• Helga Schmitz was born in 1934 in Omen Pais Kacham in the Rhineland of Germany. Her family was the only Jewish family in the town and had been living happily there since the 1800's. It was a large family-11 brothers and sisters on her father's side and a sister and brother on her mother's side.  

  • When Hitler came to power the anti-Semitism started. Her father was often warned to get out of town because things would not be good for Jews. Her parents could not see themselves leaving the grandparents and stayed on as conditions worsened - to the extent that her father was imprisoned several times. The police tried to convince them to leave so that they would not have to hurt them. Finally, in the middle of one night the police banged on the grandparent's door. They told the family to pack suitcases so they could leave at that very moment (urging them to go to the next town where an uncle and aunt lived).

  • Helga's family fled and wound up in Luxembourg. As they arrived Nazis were rounding up Jews in town and Helga and family were also loaded on the cattle trains.

  • After many days they were brought to Gurs concentration camp in the Pyrenees Mountains of France. Her father was taken away to a different place "Camp LeMille". People were questioned about what skills they had. Helga's mother said she could play piano and sing. This saved her life as the Nazi's decided that they wanted music for their time of relaxation in the officer's club. During the day Helga's mother trained her to be a non-Jewish child. She coached her how to dig out soil underneath the barbed wire with her bare hands and prepared her for an escape.

  • One night, Helga escaped and ran into the woods. She was alone, eating grass, mushrooms, and flowers, for days until she was found by French Jewish partisans. They took her to a convent where the nuns turned her into a French Catholic girl. Eventually her mother found her, got her out of the convent and they went into hiding with a French Catholic family who was paid by a Jewish organization.

  • After some time, the Jewish Agency arranged for false papers and got them to an Italian freighter with a false bottom under the cargo. They were taken to Casablanca, Africa.

  • Many weeks later, the same freighter came back to take them to New York. On this voyage they were reunited with Helga's father who was gravely ill. After 8 weeks of sea travel they reached New York; however, they were not permitted to leave the boat or enter the country because of the quota system.

  • No other country would allow them in except the Dominican Republic. Helga and her family wound up in a town called Sosua . That was their home for four years. Helga learned Spanish.

  • Although the family was happy in the Dominican Republic her parents were concerned about providing the children with a more Jewish environment. Eventually they arrived in Florida and then New York.

Jews in pre-WWII Germany

German Jewish refugees

Gurs Concentration Camp

Jews in France
1. http://www1.yadvashem.org/education/entries/english/18.asp
2. http://www1.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/microsoft%20word%20-%205857.pdf
3. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005429
4. http://www1.yadvashem.org/education/entries/english/18.asp"

Hiding the Jews

1. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005441
2. http://www1.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/this_month/august/12.asp

Jews going to Sosua, Dominican Republic
1. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005367
2. http://www1.yadvashem.org/new_museum/dominican_republic.pdf