Monday, January 25, 2021

The Monsieur That Fed Jewish Orphans in 1941 in Marseillee

Reb Aaron Dovid Neuman, interviewed in his home in Williamsburg in 2013.

 “In the midst of all this chaos and upheaval, my family was forced to split up. Only after the war did I get to see them again. Meanwhile, I was sent to an orphanage in Marseille.

The orphanage housed some forty or maybe fifty children, many of them as young as three and four years old. Some of them knew that their parents had been killed; others didn’t know what became of their mother or father. Often you would hear children crying, calling out for their parents, who were not there to answer.
As the days wore on, the situation grew more and more desperate, and food became more and more scarce. Many a day we went hungry.

And then, in the beginning of the summer of 1941, a man came to the rescue. We did not know his name; we just called him Monsieur, which is French for “Mister.” Every day, Monsieur would arrive with bags of bread—the long French baguettes—and tuna or sardines, sometimes potatoes too. He would stay until every child had eaten.

Some of the kids were so despondent, they didn’t want to eat. Those children he used to take on his lap, tell them a story, sing to them, and feed them by hand. He made sure everybody was fed. With some of the kids, he’d sit next to them on the floor and cajole them to eat, even feeding them with a spoon, if need be. He was like a father to these sad little children.

He knew every child by name, even though we didn’t know his. We loved him and looked forward to his coming. 

Monsieur came back day after day for several weeks. And I would say that many of the children who lived in the orphanage at that time owe their lives to him. If not for him, I, for one, wouldn’t be here.

Eventually the war ended, and I was reunited with my family. We left Europe and began our lives anew. In 1957, I came to live in New York, and that’s when my uncle suggested that I meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Of course I agreed, and scheduled with the Rebbe’s secretary a time for an audience.

At the appointed date, I came to the Chabad Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway and sat down to wait. I read some Tehillim and watched the parade of men and women from all walks of life who had come to see the Rebbe. Finally, I was told it was my turn, and I walked into the Rebbe’s office.
He was smiling, and immediately greeted me: “Dos iz Dovidele!—It’s Dovidele!”
I thought, “How does he know my name?” 

And then I nearly fainted. I was looking at Monsieur. The Rebbe was Monsieur! And he had recognized me before I had recognized him.” 

-Rabbi Aaron Dovid Neuman, interviewed in his home in Williamsburg in 2013.


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