Greenberg shares experiences as a Jewish child during the Holocaust at joint DLA, DFAS program

  • Published
  • By Stefanie Hauck
  • DLA Land and Maritime Public Affairs

What is a life but a series of experiences? Some better than others, some more challenging than others. A life is made up of these little flashes, moments in time, fleeting by like an old motion picture. As time goes by, some scenes can crackle at the edges, or disintegrate completely, but others remain as clear and crisp as they were the moment it happened.

Such is the case for Fran Greenberg, when she tells the story of her childhood experiences during World War II in German-occupied France.

Greenberg stood before a full house in the Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Operations Center Auditorium during a Holocaust Remembrance Day program April 17, relaying her memories of the strength and resilience her mother, Jeanne Silberstein, exhibited during that time, and how despite almost insurmountable odds, kept her and her sister, Gisele, alive throughout the Holocaust and the war.

This year’s theme, “The Fragility of Freedom,” framed Greenberg’s experiences of her mother’s orchestrations to hide her children in a variety of ways, to preserve their freedom and their lives.

She said she almost lost her mother in 1942 to one of the many roundups in Paris that already took her father, Simon, several months before. He died in Auschwitz that July.

She remembered a boy saved her mother from the Nazis at the last minute, telling her to hide behind a large woodpile in a fireplace and she was the only woman who survived that day.

The rest were never seen again, many leaving behind their children, some of them just babies, she added.

That’s where the hiding began, and it did not stop until after the war.  After staying home in their apartment became too dangerous, Greenberg said her mother hid them with a friend, Berthe, in a top floor corner apartment by day, only coming out to sleep and eat at Berthe’s apartment across the courtyard at night.

“I was too young to wear the Jewish Star of David, so I was sent out to do the shopping,” Greenberg said.

 “People would spit, throw things and yell at people with the Star of David on their clothes because they blamed the Jews for the war,” she said, explaining why her mother and sister could not safely go out in public.

Fearing discovery after several near misses, her mother arranged for them to hide in foster care far away from Paris in the French countryside while she stayed behind.

“They changed our names and put crosses around our necks,” Greenberg said, remembering how she passed as Gentile, hiding in plain sight during that tumultuous time as she and her sister bounced from one bad foster home to another.

“I think after a while, when you live that, you feel like this is what life is all about. I didn’t know any better. I thought this was completely normal,” she said.

Greenburg said she finally found some stability, when she was sent to a sanitarium and her sister to the convent next door. Both facilities were run by Catholic nuns.

“That’s the only time I remember feeling safe,” she said. “I became a very good little Catholic girl, I got to pray every night and it was something I could hold on to.”

When the end of the war came, Greenberg and her sister felt lucky to be alive. All they wanted was to be with their mother, and they were for a short time until she became too sick to care for them.

She said after that, they bounced around in several foster homes again until they were sent to Pennsylvania to live with relatives after her mother died.

“They didn’t understand me and what I had been through, so they eventually sent me away.”

Greenberg and her sister lived apart during their first several years in the United States, with only small bits of time where they were able to be together.

After living in several different houses again for several years, Greenberg eventually ended up in Pittsburgh where she met and married her late husband, Daniel Greenberg.

“He saved me,” she said. “He was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

She had been a Catholic girl for so long, she didn’t know how to be Jewish. She said her life with Daniel eventually led her back to her true faith, by helping her rediscover herself.

Four children and many grandchildren later, Greenberg has made it a mission to tell her story to as many people as possible, as she feels she acts as a voice for the voiceless so that they are never forgotten.

“I am one of the lucky ones,” Greenberg said. “I’m happy I can share it. When I do it, so many young people come up to me and say that they will carry it forward and never forget. So, I am going to keep doing it as long as I can.”

DLA Land and Maritime Deputy Commander Kenneth Watson delivered the opening remarks, Demand/Supply Chain Analyst Angela McCoy rendered the National Anthem, Contracting Specialist Alan Shatz provided the invocation, Industrial Specialist JoAnn Phillips served as the event’s Mistress of Ceremonies and Pamela Franceschi, site manager for Defense Finance and Accounting Service - Columbus delivered the closing remarks.

The annual event was sponsored by the DLA Land and Maritime and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service – Columbus Equal Employment Opportunity & Diversity European American Program committees.

Watch the April 13 Holocaust Remembrance Day presentation here (CAC-Enabled) or go to the Columbus Jewish Historical Society to read a detailed account of the two sisters’ childhood journey through the Holocaust and beyond.