Elizabeth Kaufmann was a sixteen year-old Austrian-Jewish refugee in France at the time of the German invasion in 1940. She and her family had fled from her home country just after the Anschluss; the annexation of Austria into Germany that was carried out by the Nazis in 1938. At that time, the Kaufmann family had done just what the Nazis had wanted. They had left Austria, reducing the number of Jewish people by four. Unfortunately, though, they failed to go far enough away. Now, two years later, the military expansion of Germany had nearly caught up with them again. Even so, in the last days of May, it wasn’t yet clear how close France was to collapse. In the First World War, Germany failed to capture Paris in four years of fighting. No one knew that it would fall this time in about six weeks.
Elizabeth was keeping a close eye on the military situation and had bad news to report on May 28th. She wrote, “Leopold, the Belgian king, declared an armistice. There is talk and there are newspaper articles that this is the greatest betrayal in memory. Leopold made peace with the Germans without first having warned France or England to pull back their troops that are in the country. The Belgians give up to the Germans without a fight. The French papers write that the Allies were sold out. They report that this was done so secretly that the French and British officials had no idea this was going to happen and continued sending troops, which are now lost, falling captive to the Germans. The result: another loss, one more defeat.”
In spite of the bad news, Elizabeth did not seem to think that all was lost. The next day she wrote about the beautiful spring weather in Paris as if she didn’t have a worry in the world. Reality would set in again soon enough, though. By June 3rd, the British finished evacuating their forces from the continent at Dunkirk. On June 11th, Elizabeth and her mother would flee Paris on foot to try to stay ahead of the German advance. France surrendered to Nazi Germany on June 22, 1940. Elizabeth and her family were eventually able to escape to the United States, but many others were not nearly as fortunate.
You may read entries from Elizabeth’s diary in by Alexandra Zapruder.
To learn more about the fall of France in the spring of 1940 click here.
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