Jacqueline Eissenstat

I was born in Paris, France, in 1937. My parents, Max and Rose, manufactured women's clothing. Often the clothes were created just for me. My childhood, which I shared with my younger sister Florence, was happy and filled with joy. Sadly, after the Nazis occupied France, my family and I were forced to flee our secure world.

There was a strong presence of antisemitism in France before the occupation. When the Germans arrived, anti-Semitism intensified. All Jews over the age of six were required to wear the yellow Star of David. To this day, I remember how that star made me feel ashamed of my Jewishness.

My family and I were spared the fate of so many others because we were hidden by a Christian woman, Claire Chauveau. From 1942 to 1944, my younger sister Florence and I lived in a farmhouse in the village of Iteuil near Poitiers, with our parents hidden close by. For the sake of safety, we were forced to renounce any outward indication of our religious identity and attend church every Sunday. Tante Claire was herself a mother with two little girls and a widow who had lost her husband during the war. Until she passed away in 1989, I retained a lifelong relationship with her.

Tante Claire was a mother with strong religious beliefs. Rescue was a choice people made because they knew right from wrong. I hold bystanders as responsible or even guiltier than the Nazis. In 1994, I dedicated a sculpture entitled "Celebration of Life" as a "memorial to those who perished and a tribute to those who survived." I wanted to express the gift of life in the most positive way. An award was presented to the children of Claire Chaveau, Merseille and Simone, in memory of their mother and the selfless acts of all righteous Christians during World War II.

Both Tante Clair and her sister Florence passed away on Yom Kippur Day. Tradition suggests that those who die on Yom Kippur Day are "chosen survivors." At the most crucial time, while the rest of the world was silently watching, Tante Claire gave us the most precious gift of all – the gift of life, at great risk to herself. Her courage, kindness, modesty and generous humanitarian gesture shall always be remembered.

My husband Phillip and I were married in 1957 in Paris.
Afterwards, we settled in the United States and have two children, Gail and Jeffrey.

Biography from the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Project, Monroe Community College
Photograph by Louis Ouzer