Monday, March 4, 2024

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

 By Donna Wichelman

(Part II of a two-part article on the Raffle of the 10th of January 1944 in the Gironde, France. See Part I From February 4th, 2024.)

In February, the first of a two-part article appeared about the Raffle of the 10th of January 1944 in Nazi-occupied France. This past 10th of January marked the 80th Anniversary of the event—something most of us find difficult to talk about because it’s so horrific. This two-part article is the story of one Jewish woman’s survival during one of the darkest times in our world’s history and how she has redeemed the abomination of the past.

Mme Josette Melinon Donna, October 2023, Donna's Gallery

Mme Josette Melinon was only three years old when the French Vichy government, in collaboration with the German-occupied forces, rounded up 335 Jewish men, women, and children in the Bordeaux region. Two days later, 317 people were sent to Drancy Internment Camp outside of Paris and then deported to Auschwitz a few weeks later. Most of Josette’s extended family were part of that group, including her grandmother Kami and Kami’s brother.
Mme Josette Melinon as a young child & her Father: Mme Melinon's Archives 

Kami’s brother was married to a Catholic wife, which gave his wife and children status as Catholics since religious affiliation was passed down through the mother’s side. Her brother retained Jewish status since his mother was Jewish. That meant that Kami’s brother, along with most of Josette’s family were interred at Drancy.

Kami’s brother had a skin disease, so his daughter (a Catholic) traveled by train to Drancy to take care of him. The Germans toyed with them, saying she could stay with her father if two people volunteered to be set free. But, of course, the Germans kept those volunteers’ papers so they could arrest them again later. Unfortunately, despite her Catholic status, his daughter’s decision led to internment at Auschwitz with her father. Many families were lost that way. They would try to discover what happened to their relatives, but then the Germans would take them away as well.

Another cousin was expecting a baby at Drancy. When it came her time to deliver, they sent her to Rothschild Hospital. But she never saw her baby.

In February’s blog post, we learned that Josette’s mother had also been taken to Drancy. But her story took a different turn while interned there. You see, part of the cruelty the Germans imposed was a system by which they determined who would be sent to Auschwitz. Identity papers were marked with an A, B, C, or D. No one knew what the letters meant except the Germans. Those deported to Auschwitz had Bs by their names.

Jewish Indentification Papers: Mme Melinon's Archives

Josette’s mother’s paper had been marked with a B. But someone had done a good deed and crossed out the B and wrote an A. This meant that she would not be deported but instead would be a prisoner, working as a nurse at the Rothschild Hospital mostly in the children’s ward. It would be a pivotal role for her.

The Germans came to the hospital every Saturday to check on who had gotten better and who had died. Josette’s mother became part of a Resistance group that hid the children, telling the soldiers they were dead or too sick with an infectious disease to be released. Then they would shuffle the children off to families or hide them under tables covered with sheets if there wasn’t enough time to get them out.
Mme Melinon's Mother (Middle): Mme Melinon's Archives

At the liberation of Paris, Josette’s mother helped members of the Resistance when they were injured or shot down in the streets. Afterward, when she finally came home, she rarely talked about her experiences except with a cousin.

Despite most of Josette’s family being deported, one relative did escape. He was Josette’s cousin Myriam Errerra’s younger brother Enri. When officials came to take the family away, he was in the house upstairs and didn’t move. He quickly got out of the house and walked along the roof until he could get down and find some friends he knew. They put him on a train away from the trouble. Though guilt haunted him for years, the fact that he could get away meant he could help others in the Resistance.

Myriam and Enri Errerra as Children: Mme Melinon's Archives

Though Enri found friendships in the Resistance, his son related to Josette that they always put him in the most dangerous places. They’d say, “He’s just a Jew,” a sign that even within the ranks of those fighting to win the war, racism wasn’t far from their doorstep.

Enri Errerra and His Wife as an Adult: Mme Melinon's Archives

Fast-forward sixty years to 2004 when a teacher in Libourne took their middle school class to see an exhibition of Jewish children deported to Auschwitz, and one of those children deported came from Libourne. It was because of the class’s heartfelt desire to understand the past that Josette Melinon became passionate about creating a foundation named after her cousin called the Association Souvenir Myriam Errera. The Association not only provides educational resources on the Jewish Holocaust, but it’s also a way to memorialize those who died.

Since the inception of the association, a local school has been named after Myriam Errerra. Josette travels to the community schools each year to speak about what happened, and the classes have a unit that addresses racism and anti-Semitism. In addition, every year, Libourne has a calendar of events that commemorate the Jewish Holocaust as well as the liberation of Libourne on 28 August 1944. See Libourne Local Newspaper

Libourne Schedule of Commemoration Events: Mme Melinon's Archives

Libourne Commemoration Event: Mme Melinon's Archives

Libourne Brochure of School and Community Commemoration Events: Mme Melinon's Archives

Libourne Brochure of School and Community Commemoration Events: Mme Melinon's Archives

After hearing Josette's story, I asked her what she would say to the younger generation today about that time in history. She said she tells them it's important to realize not everything they hear in the media or online is the truth. Look at the people who followed Hitler without questioning what they were being told. It's the same with fake news today. Analyze what you see and hear and test it to see if it is true. Especially given how AI has invaded our world, I would have to agree with Josette.

I leave this blog with a letter from Myriam's father on their way to Auschwitz in February 1944. He threw it out the train window with the hope someone would find it and deliver it to her grandfather: 

We’re going away from Drancy today towards Metz and we will be in Dresden or Czechoslovakia. We send you back the money we have, because they took away all our money, jewels, the food we had in cans, they took 810 francs… the rest was saved as you can see. We’re 60 people in the carriage ... Everyone in families, thank goodness. There are quite a lot of people who are ill. Happily, until now we’ve been saved from this. The stay in Drancy was not too bad. We hope this war will soon end. We don’t know where we stay or if this letter and its contents comes to you. Thank God, because I suppose afterward you will not get any news and we won’t get out of this to get them to you. I hope you have as much courage as we do, because our courage here is magnificant to see, and our morale is excellent. We regret all our beasts [animals] that we’ve left behind. We hope that Marcel and you will take care of our little cat…Courage and come back soon. We kiss you hundreds and hundreds of times.

Leonce Errerra 

Letter Written by Leonce Errerra to His Family in February 1944: Mme Melinon's Archives

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 today. I so appreciate the first-hand testimony of those who lived through this terrible time of history and who are willing to testify to's more powerful than any history book that was written. May we cherish these elders and the ones who will take their words down for generations to come.

    1. Thank you, Connie! Josette's testimony was and is a moving testimony about that time in human history.