Georges Flaum was born on July 18, 1930, in a neighborhood of Paris with a large Jewish immigrant population. His parents, Charles and Thérèse, were Jews from Poland.1 On May 14, 1941, almost one year after the Nazi occupation of France began, German authorities and French collaborators organized a roundup of foreign Jews living in France. French police arrested Charles and sent him to the Pithiviers internment camp.2
Georges and his mother were permitted to visit Charles in Pithiviers in 1941.3 During this visit, he gave Georges this wooden dip-pen, along with a walking stick and a woodcut that also depicts life in the camp.4 Engraved on one side in French, an inscription reads: “To my dear son Georges, for his 12th birthday. From your papa, who loves you and thinks of you always.” The handle includes a photograph of Charles, framed by a heart. The other side of the handle reads: “Souvenir from Pithiviers, 1941–42.” A drawing on the pen depicts barracks of the Pithiviers, barbed wire fencing at its perimeters, and what appear to be French gendarmes who guarded the camp.
Charles purchased the pen from Isaac Schœnberg, a prisoner in Pithivers who was trained in fine arts.5 Schœnberg drew portraits in the camp, but soon it became difficult for him to find high quality paper. His engraved wooden handles for dip-pens became a popular gift that internees bought for loved ones; they may have also been sought after among prisoners at Pithiviers because letter-writing was an essential part of camp life. He charged 15 francs for the pens and at his busiest, he worked nonstop to make up to six per day.6 At other times, he was forced to stop due to the cold. His barrack, number 7, can be viewed in the depiction of Pithiviers on the wooden pen. It is possible that this was also Flaum’s barrack number.7
Months after visiting his father in the camp in 1941, and just before his 12th birthday in July of 1942, Georges and his mother were arrested by French police in what is now known as the Vél d’Hiv roundup.8 Georges managed to escape. Shortly after the roundup, Thérèse Flaum was deported from the Drancy transit camp to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she was murdered. In September 1942, both Isaac Schœnberg and Charles Flaum were also killed in Auschwitz.
For the next two years, Georges was hidden by several families in France, and he was able to attend school under a new identity. In the summer of 1944, he returned to Paris to live with his aunt and uncle. The city was liberated in August 1944. After the war, Georges changed his surname to Banet. He did not record an oral history or publicly discuss his experiences. Banet maintained that he did not remember much of World War II and the Holocaust because he had been so young. However, this pen, donated by Banet to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1999, preserves some fragments of this history that might otherwise have been lost. At once linking the stories of Georges and Charles with the artist Isaac Schœnberg, it points to the ways in which persecuted Jews sought to memorialize their experiences even as they were still unfolding.