Sunday, February 4, 2024

What Lessons Can We Learn From History: A Real-Life Story from Nazi-Occupied France

By Donna Wichelman

(Part I of a two-part article on the Raffle of the 10th of January 1944 in France. See Part II in March.)

This past 10th of January marked the 80th Anniversary of the Raffle of the 10th of January 1944 in occupied France. It’s with that in mind that I continue my series on the Nazi Occupation of France during World War II by turning to a topic that many of us find difficult to acknowledge because it’s so horrific. Yet, we cannot ignore the fact of the Holocaust. Though many in our present-day world try to sweep it under the carpet or deny it ever happened, the preponderance of the evidence is inescapable.

2024 Commemoration Events of the 80th Anniversary of the 10 January 1944 Raffle
Mme Josette Melinon's Archives

So, when I entered the house of Mme Josette Melinon on the 9th of October, 2023, I knew what I was about to hear would be sobering. Indeed, Mme Melinon’s passion for what happened to her relatives during the Nazi occupation took hold in 2004 when one of the teachers in the middle school nearby took a class to see an exhibition of the Jewish children deported to a town called Oświęcim near the German/Polish border, the place of Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Among the children they saw was one young lady whose address was in their hometown of Libourne, and they wanted to find out more about her.

The teacher put an article in the local newspaper asking if anyone knew about the young lady. Mme Melinon read the article and recognized the girl as Myriam Errera, her mother’s cousin. The teacher organized a meeting and invited Mme Melinon and her older sister, giving Mme Melinon the opportunity to read a letter to the group. In the letter, she told of her own arrest along with her parents and sister during the Raffle of the 10th of January 1944 in the Bordeaux region of occupied France. The telling of that story began a journey that Mme Melion has continued to this day.

According to Wikipedia, the Raffle of the 10th of January 1944 was the fourth and final roundup of Jews in the Aquitaine between July 1942 and January 1944. Before the war, more than five thousand Jews had lived in Bordeaux, many of them refugees who had fled Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia between 1938 and 1940. Maurice Papon, then secretary general of the Gironde and future minister of the Fifth Republic, organized the roundup, detaining 335 men, women, and children. On the 12th of January 1944, 317 people were taken to Drancy Internment Camp in northern France and later that month sent to Auschwitz.

Newspaper Article About the Roundup of Jews in Paris 1941
Mme Josette Melinon's Archives

Nazi Flag on the Libourne Town Hall During the Occupation
Libourne City Archives

“I was at home with my sister,” Mme Melinon said. “After dinner, my father was listening to the English radio at our friends’ house. When the Germans arrived, my mother ran to the garden to tell my father what was happening. I can remember the picture in my memory—the picture of the German boots that went upstairs in our house, which affected me because we weren’t allowed to go upstairs with our shoes on. But they were going up with their boots on.

“When they [the soldiers] arrived on the first floor (second floor in the United States), they followed my mother into her bedroom and said to her, ‘Knickers baby. Knickers, baby.’ And she gave them all of her knickers.

“We had to walk along the road that goes down to the river while it was raining, and there were five or six Germans in front of us. My mother held my hand very tightly. But when we arrived at the prison, I remember straight stairs leading up and walls that were a very dirty pink. The stairs came out onto a room with people I knew—most of them family— and my grandmother sitting on a bench. They all passed me around and kissed me, and I felt stifled without understanding what was happening.”

Prison Where Mme Milinon and Her Family Were Taken
Provided by the Association Libournaise Souvenir Myriam Errera

Mme Josette Melinon was one of the eighteen people, including her father and sister, who did not ride with the others to Drancy. If it had not been for quick thinking by her father, her story would have ended that night.

You see, Mme Melinon’s mother’s side of the family was Jewish—her great-grandmother from the east of France being Ashkenazi and her great-grandfather Sephardic from Portugal. Her father’s side, however, was Catholic. Her mother and father had initially determined to raise the oldest child (her sister) in the Catholic faith and the second one Jewish. But events changed all that.

Three days and two nights passed until her father could find papers proving he was not a Jew. In addition, he found a priest who risked back-dating a baptismal certificate for Josette and located baptismal certificates going back seven generations as required by the German SS.

Josette and Her Father 10 January 1944
Mme Melinon's Archives

Josette's Baptismal Certificate
Mme Josette Melinon's Archives

The baptismal certificates were enough to prove that Josette’s father, sister, and Josette were Christians, and the Nazis let them go. But what happened to Josette’s mother and the rest of Josette’s relatives, including Myriam Errera, the girl whose picture the students at the middle school saw? Moreover, how and why did the Association Souvenir Myriam Errera come to exist? And what are the lessons we can learn from history in the 21st century? 

Read the rest of Mme Josette’s Melinon’s story in Part II about this dreadful era in our world’s history.

See also: this French newspaper article.

Donna worked as a communications professional before turning to full-time writing. Her short stories, essays, and articles have appeared in various inspirational publications. She has two contemporary suspense novels in her Waldensian Series, Light Out of Darkness and Undaunted Valor available on Her historical romance, A Song of Deliverance, will come out in December, published by Scrivenings Press. She is also working on a World War Two historical slip-time project that takes place in Libourne, France.

Weaving history and faith into stories of intrigue and redemption grew out of her love of history and English literature as a young adult while attending the United World College of the Atlantic--an international college in Wales, U.K. She loves to explore peoples and cultures of the world and enjoys developing plots that show how God's love abounds even in the profoundly difficult circumstances of our lives. Her stories reflect the hunger in all of us for love, forgiveness, and redemption in a world that often withholds second chances. You can find out more about Donna Wichelman or sign up for her newsletter at


  1. Thank you for posting this. It is so important to listen to these first-hand accounts and record them. Soon the people who lived to tell this story will be gone. We need to feel the horror on their behalf.

  2. Connie, my sentiments exactly, which is why I wanted to get the stories from the four people who I talked to while I was Libourne. We need to remember and never forget the atrocities that took place in Europe during the 1930s and '40s. Thank you for your interest in the blog.