Marie Jucht was ten years old in 1940 when the French government fell to the Nazis. The Vichy Government persecuted Jews through anti-Jewish legislation and propaganda. Marie Jucht, her parents, and three brothers narrowly avoided arrest by the French State during the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup on July 17, 1942, in Paris. Marie and her family fled south across the Demarcation Line into the French Free Zone, which in 1942 was still under the control of the French government. The Jucht family split up for safety, and Marie hid in a French Catholic girls’ school for several months until Nazi occupation began to expand south.
The family later reunited and traveled in secret to northern Italy. In September 1943, the Allies had invaded Italy and in October, the Italian forces declared war on Germany and sided with the Allies. The Juchts and several other families traveled with a convoy of repatriated Italian soldiers across the border into Italy. Between 1943 and 1944, the Juchts traveled through small villages in the Italian Alps, befriending several families whose kindness kept the family alive, despite the danger to themselves and their homes. Marie Jucht became fluent in Italian and served as the family’s translator.
The Juchts traveled with a band of Italian Partisans (resistance fighters who utilized guerilla tactics) from late 1943 until early 1944. During that time, the Germans began to move into northern Italy and the group saw combat, during which Marie assisted a soldier with a machine gun. The family separated for safety in the aftermath of the fight; Marie and her mother took refuge with a Catholic priest, but her father and brothers were arrested as political prisoners. After the war, Marie Jucht immigrated to Venezuela, where she established a children’s clothing factory. Marie Jucht married George Kaufman in 1951 in Mount Vernon, New York. She became a United States citizen in the early 1990s.
Marie Kaufman documented her survival of the Holocaust through letters written to her son, American writer and artist Alan Kaufman, between 1993 and 1994. The collection of her letters at the Hugh M. Morris Library also includes photographs of the Jucht family during and after World War II, as well as photocopies of Marie Kaufman’s naturalization documents from France, Venezuela, and the United States.
In 1993, Mr. Kaufman asked his mother to detail her and her family’s survival account. Between 1993 and May 1994, when she became too ill to write, Marie Kaufman wrote thirty-three letters in which she recounted her and her family’s harrowing experiences hiding from the Nazis, the French State gendarmes, and the Italian Black Brigades (also known as Black Shirts) between 1942 and 1944.
The letters provide a first-hand account of a French-Jewish family’s survival in World-War II France and Italy. Marie Kaufman’s testimony not only recounts in detail events she witnessed but also reflects on her own Jewishness and the kindness of many of the French and Italian people who aided her family and those with whom they traveled.
Of his mother’s letters, Alan Kaufman wrote: “The narrator of the letters is a keen observer, unashamed of her uncertainty, frank about her despair, but also extraordinarily resolute in her desire to live, and her faith in human goodness: her belief despite all evidence to the contrary that good itself still exists. But she is unflinching in her observations of the cowardice, delusion and brutality raging all around her, and these, too, make the letters remarkable.”
The finding aid for MSS 734 Marie Jucht Kaufman papers can be accessed at online here.