Sister Survivors’ Stories Shared in New Book

Suzy and her sisters, Rachel and Simone, growing up | Photos provided

Suzanne “Suzy” Choder truly met her mother for the first time when she was 3.

Choder, who lives in Huntingdon Valley, was born in Paris in 1942. She never met her father, Isaac, as he was sent by cattle car to Auschwitz where he died one month before she was born.

After Choder was born, she, her mother, Luba, and her two older sisters, Rachel and Simone, lived hidden by a neighbor on the floor above their apartment until October 1943, when they left to go live with an aunt — their mother’s sister — who was hiding other Jewish people.

Three months later, the sisters were sent into hiding by the Union Générale des Israélites de France and taken to the village of Donzy in east central France. Their mother purposely wasn’t told where they went. Simone was 13, Rachel was 6 and Choder was 16 months old.

The sisters were taken in by a 68-year-old Christian woman called Madame Marie Boucheron, a widow and farm owner with some chickens, rabbits, roosters and geese on the outskirts of the village. Choder called her Naine.

Their last names were changed from Augustowski to Augustin to conceal any Jewish association, and they kept themselves mostly hidden except to get water from a pump a short distance away as Nazis were stationed nearby.

In 1944, Luba was arrested in Paris after giving change to a woman near a subway station who was wearing a Jewish star and appeared to be blind. A policeman dressed as a civilian approached and asked her about her actions, her sympathy toward the woman giving the policeman suspicion that she, too, was Jewish. The woman likely was a police plant.

Their mother was taken to Birkenau and later Auschwitz, where she remained until May 1945. She was in a gas chamber when she was “rescued” and sent on a march, barely escaping death, until she finally found a farm to rest in and later made it back to Paris to see her sister.

Choder recalled a black car arriving to Naine’s house one day with a woman who identified herself as her real mother.

It took her another year before she left to live with her mother and sisters in Paris.

Her story of survival during World War II and ultimate relationship with her mother is detailed in a new 70-page book, Suzy’s Holocaust Story, written and published by Frederick D. Lipman, who’s gotten to know the now 75-year-old Choder as she married his cousin, Jerry Choder. The two met through mutual friends while Jerry Choder was on a bus trip in Paris in 1962. They married a year later.

When her sister Simone, now 87, came to visit for her annual summer trip to Philadelphia, Choder and Lipman were talking with her, and Lipman had the idea to turn their story into a book.

“We were going out together, and I thought about the fact that it would be nice to make a story about their Holocaust experience for her grandchildren, to preserve it for their family,” said Lipman, who was best man at the Choders’ wedding.

The book is divided into three parts, each telling their family’s story through the sisters’ perspectives. Rachel and Simone’s stories fill in some details Choder could not provide, such as what their father was like. They remembered him as a good singer, whose brother was a singer at the Yiddish theater in Paris and who would also sing tunes while he sewed.

The font is intentionally large and the story is easy to read, even if the subject matter is not always easy to digest.

In addition to sharing Choder’s story, the point of the book — which can be found on Amazon — is to pass the story down to the next generation.

“I was interested in making sure that the younger generation had some knowledge of the Holocaust,” Lipman said. “I thought it was important to have continuing stories come out about the Holocaust that are readable by children, including my own grandchildren as well as Suzy’s grandchildren, who are getting old enough to understand what the Holocaust means.”

Choder has two grandchildren, one of whom will become a Bat Mitzvah in February.

She didn’t talk to them too much about her family’s experience before, as she didn’t want to scare them.

“People can understand what happened to people, to families during the war,” Choder said. “Each person has his own story to tell, his own experiences, and I just thought it would be interesting maybe for children to learn what happened to children during the war.”

Laced throughout her story is the relationship she had with her mother, which was difficult at first because, to Choder, her mother was a complete stranger. She was eased by her sister’s presence when she first pulled up in the black car — Simone went back to live with their aunt, joined later by their mother — but she only knew Naine as her mother.

When Choder left to live in Paris for the first time, Choder did not adjust well.

“I was separated from the person who took care of me and she took care of me for quite a while,” she noted. “But she tried. She fed me, she held my hand, we slept together in the same bed, she did her best to be nice to me and try to get me feeling comfortable.”

Her mother saw she wasn’t doing well, and sent her back to Madame Bucheron for a year, who helped her ease back into her true mother’s life. Little by little, Choder said, she became connected to and grew to love her mother.

She stayed in touch with Madame Boucheron through visits and letters until she died in 1966. Choder nominated her as Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.

As she grew up, her Jewish identity became paramount, even though there were times she was scared to admit her religion as it was too dangerous.

“It was something I was afraid for people to find out that I was Jewish, because it was not a nice thing to be Jewish, you were somebody that nobody likes,” she said, adding she used to put her finger on her nose when she was walking outside so nobody thought she had a “Jewish nose.”

“It was hard growing up in France. It was not pleasant.”

Her mother, as she learned, helped care for others even while they were in a concentration camp. She spoke Yiddish in their home. Jewish values were imbued in Choder’s identity.

Suzy and Simone in 2017

Today, she also volunteers as a reading buddy with KleinLife once a week and reads with elementary school students.

“I feel like it’s my way of life,” she said. “My parents were Jewish, and I could not be anything else but being Jewish.”

She talks to her sisters every day.

As her sisters still live in France, cell phone bills used to reach as high as $300, she laughed. (Luckily, they found new ways to communicate without spending as much.)

Through their story, Choder hopes readers of all ages learn about the difficult circumstances during the time. As her grandchildren get older, she hopes they will continue feeling proud to be Jewish, as she is.

“I’m happy my grandchildren are going to Hebrew school and learning what it is to be Jewish, to be a good person, to care for people and help them,” she said, “because this is what my mother taught me. That’s what she did in the concentration camps, she helped other people. And I was surrounded by people who helped me, and it’s a very important thing in life to support each other.”

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