As a young mother, Rosa Kokh of Paris was hidden by Righteous Gentiles in the Free Zone of France with her husband and child. Now, with the homecare help she receives from ADIAM Solidarite, through a grant by the Claims Conference, 100-year-old Rosa can stay independent and safe in her own apartment.
Rosa, born in 1913, was one of four children in a Parisian family. In 1941, after the German invasion of France, her father was arrested by the French police; Rosa altered his identity card to forge one for her husband, an illegal Russian immigrant. Rosa, her husband and their young son fled to the unoccupied Vichy zone in the southern part of the country. Rosa’s husband, a university professor, also had an extra worry: Those who were not citizens were also in danger of being arrested. The family fled to Bordeaux, and then to Pau, in the extreme southwestern region of France.
But when the Germans occupied the Free Zone in 1942, Rosa’s husband Benjamin was arrested and confined to a special apartment building for Jews. “My husband understood that if he was sent to some sort of residence something was going to happen,” Rosa said. “He escaped and from there we went to Grenoble, because the Germans would be searching for him,” she said. At the same time, her father was deported to Auschwitz, and she never saw him again.
Grenoble offered the family safe haven during the years of Italian occupation in 1942 and 1943, when many Jews came to the region. But when the Germans captured the city in September 1943, life for Jews changed for the worse. “When the Italians went away and there were just the Germans, we had to hide,” Rosa says. “In Grenoble there are mountains and so it is easier to hide.” The family first worked for farmers, and then in 1943 found shelter with Madame Martin, a widow, and her four children, in a small village nearby. It was very dangerous; the Nazis would burn homes of those hiding Jews. Rosa used a false identity and was known as Madame Suzanne Hiver. She would go only to shops owned by supporters of the French Resistance who knew she was Jewish and wouldn’t report her to the Germans patrolling the village. But collaborators in the village threatened to burn down the Martin home. The family stayed with the Martins until liberation in August 1944.
Many years after the war, Rosa testified at Yad Vashem on behalf of Madame Martin and a daughter. They were recognized as Righteous Gentiles in 1996, Rosa proudly says.
After the war, Rosa and her family returned to Paris, settling in an apartment where Rosa still lives today. Her husband Benjamin died in 1989. The young son Rosa hid is now a 75-year-old psychiatrist and visits his mother frequently. Her second son, born after the war, passed away in 2004.
Today, Rosa is visually impaired; her left eye is paralyzed and she can’t read any more. She also has a weak knee after falling off a curb several years ago.
She receives homecare from Association D’Aide aux Israelites Ages et Malades (ADIAM) Solidarite, a Paris-based Jewish social welfare agency, supported by Claims Conference allocations. Twice a week a homecare aide comes to help Rosa walk outside and go food shopping. “I usually put my clothes on myself, and then we go downstairs and do food shopping in the neighborhood,” Rosa says. “I’m happy there’s someone here; in case I fall, then there is someone to help me,” she says.
She is also grateful for the handyman sent by ADIAM Solidarite, who installed a special seat in her bathtub so it’s easier for her to get in and out.
But despite her advanced age, Rosa remains independent. She even cooks her own meals, she proudly says. “I don’t ask anything from anybody, I like to do it myself,” she says. “There are people who need help more than me.” Rosa also receives a pension from the Article 2 Fund.
Rosa said she is glad the Claims Conference is checking up on her. “I was very happy to hear you were coming to visit me, and I am very happy I am getting money from the German government, that is the least they could do,” she said recently. “You really take good care of me.”