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Diary of Jacques Berenholc

Berenholc, Jacques Diary 1942
US Holocaust Memorial Museum; Gift of Sal Berenholz

Jacques Salamon Berenholc was a fourteen-year-old boy living in his home city of Paris when German forces invaded and occupied the country in the summer of 1940. Like many Jewish people in France, the Berenholc family fled south to escape the German invasion. France surrendered in June 1940, and the country was divided into a northern zone occupied by German forces and a southern zone governed by the collaborationist Vichy regime. The Berenholc family settled temporarily in Clermont-Ferrand, in the southern "Free Zone." The family was able to live in Clermont awhile, and Jacques was even able to enroll in an elite business school there called the École Supérieure de Commerce.

But the situation changed for Jews across France in summer 1942—both in the occupied northern part and in Vichy. French police were rounding up Jewish people and deporting them via Drancy to the killing centers in German-occupied Poland.1 In December, Jacques's family (Jacques, his brother Victor, and their parents) left Clermont and crossed illegally into Spain. All three Berenholc men were arrested and imprisoned in Barcelona for crossing the border illegally, but Jacques's mother was not charged. They were soon released, and the family decided to emigrate from Europe. They managed to enter Portugal, and from there they made their way to the United States and survived the war.

As in the cases of Đura Rajs and Peter Feigl, Jacques—a few years older than Đura or Peter—started keeping a diary in response to life upheaval. In his case, it was the family's departure from Clermont-Ferrand, a town where they had managed to create a semblance of normal life in the aftermath of the German invasion. In the excerpt of the diary featured below, Jacques describes the nature of the family's refugee life in Spain.2

See Renée Poznanski, Jews in France During World War II, trans. Nathan Bracher (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2001).

For more on the history of World War II in Spain, see Wayne Bowen, Spain during World War II (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006).

Dr. Eizen was a representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish humanitarian organization founded during World War I. For its effort on behalf of Jews during World War II, see Yehuda Bauer, American Jewry and the Holocaust: The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, 1939-1945 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981).

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Personal journal of Jacques Berenholc, Departure from Clermont-Ferrand December 8, 1942, Departure from France December 10,1942



Saturday, January 16, 1943

Things aren't going well this morning. They made us leave the room to lead us into the corridors. There is another disinfection. It's very unpleasant! I'm supposed to leave and I'm waiting impatiently for my release. Around 2 p.m., Joaquin comes to tell me that my release slip is at the director's but he isn’t there yet to sign it. It would be really disagreeable to go to the disinfecting room before I leave, for my clothes would be completely ruined. Finally I arrange to go with the last persons. Just in case... Those who want to save their suits put them in my bag. I am loaded down like a donkey. [...]

Toward 5 p.m., someone comes to inform me that I am free and leads me out with many shouts of "venga," "come on." It's just enough time for me to say goodbye to friends. Papa and Victor are summoned to see Mama. At the prison office, I'm searched, my fingerprints are taken, I get my papers back, and I'm given my release slip.

When I saw Mama at the threshold of the door, we both burst into tears as we hugged each other.

Finally we left the place and caught the train that would take us to Caldas.

We got there around 6 p.m., and at the hotel all the women overwhelmed me with questions. Among them, I was very surprised to recognize Mlle. Henriette Weil, whom I have known since 1941. She slept in the same room as Mama, like the fiancée of Simon Gausfain’s fiancée, Mlle. Giselle Landesman.

After a good bath, I changed my clothes and ate. To eat at last with a real spoon on real plates and with a knife and fork.

After dinner, since two of the ladies were leaving the next day—one of whom, Mme. Pollock, was a friend of Mama—a young actress, a singer, gave a recital. She was wonderful and sang very well. She sang a song entitled, "Little Papa, when you come back." You can’t imagine how it depressed me.



Thursday, January 21, 1943

Today Mama went to Gerona with a friend, Mme Aloise. She came back with good news. She found a guarantor (M. Pagans) and Victor will get out tomorrow and Papa on Saturday or Monday.



[Thursday, January 28, 1943]

Barcelona is a very beautiful city. We have met a number of people here [...] There is a convoy of children that is getting ready to go to America. As we aren't yet sixteen years old, we can join it. But it's very hard, given that we have to get identity papers for Victor [...]


Wednesday, March 10, 1943

We have learned that we won't be leaving with the convoy of children of our age.

Victor was sick, and having seen a doctor, we learned that he had a liver that was too long and that his right lung is a little affected. He is following a dietary regime and his health is improving every day [...]


End of March 1943

We have decided to leave Spain and for this, Mama is trying to get the necessary visas. That is, a visa with a destination of Panama with transit through Colombia, but it lacks the transit through Venezuela. These visas are on one passport for all of us. To leave Spain, we have to have an exit visa, which Mama obtains on April 3, 1943 [...]


Beginning of April 1943

Now that we have all the visas for departure (except Venezuela), we will leave on April 5 [...] Mme Pagans will accompany us to Madrid and we are very happy about it [...]

Uncle Daniel, who has had no news about his family for a very long time, has learned that his children are at his brother Joseph’s in Paris and his wife is at Drancy. His brother is, however, counting on getting her out of there, but it is a difficult thing. There is hope, though, because he is rather influential and she is not on the list of deportable persons. This poor uncle is in a terrible state and our departure grieves him still more, but unfortunately we can't do anything for him. We have recommended him to all our friends and he will at least have moral support, which is very necessary for him [...]


[April 10, 1943]

[...] It's this evening at 5 p.m. that we leave for Vigo and there isn’t any way to find a taxi to go to the station, which is very far away (north). About 4:15 p.m., we take the subway and arrive at the station around 4:50 p.m., but on the platform, we see that neither Victor nor Dr. Eizen, who is supposed to bring our tickets, is there.1 We see Mme Pagans, her brother, and her sister-in-law, but we don’t have much time; at 4:57 p.m., Victor arrives with M. Eizen, who gives us the tickets, and we scarcely have time to jump on the train, which is already beginning to move.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Gift of Sal Berenholz
Accession Number 2011.372.1
Date Created
January 16, 1943 to April 10, 1943
Page(s) 10
Author / Creator
Jacques Berenholc
Barcelona, Spain
Document Type Diary
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