayed in a little hotel, but the second night we were there Germans began to bomb the town. All the people that were in this little hotel went to the cellar, and there we stayed for two and a half days.
It was during this time that the English evacuated their forces from Dunkirk. Of course we didn’t know this was happening. If we had known the British were evacuating we would have tried to go to England. So the bombs stopped when the English had gone and we were able to come out of the cellar.
We knew we had to go on. But go on to where? We kept moving south away from the German advancement. We walked for two days. We found a barn to sleep in at night. As we walked along the road, we were joined by thousands of refugees. It was a terrible situation. We saw French and Dutch and Belgian soldiers throwing away their uniforms because they realized the Germans would soon catch up with us.
One of the greatest shocks of my young life was when the German army finally passed us on the road. What we saw was a very disciplined army of German soldiers. They were all clean, well dressed and well rested. It was just the opposite image of the other soldiers we had seen along the way. It was a shock to see how victorious the Germans looked. We knew from then on we were under German occupation. My father was very depressed by the sight.
There was nothing we could do but walk on and on aimlessly. We had to be careful and listen for the German fighter planes because they would come along and shoot at us and we would have to be ready to dive into the ditch.
The next day, a car stopped as we were walking along. It was a woman who owned a bakery in a town nearby. She told us that if we would help her in the bakery she would be glad to give us a room. We stayed with her for a few weeks and helped her bake bread. But after a few weeks, the Germans decided that the town had to be evacuated, and we moved on to Paris.
Eventually, we were able to obtain false papers in Paris and went by train to Vichy, France, the unoccupied zone. Along the way, the train was stopped by the Germans and each compartment was searched. They started in the back of the train and worked their way forward. Luckily, we were in the middle of the train so when they got to us they were tired and not as thorough. They only glanced at our papers and moved on. But we were very frightened.
When we arrived in Vichy we learned that we could not get exit visas from France nor could we get entry visas to Spain. The only place to leave from Europe to the United States at that time was through Portugal and my parents had made arrangements for us to take a freighter ship from there. So we had to go illegally at night from France over the Pyrenees Mountains. We hired a guide who took us and some other people over the mountains. It was very dark, and we were not allowed to talk.
The next day we boarded a train in Spain bound for Portugal. The Spanish people on the train were very nice. They shared their food and bread with us. We couldn’t speak Spanish, so they realized we were refugees.
We stayed in Portugal for about a month waiting for the boat. It was a very pleasant time for us because we could finally relax a bit. Finally in late October, we got the freighter to America. On that freighter there were a lot of American students, and I learned some English from them. It took us 12 days to cross.
We arrived in the United States in November of 1941, just a few weeks before America entered the war. If it had been any later we could not have left Europe.
Immigrant Stories run every Monday in the Post Independent.
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