Peter Feigl was Jewish according to Nazi law, but not in his own mind. Peter’s parents were Jewish, but not religious. There were no outward indications in his home or family life that connected to Judaism. As a result, he had not been raised with a sense of Jewish identity at all. In fact, his parents had him baptized in a Catholic Church at the age of eight, hoping to help him avoid Nazi persecution. Unfortunately for Peter, Nazi Germany defined Judaism as a racial identity; therefore his conversion did not help. Peter considered himself to be Catholic; nevertheless he was targeted for persecution as a Jew.
Peter’s family fled from Austria after the Nazi takeover in 1938. As World War II engulfed Western Europe, they made their way to Vichy France. This was the free zone in the south of France that was not yet under German control. There, they were doubly mistreated. They were still in danger as Jews, but they were also mistrusted because they were foreign refugees. In 1942, the government of Vichy France began rounding up foreign Jews for deportation. Peter’s parents sent him to a Catholic summer camp, hoping to obscure his Jewish ancestry. This began a two-year odyssey for Peter that included hiding in various places and planning to escape by any means available. Several possible escape routes closed due to changing circumstances over time, and it often seemed like he would never be completely safe.
Peter finally realized his dream on May 22, 1944. With the help of two passeurs (paid guides), he and a small group of fellow escapees crossed the French border into Switzerland. He recorded the momentous occasion in his diary. “We go through a woods. We see the border. No Krauts, No French. He makes us lie flat on the ground. It rained and it’s not pleasant. My feet are soaking wet. The signal for us. On the run we get near to the barbed wires. We throw our backpacks over the fence and we cross wherever feasible. A Swiss guard is watching us. We cross at Sorall II. We are well received.” Peter concluded this day’s entry with the words “Then I sleep soundly in a free country.”
After six years of hiding and fleeing from the Nazis, Peter was finally free, though his deliverance was not without loss. His parents were not able to escape and perished in the Holocaust.
You may view a clip from Peter Feigl’s Holocaust testimony here.
One of the places where Peter hid was the famous village of refuge named Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. You may read more about this remarkable place here .
October 15, 2015 at 6:00 PM
FORUM: The Jewish Refugee Crisis of the 1930’s: What Can We Learn to Meet the Needs of…
October 25, 2015 at 2:00 PM
Opening Reception: The Scroll of Remembrance
October 29, 2015 at 6:00 PM
Forum at the Rosen JCC: Eva Braun, Hitler’s Bride
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